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Naxals desperate as lockdown hits supply of rations

By R Krishna Das
April 08, 2020 20:00 IST
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Following the lockdown, haat bazaars -- an important space in the tribal culture of the Bastar region -- have been closed.
The rebels, not only in Chhattisgarh but also in Jharkhand, Odisha, Maharashtra and other states, get their ration from these bazaars.
R Krishna Das reports.


Poyam Markam (name changed), head of a village in Chhattisgarh's restive Dantewada district, wasn't taken aback when Maoists summoned him for an urgent meeting last Saturday. For villagers in the red zone, it is a routine affair.


What surprised Markam was the agenda of the meeting, which was also attended by people from adjoining areas.

The commander of the local militia conducted the proceedings that had a pointed agenda: He wanted rations and villagers had to arrange it by hook or by crook.

Maoists operating in dense forests against the State machinery are running short of rations and other essential commodities.

And the 21-day nationwide lockdown is a body blow.

Following the lockdown, haat bazaars -- an important space in the tribal culture of the Bastar region -- have been closed.

These bazaars, termed as 'supermarket for the locals', assemble once a week and are also a place for social gathering and leisure.

Makeshift stalls display a variety of products, including earthen pots, aluminium utensils, vegetables and fruits, mahua, unpolished rice and other grains, and jewellery.

These markets are also a sensitive zone and have witnessed numerous Maoist-police conflicts.

The rebels, not only in Chhattisgarh but also in Jharkhand, Odisha, Maharashtra and other states, get their rations from these haat bazaars.

They normally procure food supplies through a network of aides.

The police often question people carrying ration in large quantities and check their financial position to assess if the items are for their personal use. But they have failed to cut the supply line.

"Maoist rebels normally assign 10 to 15 villagers to procure items from the bazaar weekly and stock them," says a senior official in the local intelligence wing.

But the lockdown has disrupted the supply chain of the rebels -- haat bazaars are closed and their aides cannot come to urban areas for procurement because of strict vigilance.

Besides, villagers' priority is to first put their house in order before stocking up for Maoists.

"The development has certainly come as a big setback for Maoists, given the timing of the lockdown," the official says.

Usually, mid-March to April is the time for storing essential commodities. It is part pre-monsoon exercise as rebels usually avoid operations and movement during the monsoon season.

The procurement from weekly markets in small instalments piles up a huge stock for Maoists, who normally keep reserves for three months.

Since the purchase has stopped, the rebels are reportedly desperate -- they have to meet the present demand and stock the commodities for the coming months.

"We are receiving regular inputs that the rebels are holding meetings and pressuring villagers in remote areas to arrange ration for them," says Dantewada SP Abhishek Pallav.

A few sarpanches have secretly telephoned and informed about such meetings, he says.

In Gumiyapal village, Pallav says, the rebels thrashed villagers and asked them to arrange 500 kg of rice.

"While the entire country is reeling from severe crises, the rebels are torturing villagers. This exposes their inhuman attitude."

The government authorities are ensuring that villagers in remote areas get their rations through the public distribution system (PDS).

But the quota is good enough only for their family to meet the demand and villagers cannot keep a share for the rebels.

Fearing revolt from the people, Maoists do not interfere with the PDS.

"I have not come across any incident of PDS stock being looted by Maoists during the last couple of years," says a senior bureaucrat earlier posted in Bastar.

The alternative is to loot the rations during transit, but the task is not easy.

In November, the rebels intercepted a vehicle with essential commodities on the Injaram-Bhejji route in Sukma district, but the security personnel patrolling the area rushed to the spot and foiled the attempt after a brief gunbattle.

Security forces are giving little room for any such incidents since rebels looted their rations a couple of years ago in Odisha and Chhattisgarh.

They now gets ration by air -- helicopters drop essential commodities directly on the camps.

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R Krishna Das in Raipur
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