Even though the number of Naxal attacks in the state is on the decline, there has been a massive rise in destruction of private property by Naxals in the three districts of Gadchiroli, Gondia and Chandrapur over the last three years. The value of property destroyed has increased from Rs 20 lakh in 2017 to Rs 8.9 crore in 2019, according to figures provided by the Maharashtra Police.
“Recently, Naxals have prioritised disrupting road construction work, especially in villages bordering Chhattisgarh and Telangana. They do not want roads to be built in interior areas. In our assessment, we have found that their first target is road construction activity, followed by forest goods and government vehicles and machinery,” said Shailesh Balkawade, Superintendent of Police, Gadchiroli.
Police statistics show that in 2017, Naxals destroyed Rs 20 lakh worth of private property in Chandrapur, Gadchiroli and Gondia and property worth Rs 2.10 crore in 2018. In 2019, the value of private property destroyed was Rs 8.9 crore.
Officials claimed the spike in 2019 was largely due to a single incident in Gadchiroli’s Kurkheda taluka, where Naxals attacked a road construction crew on April 30, 2019 and torched 36 vehicles comprising most of the damage. “Private property mostly comprises vehicles and other equipment used by contractors to build roads. Each of their vehicles cost between Rs 30 lakh and Rs 35 lakh,” added a senior Maharashtra Police official.
In contrast, damage to government property appears to be reducing. In 2017, the state reported a loss of Rs 2.06 crore worth of property to Naxal attacks. The figure in 2018 was
Rs 1.6 crore and Rs 53 lakh in 2017. The police has attributed this to increased deployment of forces in all three districts.
Electricity transmission cables and teak wood depots that lie in the open and are guarded at best with wooden fences and a security guard are soft targets, said the police. Of greater concern was an alleged attack by Naxals at the Kamlapur Elephant Camp in Gadchiroli in December 2019. “Naxals attacked the camp because it was becoming popular with tourists. They feared that increased footfalls would result in the lives of local villagers improving,” said Balkawade.
Incidents of Naxal attacks, however, are declining over the past three years, police figures show. In 2019, there were 70 incidents, 77 in 2018 and 80 in 2017. Incidents of exchange of fire between the police and Naxals also show a gradual reduction, from 46 and 34 in 2017 and 2018 respectively to 25 in 2019. Between 2017 and 2019, the police also killed 76 individuals they claimed were Naxals. The largest casualties came in a single encounter by Gadchiroli police’s C-60 Commandos in April 2018 in Bhamragad taluka where 40 Naxals were killed in an encounter.
In the same three-year period, the police arrested 135 Naxals. The most significant of these arrests were those of Narmada and her husband Kiran in June last year. Narmada, who headed the Dandakaranya Sub Zonal Committee of the Communist Party of India (Maoist) and her husband were chargesheeted by the National Investigation Agency for masterminding an IED explosion in Kurkheda on May 1, 2019, in which 15 quick Response Team men and their civilian driver were killed. They were driving to a site in Dadapur village where Naxals had attacked a construction crew the previous night.
Between 2017 and 2019, the police announced the surrender of 76 cadres ranging in seniority from Divisional Commanders, Dalam Commanders, Deputy Dalam Commanders and members of the Jan Militia. The 34 Naxals who surrendered in Gadchiroli last year carried a combined bounty of Rs 1.8 crore, police claimed. In the same time, the police also took preventive action against 740 “Naxal sympathisers” and got them to execute bonds of good behaviour.
In the last three years, the police also seized 109 weapons from Naxals following encounters. Rajender Singh, Additional Director General of Police, Special Operations, said these weapons included Self Loading Rifles, .303 rifles, 8 mm guns, Sten submachine guns and .12 bore guns. The police also recovered 288 kilograms of explosives — comprising two-inch mortars, landmines and claymore mines — from the Naxals between 2017 and 2019. The police also attributed the deaths of 41 civilians and injuries to 17 others to Naxal operations. “Naxal operations and exchanges of fire are reducing. We have been able to take their gunmen out with arrests and surrenders of cadres. This has resulted in recruitment going down,” said Singh.