New Delhi: The Union government will have to seriously consider shifting some paramilitary Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) battalions from Jammu and Kashmir to Chhattisgarh to fight Maoist rebels who have stepped up attacks in the central Indian state, according to police and paramilitary officers.
The Chhattisgarh police have informed the Union government that the state needs at least 54 battalions—or 54,000 men—of armed police to mount continuous and effective operations against the rebels, known as Naxalites.
“However, we have only about 20 battalions, including those offered by the paramilitary as well as the state police. We definitely need more support from the paramilitary,” said Vishwa Ranjan, director general of police .
Security threat: A file photo of Naxalites training at a temporary base in a Chhattisgarh forest. The number of Naxalite attacks in the state increased from about 100 seven years ago to 624 last year. Mustafa Quraishi / AP
Home minister P. Chidambaram said last month that the government wants the CRPF to play a secondary role to the state police in J&K. The CRPF was replaced by the J&K police in the district of Baramulla.
Naxalite violence, which Prime MinisterManmohan Singhhas described as India’s most serious national security threat, has increased in Chhattisgarh, a densely forested state of 20 million people. In their latest strike, the rebels killed about 30 policemen patrolling Rajnandgaon district earlier this month.
Naxalites take their name from Naxalbari, a village in West Bengal where a peasant uprising broke out in the 1960s and spread to other parts of India. Among states where the rebels are active, Chhattisgarh accounts for the highest number of casualties. In 2008, the state reported 620 incidents related to the Maoist insurgency, with 85 security personnel and 157 civilians killed.
CRPF deployment is the heaviest in J&K, where security forces are battling a two-decade-old anti-Indian insurgency. A paramilitary officer with vast experience in anti-Maoist operations said the CRPF must be asked to withdraw some of its battalions from J&K and move them to Chhattisgarh.
“The CRPF has deployed 77 battalions out of 200 in J&K, whereas in Chhattisgarh it has only 14 battalions. Similarly in Orissa and Jharkhand where it is facing the brunt of the Naxal violence, the CRPF has very few battalions posted in these states,” said this officer, who didn’t want to be named. “It is time to reconsider the priorities of the CRPF,” the officer added.
The number of terror incidents in J&K declined from 3,071 in 1999 to 708 in 2008. In Chhattisgarh, the number of Naxalite attacks increased from about 100 seven years ago to 624 last year.
“There have been several discussions on this (moving some CRPF battalions into Chhattisgarh) within the ministry. But it is a bit complicated and may take time,” said a home ministry official who did not want to be identified.
J&K chief minister Omar Abdullah warned the Centre earlier this month against carrying out any sudden pullout of paramilitary forces. “We have over 70 battalions of the CRPF and the state police’s strength is not even one-third of it. Five battalions of the state police, which includes the India Reserve Police, are undergoing training. So any rash decision in this aspect can be detrimental to the state’s security,” he said.
According to Union home secretary G.K. Pillai, the Centre is working towards mobilizing forces in districts affected by Maoist violence. “We are aware of the need for more troops in these states and are working towards it. However, the Chhattisgarh state police first needs to augment its rural police,” Pillai said.
He refused to confirm whether some battalions would be transferred from Jammu and Kashmir to Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Orissa.