New Delhi: As the Chhattisgarh government battles to stanch Maoist violence, the Centre plans to ask the state administration to raise two engineering battalions within its police department to ensure that road projects are completed on time for easy movement of security reinforcements across its densely forested terrain.
In their latest strike, Maoist rebels killed 30 policemen, including a district police chief, on Sunday while they patrolled Chhattisgarh’s heavily forested Rajnandgaon district. Police said the toll could rise as 13 policemen were still missing.
The threat of attacks by the rebels, known as Naxalites, has stalled several road projects in the central Indian state. The Union government had last year sanctioned a Rs7,300 crore highways projects for Naxal-affected states, including Chhattisgarh.
Timely completion of roads is crucial for movement of police and paramilitary reinforcements across the state of 20 million, 44% of whose land is under forests, and other states that are battling the Maoist menace.
“As of now, neither the government agencies nor the private contractors are willing to complete works, as they feel threatened by the Naxalites,” said a home ministry official who did not want to be identified. “So we feel that the state police should take on more responsibilities.”
Violence-affected: An injured policeman being taken to hospital after a Maoist attack in Rajnandgaon district of Chhattisgarh on Sunday. Thirty people including the district SP were killed in the attack. PTI
According to this official, if the state police were to be handed this task, they would be in a better position to deal with rebels because they would be armed and able to defend themselves.
Two battalions would consist of about 2,000 men.
The state police is already contributing to the road construction effort.
The superintendent of police of Chhattisgarh’s Bijapur district, Ankit Garg, led a team of policemen who helped build a 22km road when construction workers abandoned the project after being threatened by the rebels.
“This stretch between Bijapur and Gangaloor is one of the most dangerous areas in the state as the Naxals have liberally planted mines here. Initially, the police were asked to provide security but soon it became clear that we would have to do the work as well, as one labourer after the other stopped showing up for work,” said Garg.
The Bijapur SP said the state police was also drawing up plans to get policemen to handle construction work.
The road transport ministry divided the areas that were to be covered under the Rs7,300 crore Central road project into three categories, depending on the intensity of the Naxalite threat, said a ministry official who didn’t want to be named.
Most of the areas under the control of the Naxalites fell under a category requiring a dominant presence of security forces before construction could take place.
“It would be a very challenging task to implement these works in Chhattisgarh and we will definitely need some innovation to make the project site secure,” the road transport ministry official said.
An officer with a paramilitary force who has vast experience in anti-Naxal operations said it would be imperative for the state police to be seen doing development work in places that are dominated by the Maoists.
“These roads can now be built only by the police forces, but more importantly such efforts would also endear the policemen to the people,” said the officer who didn’t want to be named.
Nandini Sundar, a sociologist who has studied the problems of people living in Naxalite-affected areas, said that sending more troops and raising new battalions may not be such a good idea.
“The police is not the only face of the state. There are other agencies to deal with healthcare and education. First the government should focus on bringing some development into these areas,” she said.
“Intelligence inputs coming from the western and southern regions of the state indicate that the police force might face more attacks from the Maoists,” deputy inspector general of police Pawan Deo said on Monday.
The Maoists started their armed struggle in West Bengal’s Naxalbari town in late 1967, and have expanded their support among villagers by tapping into resentment at the government’s recent pro-industry push.
The Centre last month banned the Communist Party of India (Maoist), officially designating the group as a terrorist organization, after stepped up attacks by the rebels.
Reuters contributed to this story.