New Delhi: On 16 April, the Union home ministry removed 44 districts from the list of left-wing extremism (LWE) hit states, bringing the number of affected districts down to 30. Soon after, in May, security forces killed more than 40 Naxalites in Maharashtra’s Gadchiroli district.

These numbers reflected how well the security forces had done in lessening the threat, said a senior home ministry official.

“If you look at the last four years, we have made significant progress. LWE areas, especially those in Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand, were neglected before 2014. But we have introduced infrastructure projects that are ushering in development in these areas and have also been sending out troops on area combing operations to destroy Naxal hideouts," said the senior home ministry official cited above, requesting anonymity.

Incidents of left-wing extremism have declined by 60% from 2,258 in 2009 to 908 in 2017, according to Union home ministry statistics. At the same time, the casualties among security forces in left-wing extremism-hit areas increased by 27%, from 59 in 2015 to 75 in 2017, including 35 Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel who were killed by the Naxalites in April 2017.

Speaking at the passing out parade of the CRPF’s Bastariya Battalion in Chhattisgarh’s Ambikapur, Union home minister Rajnath Singh said on Monday.

“Naxalism is a challenge but I want to say that this menace is now shrinking. Casualties among security forces have declined by 53-55%. The geographical expanse of LWE-affected areas has also decreased by 40-45%. We have also decided that all those left-wing extremism leaders who have earned money by using poor people and manipulating their innocence, will be punished," Singh said.

Singh’s promise, however, comes three months after the Enforcement Directorate (ED) had for the first time zeroed in one of India’s top Naxal leaders. The agency had in February attached assets worth Rs86 lakh of Vijay Yadav, aka Badka Bhaiya, under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act.

Defence experts however, stated that despite the Union home ministry’s efforts at eliminating Naxalism from India’s LWE districts, a lot of loopholes remained to be plugged.

“The CRPF needs to be better equipped and supported. It is doing great work in these areas but it needs to be given more support as well as more manpower especially in Chhattisgarh," said Gaurav Arya, a former Indian Army official and defence expert.

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