On March 9, 2023, Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) cadres shot dead a tribal youth, Sainath Narote (26), at Mardhur village in the Bhamragarh Taluka (administrative division) in Gadchiroli District. The Maoists picked him up from his house on the suspicion that he was a Police informant and shot him dead.
This is the lone incident of Left Wing Extremist (LWE)-linked killing in Maharashtra in 2023, thus far (data till March 12).
Five civilians were killed through 2022 in Maharashtra. There were four such killings in 2021. According to partial data collated by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), since March 6, 2000, when SATP started compiling data on Left Wing Extremism-linked violence across the country, a total of 197 such killings have been documented in the state, including a high of 36 civilian fatalities recorded in 2011.
Security Forces (SFs) have not suffered any loss over the past two years. The last fatality recorded in this category was on August 14, 2020, when a Police constable was killed and another constable was injured when a CPI-Maoist ‘action team’ opened fire at them in a market at Kothi village under the Bhamragarh Taluka in Gadchiroli District. Meanwhile, another two fatalities were recorded in 2020, bringing the tally of SF fatalities to three through 2020. Fatalities in the SF category recorded a high of 52 in 2009. A total of 170 such killings have been documented since March 6, 2000.
SFs neutralised at least two Maoists in 2022, in addition to 49 in 2021. A high of 51 Maoist fatalities was recorded in 2018. Since March 6, 2000, a total of 321 such killings have been documented in the state.
Significantly, in 2020, the SF:Maoist kill ratio was 1:3. The most positive SF:Maoist kill ratio, 1:25.5, favouring the SFs, was registered in 2018. The overall SF:Maoist kill ratio in the state since 2000 has favoured the SFs at 1:1.88.
Meanwhile, in 2022, SFs arrested 13 Naxalites (LWEs), in addition to nine such arrests in 2021, according to the SATP database. Since March 6, 2000, the total number of arrests stands at 474. Ongoing SF pressure also yielded the surrender of eight Naxalites each in 2022 and 2021. Since March 6, 2000, total surrenders stand at 288. On September 21, 2022, two CPI-Maoist cadres, identified as Anil aka Ramsay Jagdeo Kujur (26) of Maharashtra, and Roshani aka Irape Narango Paollo (30), of Chhattisgarh, carrying a total reward of INR 600,000, surrendered in Gadchiroli District.
Not surprisingly, other parameters of violence also indicate a declining trend in Maoist activities in the State, as in all other Maoist-affected regions across the country. The State did not record any major incident (resulting in three or more fatalities) in 2022, as well as in 2021. The last major incident was recorded on May 1, 2019, when at least 15 SF personnel of the C-60 Force, the Maharashtra Police counter-insurgency commando unit, and one civilian driver were killed in an ambush by CPI-Maoist cadres, who triggered an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) on the Dadapur Road near Lendali Nullah in Jamburkheda village under Kurkheda Police Station limits in Gadchiroli District.
Further, the State did not record any incident of explosion in 2022, as well as in 2021. The last incident of explosion was the May 1, 2019, ambush targeting C-60 personnel.
Moreover, incidents of exchange of fire between the rebels and SFs fell from seven in 2021 to three in 2022. Overall Maoist-linked incidents fell from 29 in 2021 to 27 in 2022. Incidents of killing also fell from nine in 2021 to seven in 2022.
Meanwhile, a September 25, 2022, report, indicated that the Naxalite footprint in Gadchiroli, one of the two districts in the state that have historically struggled with Left Wing Extremism, is shrinking, with a significant drop recorded in their activities over the past five years. Taking a note of the development, Gadchiroli, Superintendent of Police (SP) Ankit Goyal noted,
In the past seven or eight years, many Naxals have been killed in different encounters and their numbers, presence and capabilities have reduced. Secondly, they used to forcibly recruit some locals while others used to join of their own accord. Now we have observed that the number of people getting recruited from Gadchiroli is negligible. Until about seven years ago, in a dalam [a rebel fighting unit or squad], 15 per cent used to be outsiders while the rest were locals. Now the percentage of people from Gadchiroli has fallen drastically.
The District Police chief attributed this to factors such as better administrative outreach, rising confidence in the administration, and improved infrastructure. Goyal thus noted, further,
The Police Dadalora Scheme, in which we implement government schemes and give jobs to locals, has helped. In two years, we have given more than 6,000 people jobs or self-employment opportunities. In places deep in the jungle, this has more impact.
Moreover, Goyal also claimed that senior Naxalite leaders, identified as Girdhar, Prabhakar and Rupesh, were now confined to the south Gadchiroli region.
Meanwhile, struggling to make their presence felt, the Maoists warned the residents of 13 villages under the Pursalgondi gram panchayat (village level local self-government institution) in Etapalli Taluka in Gadchiroli District, against working at the Surjagarh mines. In the meeting held near Targoda village in the district from February 20–26, 2023, Maoist leaders such as Raghu and Giridhar urged the residents of 13 villages not to work at the mining site. They also told women workers to stop going to a sewing unit, which has been set up by Surjagarh Mines and Minirals Pvt. Ltd., as part of its corporate social responsibility programme. They also asked the villagers to have at least one member of each family join the large-scale agitation being planned by them.
Moreover, according to a March 6, 2023, report, Maoist leaders such as ‘divisional committee member’ Vikas aka Anil Nagpure of Malajkhand Dalam, ‘commander’ Sangita aka Kavita Pandhare of Tanda Dalam, and ‘divisional committee member’ Devchand aka Chandu of Darekasa Dalam, were trying to make a comeback.
Not surprisingly, the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (UMHA) notification of June 19, 2021 categorised Gadchiroli District as the "most affected LWE district" of Maharashtra, among the ‘25 Most Affected Districts’ across eight Indian states. In addition, Gadchiroli and Gondia Districts are covered under the ‘Security Related Expenditure (SRE)’ scheme, which underwrites focused operations against the Naxalites in 70 LWE-affected districts in 10 states across the country. An analysis of overground and underground Maoist activities in Maharashtra confirms that Maoist activities were reported from only two districts in 2022. Only the Gadchiroli District fell in the ‘moderately affected’ category, while Gondia remained ‘marginally affected.' In 2021, too, Gadchiroli was in the ‘moderately affected’ category and Gondia in the "marginally affected" category. Maharashtra has a total of 36 districts.
However, critical security gaps in capacities and force deployment persist in the state. According to the latest Bureau of Police Research and Development (BPR&D) data, as of January 1, 2021, the sanctioned strength for the States’ Police is 238,463, but only 199,508 personnel were in position, yielding a vacancy of 38,955 (16.33 percent). Further, the Police/Area Ratio (number of policemen per 100 square kilometers) for Maharashtra is 64.84, as against the sanctioned strength of 77.50. The all-India ratio is 62.96, as against a sanction of 80.07 per 100 square kilometers. In addition, the sanctioned strength of the apex Indian Police Service (IPS) officers in the state is 317, but just 278 officers were in position, with 39 posts vacant, considerably weakening the executive supervision of the force.
Though SFs have ensured a relatively safe environment for civilians, the residual capacities of the rebels cannot simply be ignored. Unless the threat of LWE is completely eradicated, residual risks will persist, and the possibility of revival of weakened or dormant rebel forces can never be ruled out.