‘Maoists Are Creating a Corridor Between Bastar and North Orissa, To Go Up Till West Bengal via Jharkhand’
-DGP, Chhattisgarh, Vishwa Ranjan    

 How will the Supreme Court order on the SPOs (Special Police Officers) affect your counter-Maoist operations?

DGP, Chhattisgarh, Vishwa Ranjan

As far as I am concerned, the Supreme Court order will not be more than a temporary setback to us. I am using the term temporary setback because SPOs were working as guides for us. They were not only leading our men to the Maoists’ hideout, many of them also recognised the Maoist cadre. In addition to these two tasks, they were protecting the camps in which they and other displaced people were living. In fact, nearly 75 per cent of SPOs were involved in camp protection duties. In the short term then, it means that I will have to pull out some of my men from the operational duties for the protection of the relief camps. It involves making some changes in tactics in addition to the thrust and direction of the operations.

However, as of now, we cannot be certain of what will eventually happen. The government of Chhattisgarh may file a review petition against the judgement. They may even go for a curative petition. They are consulting legal luminaries on this. But it needs to be understood that the judgement is not against the institution of the SPO. It is against using SPOs in certain jobs, like operations. Of course, the Supreme Court has also said that we should not arm them. Our contention is that, once you accept that they are Special Police Officers, you cannot set a limit to what they can or cannot do.
Director General of Police, Chhattisgarh, Vishwa Ranjan has been at the helm of the state police since 2007. A poet, author and editor of several books on Hindi literature, Vishwa Ranjan has been leading the state government’s charge against the Maoists in Chhattisgarh. FORCE met him on 11 July 2011, a few days before the state government decided to file a review petition against the Supreme Court order on the SPOs. On evening of July 12, Vishwa Ranjan left for a brief holiday to Ahmedabad. While he was still in the flight, the state government issued the orders to replace him with Anil M. Navaney. Ranjan was moved to the Home Guards with the additional charge of police housing board.
Will you consider absorbing them in the state police?

These issues will have to be addressed subsequently. There is a possibility of absorbing those who have requisite qualifications. They can also be absorbed in home guards. But these are possibilities that we will look into after we exhaust all legal avenues.

There is no possibility of lowering the standards to absorb them in the police force.

This can happen in the scheduled areas after the Governor invokes the law for such a move. But we are not considering this at the moment as it will be a long exercise. We will first have to see how many are educated and so on.

What is the number of SPOs in Chhattisgarh?

There are 4,000 SPOs inside Bastar district and 1,000 outside Bastar. We had the sanction of about 6,000. Even as the Supreme Court order came, we were in the process of recruiting 1,000 more. At the moment, we have a total of 5,100 SPOs. Disarming the SPOs is not a big issue because they didn’t carry weapons all the time. Even in the camps, only those who were put on guard duties carried weapons. Similarly, those involved in operations carried weapons only for the duration of the operation. Otherwise the weapons were kept in the armoury.

The reason for this was simple. Since, Chhattisgarh does not have as many weapons as they have the strength, the weapons have to be distributed. Hence, our immediate concern is not really the operations but the security of the camps. Yesterday alone three camps were attacked. Fortunately, these were adjunct to the police camp and the attacks were repelled. But, SPOs will be the target for the Maoists and we will have to protect them.

Seen from Delhi, it appears that Maoists have been strengthening themselves in the last few years. While this may just be a perception, what is the truth in Chhattisgarh?

If we take 2007 as the benchmark, then you will find that since then, every year there have been more encounters, more Maoists have been killed and there has been lesser number of civilian, police and SPOs fatalities (last year was an exception as we had 76 deaths in one incident alone). Moreover, progressively there has been lesser damage of government property and fewer number of IED blasts. Despite these figures, the reason for this perception is that reports of the constant attrition of the Maoists, either through arrest or killing, come out as a trickle in the media from time to time and not in a cumulative fashion to have an impact. In comparison, any attack by the Maoists has a greater news value. But if one were to do a comparative analysis of the last four years, there has been a very definitive downward trend. I am not the only one saying this, the Maoist documents also say that they are on the back foot.

However, there is no denying the fact that in some parts of the state we are in a combat situation, where there are possibilities of casualties as well as dangers of IED blast, despite the massive level of demining activity undertaken by Chhattisgarh police. Hence, even as their capability of hitting us has been substantially blunted, there are still a few odd chances of police personnel and vehicles getting trapped by the Maoists. The matter of concern for us is that one of the old Maoist plan of creating a corridor between Bastar and north Orissa, to go up till West Bengal via Jharkhand is in the process of being implemented now.

The corridor runs through Orissa right at our border. This implies that Maoist will try to create buffer zones, about 20km, on both sides of the corridor. As a result, we are seeing fresh movements of Maoists in areas like Dhamtari, Gariaband, Mahasamund and Raigad, all on the border with Orissa. They actually moved a company from Bastar to Nuapada on the tip of Raigad. Recently, we destroyed a Maoist camp very close to Orissa border near Mahasamund. The interesting part here is that, while the corridor will run through the forests of Orissa, the buffer zone on our side is not a forested area. As a result, Maoists will have to employ different kinds of tactics to influence the people. The Maoists actually have two different sets of policy paper listing methods of operating in the forests and in inhabited areas.

What is the difference between the two?

In the forest, it is the terrain which hides them as the population is very sparse. But in a village, the population is concentrated, so hiding there will not be as simple. What we have seen in Bihar is that the Maoists try to win over the bigger farmer in a village, someone who has a big house where they can hide their weapons. Once the farmer is slightly under their sway, they try to involve him in some criminal activity after which he is stuck.

Going a step further, what we are doing now is age and regional profiling of our men to determine their skills. For instance, those from Bengal are good at swimming, boys from Uttarakhand can climb better and the Northeast ones are excellent at jungle warfare. We are taking these strengths of India to restructuring our QATs to optimise results. Even as we talk some of my boys are taking the examination for the best QAT in Kashmir. This is something that had not happened earlier.
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