In Monday’s Maoist ambush in Sukma, 25 members of the 74th Battalion of CRPF were killed on their way to a Maoist stronghold. Two companies of the CRPF, around 150 personnel, were dispatched to provide security to an under-construction road on the Dornapal-Jagargunda stretch in South Sukma. After venturing out just one-kilometer from their base camp, the CRPF were ambushed by around 300-400 Maoists.
Road connectivity forms a critical part of anti-Naxal operations in Maoist-affected areas. Better roads ensure the free movement of security forces. Last December, the Narendra Modi Cabinet cleared a project to build and upgrade roads connecting some of the worst Left Wing Extremism (LWE) Affected areas. At an estimated cost of Rs 11,724.53 crore, works related to the construction/upgradation of 5,411.81 km road and 126 bridges/Cross Drainage works were to be taken up in 44 such districts. The Ministry of Rural Development was tasked with building all-weather roads as a vertical under Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana (PMGSY). Cost sharing for the project is split 60:40 between the Centre and States, except for eight North Eastern and three Himalayan States, which is 90:10.
Under the UPA
Earlier, in 2009, the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways undertook a similar exercise and came out with a Road Requirement Plan (Phase-I). The stated aim for the project was to build 5,477 kms of roads at an estimated cost of Rs. 7,300 crores. As of November, 2015, 3,858 kms of roads were laid at a cost of Rs Rs 5,262 crores in 34 LWE affected districts in 8 states, including Chhattisgarh. A total of 53 road works were sanctioned in Chhattisgarh at a cost of Rs 3045 crore to lay 2019 km of roads. Data available with the Left Wing Extremism Division, part of the Ministry of Home Affairs, show that a combined length of 868 km roads were laid in Chhattisgarh alone, the highest among the 8 Naxal affected states. The ministry spent Rs 1,029 crore in building them against an allocation of Rs 1,475 crores.
In January 2015, Union Minister of Road Transport, Highways & Shipping, Nitin Gadkari convened a chief ministers conference of 8 LWE affected States in Raipur. At the meeting, Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Raman Singh mentioned that works related to about 700 kms sanctioned roads are yet to be completed. In his reply, Gadkari said all pending works will be completed by May 2015. However, the status of the project is not known.
Chhattisgarh tops in LWE violence
A state-wise breakdown of LWE violence between 2011-17 show that both Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh have gone toe to toe when it comes to the number of reported incidents and number of reported deaths. In the last six years, 784 deaths and 2484 incidents of violence have been reported in Chhattisgarh, making it the worst affected state in terms of Left Wing Extremism. That means in almost every third reported incident there has been at least one death, a majority of them were civilians.
Rise in Maoists laying down arms
Interestingly, the number of Maoists laying down their arms and surrendering has also gone up significantly. In 2016 alone, 1142 Maoists surrendered across India, the highest in last five years. In the same year, nearly a month after Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the decision to scrap old Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes, it was reported that a record number of 564 Maoists surrendered in the last 28 days. The achievement was attributed to their inability to launder old currency notes and, also, the crackdown by security forces.
Under the surrender-cum-rehabilitation scheme, the State provides an immediate grant of Rs 2.5 lakhs for high ranking LWE cadres and Rs 1.5 lakhs for mid-rung and lower-level cadres. There is an added incentive if a Naxalite surrenders with arms. Surrendered weapons such as LMG/RPG/Sniper Rifle/ Rocket Launcher etc. would fetch Rs 35,000 and Rs 25,000 for AK47/56/74 rifles. The money received from the surrender of weapons is deposited in a fixed deposit account and can be withdrawn only after three years, which is subject to good behaviour of the person. All surrendered Naxalites are sent to a rehabilitation camp where vocational courses are imparted. A monthly stipend of Rs 4,000 is also given for a period of 36 months, until they find employment.