Odisha: Malkangiri: Profile of Failure
By Fakir Mohan Pradhan
Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management,
Deepak Kumar Nayak
Research Assistant, Institute for Conflict Management
On May 27, 2012, a day ahead of the visit of Union Rural Development (URD) Minister Jairam Ramesh to Odisha’s Malkangiri District to review different developmental programmes and meet the newly-elected panchayat (local village self-government) body members, Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) cadres triggered a landmine blast at Kanaguda under the Kalimela Police Station limits in the District, injuring three personnel of the Special Operation Group (SOG). When Ramesh visited Malkangiri the next day, he restricted himself to the District Headquarters town of Malkangiri, shelving earlier plans to visit Janbai, Sikhapalli and Malkangiri Village (MV)-16 villages. Though Janbai is far off, Sikhapalli and MV-16 villages are just 15 to 20 kilometres from Malkangiri town. Senior District officials, however, pleaded that the situation was “quite bad” and that they “could not take the risk” of a VIP visit.
Malkangiri, is one of the two Districts worst affected by Maoist activities in Odisha, the other being Koraput, bordering it to the north. Located in the southern part of the State, Malkangiri also shares its borders with Sukma District (recently carved out of Dantewada) in Chhattisgarh; and Khammam, East Godavari and Vishakhapatnam Districts in Andhra Pradesh. Its dense forests, hilly terrain, substantial tribal population, poverty, underdevelopment, very poor road-network, dismal governance and, above all, strategic location – flanked by Chhattisgarh, the worst affected State to one side and Andhra Pradesh, the Maoists’ ideological and leadership base, to the other – make it a perfect area for guerrilla warfare. The Maoists, on their part, have worked systematically to consolidate their base and capacities in the District.
According to the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP) database, Maoist related fatalities have been continuous, though uneven, with a sharp peak in 2008, when just two incidents resulted in the death of 55 Security Force (SF) personnel.
Fatalities in Malkangiri District: 2005-2012
Source: SATP, * Data till June 10, 2012 .
Some of the major incidents in Malkangiri include:
February 10, 2012: Four personnel of the Boder Security Force (BSF), including commandant Jeevan Ram Khaswan, were killed in an ambush by the cadres of the CPI-Maoist in Malkangiri District, when the BSF personnel were on their way to Chitrakonda from the BSF camp at Balimela.
November 4, 2010: Four cadres of the CPI-Maoist were killed in a gun battle with the Police in a forested area near Karlakuta village in Malkangiri District.
November 13, 2009: Three Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel, including Deputy Commandant Bhupinder Singh, were killed in a landmine blast triggered by Maoists in the MV-66 village area of Malkangiri District.
July 16, 2008: CPI-Maoist cadres killed 17 personnel of the SOG in a landmine blast in the MV-126 area in Malkangiri District.
June 29, 2008: Thirty-eight SF personnel, including 36 belonging to the elite anti-Maoist Greyhounds from Andhra Pradesh, were killed in the Chitrakonda reservoir of Malkangiri District, close to the Andhra Pradesh border. CPI-Maoist cadres atop hills sprayed bullets on the 68-member Andhra Pradesh-Odisha Police party, which was returning after conducting combing operations. Heavy fire from sophisticated weapons sunk the motorised boat in the reservoir, drowning most of the SF personnel. Some who swam ashore were reportedly shot by the Maoists.
Fatalities, however, provide a poor index of Maoist dominance in Malkangiri, as, indeed, do other statistics on violence. In addition to the fatalities, for instance, since 2008, the Maoists have blown up at least 14 Panchayat offices, set ablaze 14 mobile towers, attacked three Police Stations and enforced bandhs (total shutdowns) on 24 occasions.
The District has had an engagement with Left Wing Extremism (LWE) since the ‘spring thunder’ of 1967, during which the ‘Naxalites’ in the Orissa formed the Orissa State Coordination Committee (OSCC) on March 14, 1968, with D.B.M. Patnaik as convenor. Soon after, one of the leading members of the OSCC, Nagabhusan Patnaik, as head of the Chitrakonda Labour Movement, led some 5,000 labourers in an attack on the Chitrakonda Police Station and looted all the arms and ammunition there. In 1969, the OSCC was dissolved and the ‘revolutionary' regions of southern Odisha [Koraput and Ganjam] merged with the Srikakulam Regional Committee [Andhra Pradesh]. Later, among the factions of Communist Party of India- Marxist Leninist (CPI-ML), People’s War Group (PWG) of Andhra Pradesh became dominant in the region and violence increased in Malkangiri since the PWG formed the Andhra-Odisha Border Special Zonal Committee (AOBSZC) in 2001. [The AOBSZC then covered the four north coastal Districts of Andhra Pradesh – East Godavari, Visakhapatnam, Vijayanagaram and Srikakulam; and the five Districts of southern Odisha – Malkangiri, Koraput, Rayagada, Gajapati and Ganjam.] In the early stages of this reorganisation, on July 30, 2003, PWG cadres killed 10 SF personnel and injured another eight in a landmine blast triggered near Bhijengiwada village under the Kalimela Police Station of Malkangiri. On the same day, SFs were able to repulse another attack on the Motu Police Station.
Though the Maoists now dominate virtually the entire District, the ‘cut off area’ – 150-odd villages of Kudumulu Gumma Block separated from the rest of the Block by the Balimela Reservoir – deserves special mention. This area, sandwiched between the Reservoir on one side and a hill tract on the other, is highly inaccessible. An approach from the Reservoir is possible only by motorised boats, and is highly exposed (as evidenced by the June 29, 2008, attack that killed 38 SF personnel). The circuitous route from the other side is made even difficult by the absence of a bridge over the Gurupriya River at Janbai; and the Maoists have thwarted every attempt to construct a bridge at Janbai. URD Minister Ramesh thus noted, “12 years ago, Chief Minister (CM) Naveen Patnaik laid the foundation stone of Gurupriya Bridge. Till date, it’s incomplete. We can fire Agni missiles from Balasore, but can’t build a kilometre-long bridge.”
Even before Naveen Patnaik, his predecessor CM J.B. Patnaik had laid the foundation stone for the bridge. Tenders for the bridge have been cancelled at least seven times, as no contractor turns up for the work. Recently, with the BSF setting up a camp in Janbai on January 22, 2012, construction work was expected to begin under their direct protection. While setting up their camp, the BSF also brought down a Maoist memorial there, and built a sentry post over it, as a stamp of authority. Unfortunately, however, the Maoists struck back quickly, and the BSF Commandant was killed on February 10, 2012. The work on the bridge is yet to commence.
The Maoists have also extended protection to widespread ganja (marijuana) cultivation, as a measure to generate finances in an area otherwise devoid of revenues because of its acute impoverishment and absence of industry. According to the Justice P.K. Mohanty Commission Report, ganja is illegally cultivated in Malkangiri and some other naxal-infested Districts of Odisha, and is smuggled through Chhattisgarh and Andhra Pradesh to the rest of the country. With an acre of ganja plantation fetching over INR 10 million, it is alleged that naxals are raising huge funds from the drug trade, with plantations particularly concentrated in Chitrakonda and Kalimela. Anup Kumar Sahoo, then Sub-divisional Police Ofiicer (SDPO), Malkangiri, had stated on February 4, 2009, “ganja trade being a lucrative trade, once they enter into this business obviously they would generate huge funds. Since the Excise Department is ill equipped to deal with this issue and the Police are busy with the operational part, there is no one to stop the ganja trade”. Excise inspector, Malkangiri, Bijay Kumar Mishra, adds, "I only have nine staff for the entire District. With this manpower it is impossible to control the trade. We are helpless."
The Maoist support base in Malkangiri is not confined to any particular tribe or area, though the Koya tribe remains a mainstay. However, the two primitive tribes living in the District – the Bonda and Didayi – have generally remained aloof from the Maoists. However, there have been some indicators of Maoist efforts to make inroads into the Bonda tribe. Two Bonda youth – Chandra Kichipadia and Arjun Dora – were arrested in April and November 2010 in connection with the Govindpalli Ghat Road landmine blast case of April 4, 2010, in which 11 SOG personnel were killed on the Koraput side of the Malkangiri District border. Under interrogation, Kichipadia and Dora confirmed that at least 20 Bonda youth had taken training under the Maoists. Sources are sceptical of this claim, insisting that the Bondas are too reclusive to interact with outsiders. Nevertheless, Maoist activity in the Ankadeli, Macchakund, Gavindpalli and Lamtaput area – the bordering area between Malkangiri and Koraput where Bondas have their presence – have been noted to be on the rise. Further, it was recently discovered that Maoists had been using the route along Chintapalli (Andhra Pradesh), Padua (Koraput), Ankadeli (Koraput), Bonda Hills (Malkangiri, but very near the Koraput border), Chitrakonda (Malkangiri), quite frequently. This confirms the strategic importance of the Bonda Hills and the Bonda tribe for the Maoists.
In the panchayat elections of February 2012, 15 sarpanchs (village heads) backed by the Maoists were elected unopposed. So alarmed was the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (UMHA), that it directed the State Government to countermand the elections of such candidates. The State Government, however, chose to ignore the ‘advice’ on the grounds that the existing law provides no grounds for such an action. The UMHA, thereafter, asked the Ministry of Rural Development to block funding to panchayats where representatives were elected unopposed, but was, again, explicitly rebuffed.
The Maoist influence in Malkangiri can be gauged by the near total bandhs (shutdowns) observed every time the Maoists give such a call. Maoist Central Committee (CC) member Akkiraju Hargopal alias Ramakrishna alias RK, as the ‘secretary’ of the AOBSZC, is in the overall charge of Maoist activity in the Malkangiri District. Below this level, the Malkangiri ‘division’ is headed by ‘Ganesh’. Bille Narayan Swamy alias Azad alias Damodar, who headed the ‘division’ till recently has reportedly been transferred. The ‘division’ has three ‘area committees’ – Papuluru, Motu and Kalimela – and other local squads, besides a few platoons. In addition, the Maoists are said to have another ‘Koraput-Malkangiri division’, which is active along the border of the two Districts.
Significantly, Jal, Jungle, Zamin (water, forests and land), are not the issues in Malkangiri, despite Maoist polemics. Nor is Malkangiri like Abujmaad – an un-surveyed region beyond the ken of the Administration. It is decades of sheer administrative apathy that have virtually offered up this strategically critical area to the Maoists for their guerrilla base.
Recent attempts to salvage the situation generate little confidence. The District is one of the 78 Districts brought under the Integrated Area Plan (IAP), the flagship programme of the UMHA, under its ‘two pronged approach’ to tackle the Maoist problem along the ‘security and development’ matrix. In addition, URD Minister Ramesh has come up with an INR 3 billion Special Area Development Plan to be implemented in Malkangiri and the adjoining Sukma District of Chhattisgarh over a period of two years. It may be noted that Sukma District Collector, Alex Paul Menon, was abducted this year, while the District Collector of Malkangiri, Vineel Krishna, was abducted last year.
The real question, however, is whether the State has the capacity to implement these plans. The fate of the bridge at Janbai is dramatic evidence to the contrary. The URD Minister would be aware that the District has been able to spend just 35 per cent of its allocated funding under the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana (PMGSY, the Prime Minister’s Village Road Plan) as a result of the failure of contractors to take up work, under Maoist threat. The Minister has even suggested that, if the situation continues, the onus may be shifted to the gram panchayats to find men to carry out the road construction work under PMGSY – though it is not clear how the panchayats are going to succeed where the might of the ‘emerging global power’ has failed. Indeed, the ‘developmental’ thrust has failed even in Districts far less afflicted by Maoist activities. For instance, in its performance audit [Audit Report (Civil)], of the Works Department, for the year 2010-11, the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) observed, with regard to the construction and maintenance of State Highways (SH-3,687 kilometres) and District Roads [Major District Roads (MDR) – 4,057 kilometres], and Other District Roads (ODR – 6,813 kilometres) across Odisha:
- The projects taken up in 2006-07/2007-08 under loans from NABARD through Rural Infrastructure Development Fund (RIDF) and targeted for completion by March 2011 had progressed only up to 55 per cent.
- Government, while advancing general reasons, viz., strikes by left wing extremists, delay in acquisition of land, difficulty in well sinking of bridge works and non-response to tenders, for the slow progress in RIDF projects stated (February 2012) that the EEs (Executive Engineers) have been instructed to take action as per clause 2 of the contract [providing levy of LD (liquidated damages)] for slow moving works. Action, however, is yet to be taken. Further, none of the projects test checked by audit is in worst affected left wing extremist districts of the State and hence the reason furnished that the works are delayed due to strike by left wing extremist is not tenable. [Emphases added].
Indeed, a deep malaise afflicts the State administrative machinery, and this is enormously amplified in Malkangiri. Key positions in the District administration have been lying vacant over extended periods, and, as in mid-February this year, 569 posts in the civil offices of the Districts were vacant. These vacancies included 70 in the Panchayati Raj Department; 113 in the Revenue Department; 160 in the Health and Family Welfare Department; 53 in the SC & ST Development Department; 60 in the Agriculture Department; 13 in the Women and Child Development Department; 50 in the Fisheries and Animal Resources Development Department; two in the Information and Public Relation Department; 11 in the Horticulture Department; five in the Labour and Employment Department; 15 in the Excise Department; nine in the Works Department; six in the Industry Department; and two in the Food Supplies and Consumer Welfare Department. At the senior level, four posts of Deputy Collector at Malkangiri were vacant.
In an apparent effort to improve the situation, five battalions of the BSF have been deployed in the Koraput and Malkangiri Districts since April 2011. The strength of the State Police however remains far below sanctioned levels.
The Maoists have extended their influence essentially into areas of non-governance, where the presence of even the SFs is marginal and ineffective. Pumping large quantities of money into these areas can have little impact on their developmental profile, or on the course of the Maoist insurgency, and feeds, essentially, into cycles of corruption, with at least a proportion of the funds being channelled to the Maoists. There is little in either the State’s or the Centre’s plans that suggests that things in Malkangiri – or indeed, in any of the worst afflicted Districts along the Maoist ‘Red Corridor’ – are going to change any time soon.