An all-party meeting held in Raipur on Monday to discuss proposals to secure the release of kidnapped Sukma District Collector, Alex P. Menon, concluded with the Chhattisgarh government calling off military operations in Bastar and agreeing to negotiate with the Communist Party of India (Maoist), thereby casting doubts over the future of the State's development programme as independent experts have pointed to the security forces' inability to provide sufficient security for civil administrators.
Mr. Menon was kidnapped by Maoists in Sukma as he presided over a farmers' meeting in his district. Pushed to choose between their jobs and their personal safety, civil administrators in Chhattisgarh are forced to violate security procedures whilst executing projects, The Hindu has learnt.
Police officers insist that existing protocols are adequate, while administrators say the procedures are impracticable and do not account for the difference between police operations and development projects.
District Collectors in Maoist areas are told to move with at least a platoon of troopers [approximately 25 men], take different routes for entry and egress from a particular site, stick to tarmac roads and avoid un-metalled roads. Convoys must maintain radio-silence while travelling and senior officers must travel in unmarked vehicles that are regularly changed.
“If I followed the existing Standard Operating Procedure to a ‘T', I would sit at home,” said a high-ranking bureaucrat, seeking anonymity due to the sensitive nature of the subject. Districts like Narayanpur and Bijapur have only one major metalled road, making it impossible to change routes frequently. The absence of cellular networks forces officials to rely on wireless communications that can be intercepted by the rebels.
“Villagers don't approach us if we travel with large police contingents because they fear that the Maoists will target them later for mingling with the police force,” the source said.
Chhattisgarh's former DGP Viswa Ranjan, says there is no alternative to travelling with adequate security. “Last year, we received information that the Maoists were targeting Collectors. We alerted our officers. The next day, the Collector of Malkangiri [in Odisha] was abducted,” he said, “Collectors don't realise that low-level village functionaries will not be targeted, but a senior officer will be, because his abduction makes news.” “Hostage taking is a specific manifestation of a generalised vulnerability of the state,” said Ajai Sahni of the Institute of Conflict Management, “We are weak to react to this insurgency.”