In a fresh strategy to combat the Naxal menace, the government on Wednesday asked Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Orissa and West Bengal to create a unified command for anti-Maoist operations and to appoint a retired major general of the army as its member.
The Centre will "request the state governments of Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Orissa and West Bengal to create a unified command for anti-Naxal operations and to appoint a retired major general of the army as a member of the command," Home Minister P Chidambaram said addressing leaders of seven Naxal-affected states in New Delhi.
The meeting chaired by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is being attended by chief ministers of Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Orissa, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh.
While Jharkhand is being represented by its governor, West Bengal has sent a senior minister for the meet. Announcing decisions to fight Left-wing extremism, Chidambaram said government will also provide more helicopters to the states for logistic support, troop movement, supplies and evacuation.
The government will also fund the establishment and strengthening of 400 police stations in the affected districts at the rate of Rs 2 crore per police station on 80:20 basis over a period of two years.
Chidambaram in his inaugural speech said these decisions were taken in the light of experience gained in the last six months.
Chidambaram also said that Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Orissa and West Bengal will be requested to appoint an officer of the rank of Inspector General of Police as IGP (anti-Naxal operations) for each state who will be co-ordinating the anti-Naxal operations with their counterparts in the CRPF which has already appointed officers for similar exclusive anti-Naxal duties.
Speaking about development issues in the states affected by Naxal violence, Chidambaram said an empowered group chaired by Member-Secretary, Planning Commission will modify existing norms and guidelines to implement various development schemes keeping in view local needs and conditions in the districts.
He said the state governments will be requested to implement provisions of the Panchayat (Extension to Scheduled) Areas Act strictly and vigorously to particularly ensure that rights over minor forest produce are assigned to the Gram Sabhas and the inter-position of government controlled departments, corporations and cooperatives are removed.
The road connectivity in 34 districts most affected by Maoist menace will also be improved. "A number of roads and bridges are proposed to be included, at a cost of Rs 950 crore, by the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways," Chidambaram said.
The Planning Commission is considering a special development plan for the affected districts, states with emphasis on road connectivity, primary education, primary health care and drinking water.
Consultations have been held with the state governments and it is expected that the plan will be placed before the competent authority, shortly, for approval, he said.
Coming down heavily on the activities of the Communist Party of India-Maoist, Chidambram said, "It (CPI Maoist) has no right to set itself up as judge, jury and executioner. In fact, it has no right to carry arms. It is a banned organisation and functions outside the pale of the law."
"The most serious setbacks were in Silda (West Bengal) and in Tarmetla (in Dantewada where 76 security men were killed on April six), Chingawaram and Dhaudhai (27 CRPF men were killed on June 29) in Chhattisgarh. Besides, there was the derailment of the Gynaneswari Express that claimed the lives of 149 innocent civilians," he said.
While there have been some lapses on the part of the security forces in failing to follow standard operating procedures, there can be no gainsaying that the attacks by the CPI-Maoist were pre-meditated and carried out with the objective of inflicting maximum damage on the security forces and overawing the people and the elected governments, he said.
"We would do well to remember that the attacks by the CPI-Maoist, whether opportunistic or pre-planned, are part of their strategy of armed liberation struggle and in furtherance of their goal of seizure of political power through protracted peoples war," he said.
Underlining the "gravity of the challenge" posed by the activities of such extremists, Chidambaram said during the period January to June, 2010, there have been 1103 incidents of violence perpetrated by Maoists. While 97 extremists were killed and 1,341 apprehended, 209 members of the security forces also lost their lives, he said.
"You are aware that the CPI-Maoist is the principal Left Wing extremist organisation. As long as the CPI-Maoist was not challenged effectively, it expanded its area of activity, recruited more cadres, kidnapped more persons, extorted more money, acquired or looted more weapons, asserted its dominance in more areas, and targeted the security forces as well as civilians.
"Among the civilians, the CPI-Maoist specially targeted civilians who it named as police informers. Between 2004 and 2008, on an average, 500 civilians were killed every year and many of them were killed after being named police informers," he said.
In 2009, 591 civilians were killed, of which 211 were named as police informers. This trend has continued in the first half of 2010 too, with 325 civilians killed, of which 142 were dubbed as police informers.
"We are especially concerned that ordinary citizens should be labelled as police informers and killed by the CPI-Maoist," he said.
Calling the Naxal situation in the country as "serious", Chidambaram requested the chief ministers to bring on table, in this meeting, the good and the bad things and asked them to discuss issues in a free and frank manner.
Our correspondent Onkar Singh adds:
Meanwhile, Rajvee Pratap Rudy, Bhartiya Janata Party spokesman, said the chief ministers of Chattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh- the party-ruled states-- would support any action against Naxals. " We are with the government in this hour of crisis. It has to be a battle right to the finish," he told rediff.com in a conversation on Wednesday morning.
Another senior leader of the BJP from Chattisgarh, which has been witnessing Naxal attacks in Dantewara and Narainpur in recent months, wanted to know how a confidential letter written by the Home Minister to Swami Agnivesh landed in the hands of the Maoists if the latter's claims that he was working only for peace and not for Naxals is taken on the face value.
Swami Agnivesh said he has his eyes on the meeting. "I would try to talk to some of the chief ministers of affected states and ask them to raise the issue of an impartial inquiry into the circumstances in which spokesman of Naxals Azad was killed in mysterious circumstances," Swami told rediff.com. Last week Chidambaram had turned down his request for ordering a central probe to investigate the death of Azad.