Latehar: Cyclical Harm

Latehar: Cyclical Harm

Deepak Kumar Nayak Research Assistant, Institute for Conflict Management | 12 Dec 2016

On November 23, 2016, six Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) cadres were killed in an encounter with Commando Battalion for Resolute Action (CoBRA) personnel of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) and the Jharkhand Police, at a remote location inside the Karmadih-Naurnagu Forests under the Chhipadohar Police Station of Latehar District. CRPF, Director General (DG), K. Durga Prasad disclosed, "Two out of the six slain rebels have been identified as 'sub-zonal commander' Deepak Kharwar alias Shailesh Kharwar, who carried a cash reward of Rs, Five Lakh [INR 500,000] on his head, and 'area commander' Nagendra Yadav," and added, further, that the duo was mainly active in Latehar and Lohardaga and used to operate under the directives of Maoist 'zonal commander' Nakul Yadav. The identities of the remaining four Maoists are yet to be ascertained. Giving details on items recovered, Superintendent of Police (SP) Anup Birtharey stated that the Forces recovered one INSAS (Indian Small Arms System) rifle, two Self-Loading Rifles (SLRs), three .303 rifles, 600 bullets of various calibres and one dozen explosive devices. One carbine was also recovered from the riverbed. He further disclosed that four out of the seven recovered weapons had been looted from the Police on earlier occasions.

On December 11, 2016, acting on a tip-off by local residents, Police recovered a huge cache of explosives, including 120 Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) and two cylinder bombs (weighing five kilograms each), from a Maoist hideout in Barwaiya forests of Manika in Latehar District. Commenting on the recovery, SP, Anoop Birtharay said the explosives belonged to the Maoist squad of 'sub-zonal commander' Shravan Yadav who carried a reward of INR 500,000 on his head.

Further, on October 22, 2016, Police and CRPF personnel raided a Maoist hideout in the Serendag area of Latehar District and a recovered huge cache of arms and ammunition, including 16 IEDs together weighing around 50 kilograms, one .303 rifle, two country made guns, 327 rounds of ammunition, along with a ten meter red CPI-Maoist banner, which were kept in steel containers.

Prior to the November 23, 2016, incident, however, the last killing in the District was recorded, on July 25, 2016, when CPI-Maoist cadres had killed three civilians, including two sons of a surrendered Maoist, in the Barkol Forest range of Latehar District. A pamphlet found from the spot alleged that the victims were 'Police informers'. According to media reports, after the surrender of Rampreet Yadav (former Maoist), the Maoists had been suspecting his sons Shravan Yadav (32) and Hiralal Yadav (20), along with Shivlal Yadav (22), were working as 'Police informers'. On July 24, 2016, when the Maoists came to know about Shravan and Hiralal's presence in the Barkol area, a team of Maoists went to their homes and took them away to the Barkol Forest area and gunned them down. The Maoists also went to Shivlal Yadav's house and strangled him with a rope.

According to partial data collated by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), Latehar recorded at least 41 Left Wing Extremism (LWE)-related incidents in 2016 (all data till December 11, 20016), including four of killing, 19 of recovery, 10 of arrest, three of arson, two of blowing up of Panchayat (village level local-self government institution) buildings; one each of abduction, vandalism and holding ofKangaroo Court (jan adalat/ people's court). In the corresponding period of 2015, the District had recorded at least 13 LWE-related incidents - two of killing, three each of arrest and recovery, two of arson, one each of blowing up of a Railway track, vandalism and bandh (general shut down) call.

Further, Maoists blew up Panchayat buildings on two occasions (on February 19 and February 20), set ablaze a tower of a private telecom company on two occasions (on February 19 and February 20), and set ablaze at least 10 heavy vehicles engaged in a road construction project on June 10. They vandalised a solar panel and battery powering a Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL) mobile tower on June 26; held a kangaroo court at a location which was just 15 kilometers away from Latehar District Headquarters on July 5, 2016. LWEs ordinarily conduct such courts in areas where they have a strong presence.

Other parameters are also indicative of significant Maoist presence in the Latehar. According to the SATP database, there were at least 19 incidents of arms and ammunition recovery by the SFs during which huge caches of arms and ammunitions were recovered. Also, out of 215 LWE cadres arrested from the State in 2016, at least 25 were arrested from Latehar alone. In a significant incident of arrest, Sohan Yadav, 'bodyguard' of Maoist 'Central Committee (CC) member' Dev Kumar Singh aka Arvindji, was arrested on March 15, 2016. Out of the 25 LWE surrenders reported in Jharkhand, Latehar accounted for two. Most recently, on December 7, 2016, a Maoist 'sub-zonal commander', identified as Sanjay Korwa, carrying a bounty of INR 500,000, surrendered in the District. Earlier, on April 12, 2016, a Maoist leader, Dinesh Yadav (40), with several aliases - Chasma, Satyendra Yadav, Chota Vikas and Umesh, carrying a reward of INR 2.5 million, surrendered in the District. Yadav was a member of the CPI-Maoist Special Area Committee for Bihar-Jharkhand-North Chhattisgarh. He had been involved in LWE activities since 1998.

In the four killing incidents recorded in Latehar in 2016, at least 11 persons, including three civilians, one Security Force (SF) trooper and seven Maoists died. During the corresponding period of 2015, the District recorded just three fatalities (one civilian and two Maoists) in two incidents, and there were no further fatalities in 2015. There were only three fatalities (all Maoists) through 2014. Jharkhand State recorded a total of 79 fatalities in 2016 (data till December 11).

Though no consistent trend in fatalities has been established, the sway of LWE violence in the District is inescapable. Since the formation of CPI-Maoist on September 21, 2004, Latehar has recorded 211 Maoist-linked fatalities, including 56 civilians, 61 SF personnel and 94 Maoists. Thus, of a total of 1,457 fatalities recorded in the State of Jharkhand during the period, Latehar accounted for 14.48 per cent. The highest number of fatalities, 44, in the District, was recorded in year 2011, while a low of three fatalities was registered twice in 2014 and 2015.

Latehar District, falls under the Palamu Division of Jharkhand State, and was carved out of the old Palamu District on April 4, 2001, with the truncated Palamu to its North, Chatra to its East, Lohardaga and Gumla Districts in the South, Garhwa to its North West, and Surguja, in Chhattisgarh, to its South West. Latehar is a predominantly forest District, spread across an area of 3651.59 square kilometers, of which 61.48 per cent (2,245 square kilometres) is under dense forest and its hilly terrain makes it a perfect location for a Maoist haven. Terror also dominates Latehar due to the District's proximity with other Maoist-affected areas of Jharkhand, such as Chatra, Garhwa, Gumla, Lohardaga and Palamu, as well as its proximity to Chhattisgarh, the State currently the worst affected by LWE.

The District is also afflicted by low human development indicators, as well as widespread absence and worsening access to healthcare, education, drinking water, sanitation and food, creating an alarming humanitarian situation. These conditions are well exploited by the Maoists. Unsurprisingly, according to the "District Development and Diversity Index Report for India and Major States," a joint survey conducted by the US-India Policy Institute (USIPI) and the Centre for Research and Debates in Development Policy (CRDDP), New Delhi, found that, among 599 Districts across India under purview of the Survey, Latehar was ranked 457th, i.e., among the most backward. The report released on January 29, 2015, took composite development - measured in terms of economic development and the indices of health, education and material well-being - into consideration.

On November 14, 2016, State Director General of Police (DGP), D.K. Pandey stated that the Maoist menace was now confined to a few zones or "axes" in 11 Districts of the State: "At present, the rebels are confined in the bordering areas of the Latehar-Lohardaga-Gumla axis. Security forces have successfully managed to either persuade rebels to surrender or nabbed a number of them during counter-Maoist operations." He claimed, further, that the situation had improved as, earlier, the rebels' writ ran across all 24 Districts of the State.

More recently, according to a December 1, 2016, media report, the Jharkhand Government intends to set up a security camp atop the Burha Pahar (Hill) in Latehar, which has emerged as a CPI-Maoist bastion, with its top leaders, such as Dev Kumar Singh aka Arvindji and Sudhakaran aka Sudhakar Reddy, hiding there. Arvindji, Maoist CC member, who carries a reward of INR 10 million, and Sudhakar, Maoist CC member and party's 'military strategist', came to Jharkhand from Andhra Pradesh in early 2016 to help their organisation to regain control over bases that had been smashed by SFs, and to revive the corridor between Jharkhand, Bihar and Chhattisgarh. Announcing the plan, Jharkhand Chief Secretary Rajabala Verma stated, on December 1, 2016, "Burha Pahar that has become a synonym for Naxalism will soon be under Police control. Security Forces will set up a camp there."

Latehar is among 13 focus areas identified by the State Police where several security measures and developmental initiatives have been taken. DGP Pandey disclosed, on June 12, 2016, "We have identified 13 focus areas. These areas are being secured, cleared and developmental initiatives like bridges, fair price shops, electricity are being taken up besides efforts to generate employment." The 13 focus areas are in the Districts of Garhwa, Palamau, Chatra, Latehar, Gumla, Lohardaga, Bokaro, Giridih and the Santhal Pargana region.

Meanwhile, the State Government has added to some of the effective measuresadopted in the past to fight the LWE menace. On November 29, 2016, the Sate Cabinet, on special instructions from Chief Minister (CM) Raghubar Das, approved the formation of Civil Defence Volunteers in Latehar District along with another 21 Districts (Ranchi, Jamshedpur Hazaribagh, Dhanbad, Ramgarh, Giridih, Koderma, Chatra, Dumka, Deoghar, Pakur, Palamu, Garhwa, Gumla, Lohardaga, Simdega, West Singhbhum, Khunti, Saraikela, Jamtara and Bokaro). Most recently, on November 29, 2016, Jharkhand Government approved the addition of three new Indian Reserve Battalions (IRB) to the existing 40 Battalions of Central Armed Police Force (CAPF), including 22 CRPF battalions, 10 Jharkhand Armed Police (JAP) Battalions and eight India Reserve Battalions presently deployed across the State.

Latehar remains a major area of concern in Jharkhand. Given the cyclical nature of violence in the District, and continuous efforts by the surviving Maoist formations to revive activities, urgent and sustained efforts are necessary to consolidate the significant operational successes and gains of the past years.

Latehar: Cyclical Harm

Deepak Kumar Nayak Research Assistant, Institute for Conflict Management
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