New Delhi: Two days after an attack by Naxalites killed 25 Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) jawans and left seven more seriously injured, the government appointed Rajiv Rai Bhatnagar, a 1983-batch IPS officer and former Director General (DG) of the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) as the new DG of the CRPF.
The paramilitary force had been without a chief for two months.
Bhatnagar now faces the task of managing a force that has borne the brunt of India’s decades-long battle with insurgents, often working in inhospitable terrain and without adequate equipment. In the wake of the attack at Chhattisgarh’s Sukma district, analysts have again raised issues related to training and adherence to accepted practices while battling insurgents.
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Meanwhile, the ministry of home affairs (MHA) and CRPF also have to deal with the quality of intelligence the insurgents seem to have on troop movements. Officials at the home ministry say villagers are coerced into doing this, failing which they are branded police informers and killed.
According to the home ministry, thus far in 2017, Naxalites have killed 48 civilians. The year has also seen 250 clashes between Naxalites and security forces.
“Exploitation of tribals by Maoists manifests in multifarious ways such as villagers being forced to provide food and shelter, act as informers against security forces, confront administration and obstruct development initiatives, being used as human shields during operations by the forces and forced recruitment,” said a senior home ministry official on condition of anonymity.
Senior CRPF officials based in Chhattisgarh’s Dantewada district said that this is the season when there are maximum attacks by the Naxalites. Meanwhile, a home ministry document seen by Mint speaks of how the insurgents are recruiting children, sometimes by force.
“Left Wing Extremists (LWE) in the States of Chhattisgarh, Bihar, Jharkhand and Odisha recruit young children from time to time. In Bihar and Jharkhand, these children are enrolled in ‘Bal Dasta’ and in Chhattisgarh and Odisha the children’s squad is known as ‘Bal Sangham’. These minors are imparted military training besides being utilized for collecting information for the Maoists,” the document said.
Officials at the ministry say they do not have a record of the number of children who have been inducted into the cadres till now. The process, a CRPF official said, is akin to child trafficking. Insurgents keep a lookout for children whose parents are out working in the fields and abduct them.
“The recruitment process has shifted from (being) voluntary to coercion,” said Dinesh Pratap Upadhyay, deputy inspector general (Ops), Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), Dantewada district.