The lack of development is the main reason for dissatisfaction in the districts where Maoists are active, and it is important to have uninterrupted development to wean the youth away from the movement, Home Minister Amit Shah said on Sunday.
Shah met with top officials from 10 states affected by Left-Wing Extremism (LWE) to review the security situation and progress of development projects.
Six chief ministers were present; four states were represented only by their chief secretaries and directors general of police.
“The root cause of dissatisfaction is that development has not reached there…since independence and…it is very essential to ensure accessibility to fast-paced development so that common and innocent people do not join them,” the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) quoted Shah as having said during the meeting.
Without that, “neither we will be able to spread democracy to the bottom nor will we be able to develop the underdeveloped areas”, he said, according to the MHA statement.
Chief Ministers Uddhav Thackeray of Maharashtra, Hemant Soren of Jharkhand, K Chandrashekar Rao of Telangana, Nitish Kumar of Bihar, Shivraj Singh Chouhan of Madhya Pradesh, and Naveen Patnaik of Odisha attended the meeting.
West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Kerala were represented by top officials.
Several states asked for security-related expenditure and development funds for LWE districts to be increased.
Invoking “cooperative federalism”, Soren said it “did not seem pragmatic” for the Centre to “demand money” from states for the deployment of central forces in LWE-affected areas.
“The central and state governments have to deal with this problem together on the principle of cooperative federalism… Till now a bill of Rs 10,000 crore has been raised by the Ministry of Home Affairs against the state of Jharkhand in this regard. It is my humble request that these bills be written off. Also, the Government of India should take a decision not to send such bills to state governments in the future,” Soren said, according to a Jharkhand government release.
Patnaik said Odisha had kept up efforts to curb LWE activities despite the pandemic, and “from 70 per cent of the districts being affected during the peak (of the Naxal problem), now we have hardly parts of three districts affected by LWE”.
He listed five development proposals for LWE-affected areas, including four-laning of NH 326 from Jeypore to Motu via Malkangiri upto Bhadrachalam; railway networks between Malkangiri and Bhadrachalam (153 km), and Nabrangpur and Junagarh (118 km); mobile phone access to all villages of the state through an estimated 2,000 more mobile base stations; setting up banks in LWE-affected areas within a year or two; and conducting a study to determine how many children from LWE-affected areas across the country get into national-level exams like NEET, IIT, or JEE.
Sources said Thackeray demanded Rs 1,200 crore under the Security-Related Expenditure (SRE) scheme and for development projects in Maharashtra. The state told the meeting that it wanted to increase the numbers of police posts, develop new schools, and set up mobile phone towers in the Naxal-affected districts, the sources said.
Chouhan spoke about the efforts made by the state’s security forces to combat the Maoists, and the various development initiatives of his government in LWE-affected areas.
Over 23,000 self-help groups of women and others, covering 2.64 lakh families had been set up in the Naxal affected Balaghat, Mandla, and Dindori districts, Chouhan is learnt to have said. According to the Madhya Pradesh government, some 10,000 youths have got jobs in these districts since April 2020.
Sources said it was emphasised during the meeting that states should conduct joint operations because Naxals keep moving across state borders.
According to the MHA, Shah urged chief secretaries of LWE states to hold review meetings with DGPs and officers of central agencies at least once every three months.
“It is very important to neutralise the sources of income of the left-wing extremists”, and “agencies of the central and state governments should try to stop this by making a system together”, Shah said, according to the MHA statement.
He asked chief ministers to prioritise the LWE problem for the next one year, so that a “permanent solution” could be found. “He said that it requires building pressure, increasing speed, and better coordination,” the MHA said.
“Shah said that those who want to give up arms and join mainstream are heartily welcome, but those who take up arms and hurt innocent people and the police, will be given the same response,” the statement said.
The meeting was also attended by the Union Minister for Rural Development and Panchayati Raj Giriraj Singh, Tribal Affairs Minister Arjun Munda, Minister for Communications, IT and Railways Ashwini Vaishnaw, MoS Road Transport and Highways Gen V K Singh, and MoS (Home) Nityanand Rai, apart from Union Home secretary Ajay Bhalla and IB chief Arvind Kumar.
The home minister holds a Naxal review meeting with the affected states every year. The meeting could not be held last year due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The 2019 meeting was held on August 26 that year.
The MHA said there has been a consistent decline in the numbers of violent incidents and their geographical spread over the past decade.
“The incidents of LWE violence has come down by 70% from an all-time high of 2,258 in 2009 to 665 in 2020. The resultant deaths… (have) also come down by 82% from the all-time high of 1,005 in 2010 to 183 in 2020. The area under Maoist influence… (has) shrunk from 96 in 2010 to just 53 districts in 2020,” it said.
Inputs from Abhishek Angad, Aishwarya Mohanty, Iram Siddique