New Delhi: India is failing to curb a growing Maoist insurgency, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said on Tuesday, while also warning of a “worrisome" upswing in cross-border infiltration by Pakistan-based militants.

Singh told a meeting of top police officers from around the country that Maoist rebels posed the greatest threat to India’s internal security and that a new strategy was required to deal with the problem.

Empowering police: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh says the country needs to overhaul and modernize its police system. Kamal Singh/PTI

The country’s Maoist insurgency, which started as a peasant uprising in 1967, has spread to 20 of the country’s 29 states and claimed 580 lives so far this year.

The rebels say they are fighting for the rights of neglected tribespeople and landless farmers.

Singh also highlighted militant infiltration across the Line of Control that divides Indian and Pakistan-controlled Kashmir and other borders. “There are certain developments that are worrisome. Infiltration across the Line of Control and also via other routes such as Nepal, Bangladesh and the sea is going up."

“Encounters with armed militants have become more frequent in recent weeks and months," he added.

The nuclear-armed neighbours had launched a peace process in 2004, starting new road and rail links and improving people-to-people ties, but made little headway on the core issue of Kashmir. The peace process was suspended after last year’s Mumbai attacks, which India blamed on Pakistan-based militants.

Singh said the attacks had highlighted the need to overhaul India’s police system, in which officers are often underpaid, unmotivated and under-equipped.

“We need a new-age policeman who is more professional, better-motivated, suitably empowered... Our police forces must operate on the frontiers of modern technology," Singh said.