over-400 strong Anti-Naxal Force of the Karnataka police have called off night time patrolling and ambush activities in the forests of the Western Ghats region of the state in the light of a drop in morale of the force following the arrest of an ANF constable for the killing of a 23-year-old Muslim youth.
Though home minister K J George and the head of the Internal Security Division Amar Kumar Pandey have denied any halt in the activities of the ANF stationed in the forested hills of the Chikamagalur-Dakshina Kannada region, sources familiar with developments in the ANF said night time patrolling and combing activities had come to a halt with only the occassional day time patrols being carried out over the last couple of days since the arrest of the ANF constable Naveen G Naik for shooting Mohammed Kabeer.
“Combing operations are being carried out only once a day due to the lack of enthusiasm among the personnel, especially the constable cadre. Senior officials have been confronted by juniors and told that restraining the use of arms would make the ANF sitting ducks during combing operations,” an official said. Senior officials have also decided following the incident of April 19 to employ the ANF only if Naxal activity is spotted in the area, police sources said.
Senior police officials of the Internal Security Division and the Anti Naxal Force have held meetings over the last couple of days to find ways to keep up the morale of the ANF and restore normalcy in its operations. “The main concern among top officials is that poor morale and laxity in security measures in the Western Ghats region could be a breeding ground for Naxal activities and can wipe out years of hard work that has gone into breaking the Naxal network in the region,” the official source said.
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According to ANF sources, it has been due to the intensive search and combing operations alongside the government’s developmental activities in the area that has resulted in Maoist groups losing their support base in the region and failing to attract cadre anymore.
New leaders of the Maoist groups in the region like Vikram Gowda and a dozen Naxal cadres have temporarily shifted their base to Kerala and are waiting for the right opportunity to gain public support and build a network on the lines of the nearly 50-member cadre that existed in the region a decade ago.
Though the originally sanctioned strength of the ANF was 543, the force is currently short of 100 personnel.
ANF constable Naveen Naik, who was involved in the shooting, is incidentally a recipient of the President’s Gallantry Medal on Independence Day in August 2013 for his role in an ANF forest ambush in the region in 2012 that lead to the killing of a Maoist leader identified as Yellappa.
The state police had initially resisted the arrest of Naik for opening fire on Kabeer and his associates from fear that it would affect the morale of the ANF if the firing was justified and done in the line of duty.
Naik was however arrested on April 25 following growing pressure from within the ruling Congress in Karnataka, civil rights groups and the State Human Rights Commission for justice for the family of the victim along with the Rs 10 lakh compensation announced for the kin of the victim by the state government.