Seven Maoists, including five women and an area committee secretary, were killed in an encounter with the Chhattisgarh Police Saturday in the Bagnadi area of Rajnandgaon district, bordering Maharashtra. With this operation, over the last week, 16 Maoists have been killed — an unusually high number during the monsoon when the forest tracks become difficult to navigate.
The encounter Saturday was also the first big operation in the MMC (Maharashtra-Madhya Pradesh-Chhattisgarh Confluence) zone, created by Maoists in a new area that adjoins all three states, affecting the districts of Rajnandgaon and Kabirdham in Chhattisgarh, Gondia in Maharashtra and Balaghat in Madhya Pradesh.
The zone, which marked the first Maoist attempts at expansion in at least eight years, began around 2016, when they tried to combat increasing pressure in Bastar by shifting some cadre to the thickly forested patch in the new area.
Police said that 95 personnel from the state force, including jawans from the DRG, STF, CAF and district police were readied to act on specific intelligence inputs. “At 8 am, one of the four teams was advancing and found three Maoist tents erected in the hilly jungles between Sherpar and Sitagota. Seeing the forces advance, the Maoists opened fire which was responded to. The exchange of fire lasted more than an hour and the Maoists fled towards the Gondia border. In search operations after the exchange of fire, seven Maoist bodies were recovered, including five women,” said a Chhattisgarh police statement.
Police said that two of the bodies were identified as Sukhdev alias Lakshman, Darrekasa Area Committee Secretary, and Pramila, his wife, member of the Darrekasa Area Committee. While Sukhdev carried a reward of Rs 8 lakh, Pramila had a reward of Rs 5 lakh.
Three others, Seema, Meena and Ritesh are also Darrekasa Area Committee members carrying rewards of Rs 5 lakh, while Lalita and Shilpa have been identified as members of Maoist platoon number 1 carrying a reward of Rs 1 lakh.
Senior police officers said, “It is clear that this one encounter has broken the back of the Darrekasa Area Committee which was spearheading the expansion operations in the area.” One AK-47, one carbine, one .303 rifle, two .315 bore rifles and one 5-kg pressure cooker IED are among the arms and ammunitions recovered.
With 16 alleged Maoists killed in the past week, including seven in an encounter in Bastar district last Saturday, the state police has ramped up operations in the monsoon, usually considered difficult because of the terrain.
Chhattisgarh DGP D M Awasthi told The Sunday Express, “We started these operations during the monsoons during 2017 and 2018. We have been successful in those years as well. Perhaps not in this magnitude but small operations were quite successful. This time with more specific intelligence inputs these efforts have been made.”
“When the monsoon is rough and it is heavily raining, it stops Naxals in their camps. That is the best time to run operations. The only thing is that you need a motivated force. So the STF, DRG and our local forces are moving in the rains without problems.”
On the first big encounter in the MMC Zone, Awasthi said, “The first thing is that they have an MMC zone, there is no doubt. They have vistaar platoons and almost 100 plus people have been moving to the zone in the last two to three years. Number two, what we have done in the last two to three years, we have opened lots of camps in the MMC area, almost 10 to 12 in the area.”
“We have been training our forces in the terrain. What happened last year was that there was no exchange of fire but the forces moved around in those areas, increasing their knowledge of the geography. Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra also are working, and we are coordinating with them. But no big encounter took place. It happened three to four times that we reached their camps but they ran away. This time, more specific intelligence, and some small tweaks in tactics have led to this.”