Raipur: Days after tribals in Chhattisgarh called off their 28-day protest against a security camp that had come up at Silger, the state government claimed that it is going ahead with its plans to set up three new police camps along the last 15-kilometre stretch of Bijapur-Jagargunda road towards Telangana border, a Naxal stronghold.
According to the police, the camps will curb Maoists’ movements and limit their activities in south Bastar. South and west Bastar regions are considered to be the last strongholds of Naxals in Chhattisgarh.
Speaking to ThePrint, state police officers said security camps on the last leg of the nearly 66-km Bijapur-Jagargunda road terminating at the Telangana border in Sukma district will help them establish substantial dominance over Maoist strongholds in south Bastar.
Camps will come up in the forests between Silger village, which recently witnessed a 28-day protest by local tribals, and Jagargunda.
According to the police, the Maoists will lose clout among villagers in the area once the camps are in place.
“Three new security camps will come up in the area between Silger village and Jagargunda. It’s part of the master plan and Maoists-sponsored protests like in Silger will not deter our resolve. Camp sites cannot be revealed now for security reasons… These will be mixed or joint camps constituting CRPF, District Reserve Guard and CRPF’s CoBRA unit personnel,” Naxal operations head and Bastar IG Sundarraj P. told ThePrint.
The nearly 15-km stretch from Silger village to Jagargunda is considered to be a crucial crossing point for Maoists and their cadre. The entire area is a Maoist territory at present.
As many as 22 jawans were killed and many injured in a major anti-Naxal operation launched from Bijapur and Sukma districts in the south Bastar forests on 3 April.
Sukma District Superintendent of Police K.L. Dhruv said it was due to the absence of security camps on the route that 22 security personnel died.
Local tribal and human rights activists, meanwhile, said the face-offs between residents and the police are unlikely to end as the “camps are being opened without taking local villagers into confidence”.
Camps will cause ‘more outrage’
“Once the three camps become operational, it will substantially shrink their area of clout in south Bastar. So far, they had free run in this area,” Sukma DSP K.L. Dhruv told ThePrint.
“This is an important track to tackle Naxals here since they use it for their movements from south to west Bastar, mainly towards Abujhmar forest area in Narayanpur district bordering Maharashtra. Abujhmar is their base station and source of livelihood for them,” he said.
“Bijapur-Jagargunda road was an important route between Bijapur and Sukma districts of the state till the then BJP government launched an armed anti-Maoist drive, Salwa Judum, in 2005 (Supreme Court declared it illegal in 2011). However, Maoists destroyed and dug up the road on several locations and made it their territory. It’s being re-developed now to set up police camps,” said senior police officer in Bastar division, who did not wish to be named.
Forest rights workers and activists in Bastar, however, claimed that security camps along the Silger-Jagargunda road will lead to more protests and unrest by locals in the coming days.
According to them, the police have failed to gain the confidence of local residents on security camps, and the new camps will lead to more agitation by the tribal villagers.
“Security camps are being opened without taking local villagers into confidence despite the fact that the region comes under scheduled area provision of the Constitution. Local residents have lots of difficulties with police camps. More camps will aggravate the face-off between them and security forces,” said tribal and human rights activist and lawyer Bela Bhatia.
“Protest at Silger had been going on for 28 days and the government has not given any assurance to the villagers so far. Naturally, it’s going to create some problem somewhere,” she added.
Maoists marginalised in north, east Bastar, south & west new target: Police
The Bastar IG claimed that at least 29 security camps have been set up in Bastar in the last two and a half years with most of them located in north and east Bastar, and efforts are being made now to dominate in southern and western Bastar.
“In east Bastar region, they (the Maoists) have become almost non-existent while security forces have established complete dominance in North Bastar and Darbha valley area today by opening security camps,” added Sundarraj.
He added: “South Bastar, including Sukma-Bijapur districts, and west Bastar — especially Narayanpur district — are important regions for them. Abujhmar or simply Maar area in Narayanpur is a safe hideout or shelter home for them. This is also an important source of economy and logistic support for Naxals though their activities are mainly focused in the southern part.”
According to Sundarraj, the new camps will not only help the security personnel catch the Naxals and take up offensive operations against them but will also help in integrated development of the area as has happened in other areas.
With the area fully under Maoists’ command, the police are bound to encroach the Naxal territory by entering there, say observers. But since it’s a vast region, it will likely take time for the security forces to take complete hold of it, they add.
Protest ends abruptly
The tribal villagers protesting at Silger since 14 May had braved heavy rains and inclement weather to stay firm on their demand that the camp be removed.
The 28 days of their agitation also saw four deaths.
But they suddenly retreated from the protest site on 9 June, despite no assurance on their demand.
While the decision reportedly came after a panel of civil society members met Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel and he agreed to meet a delegation of the protesters, the latter said their agitation would continue symbolically.
“State government and its administration have apparently managed to end the Silger agitation with the help of some middlemen who were from among the protestors. We have to see if they have gone back not to return or it’s a temporary move by the villagers because the government has failed to redress their grievances,” said activist Bela Bhatia.
She added that the government must engage with villagers to address their issues.