One year after anti-Maoist operations began in this district, it is a story of mixed success.
While normal life has been restored, with offices, shops and schools having re-opened, vehicles back on the roads and farmers back in the fields, an eerie calm prevails. Villagers still complain of late-night gunfights and sudden police raids keeping them up through most nights. They are haunted by fears of discovering a bullet-riddled body in their backyard the next morning.
District police officials admit they are yet to take complete control over a majority area, even as Maoists continue to spread their organisational base in newer regions.
Superintendent of Police Manoj Kumar Verma told The Hindu recently that while only areas under seven police stations were affected by militancy in November 2008 when Maoists triggered a landmine explosion on the convoy of Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, the rebels have consolidated their presence in 14 of 29 areas now.
Saying that an area as large as 3000 sq km requires at least 120 companies of security personnel for effective policing, Mr. Verma said the district now had only 60 companies.
There have been numerous setbacks for the security forces in the past year, starting from the killing of over 170 civilians — mostly supporters of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) — the Jnaneswari Express derailment disaster that left 150 persons dead, the massacre of 24 Eastern Frontier Rifles (EFR) jawans at Silda on February 15, the killing of five EFR jawans at Gidhni in November last, the killing of five CRPF personnel in May, the attack on the Sankrail police station and the repeated failure to nab Maoist Polit Bureau member Kishanji.
While the CPI(M)'s district leadership acknowledges that operations have helped to restore normality in the region, it feels that the security forces should be more vigilant to stop individual killings.
“The presence of the force has undoubtedly encouraged people to get back to normal life, but the practice of killing CPI(M) supporters has not subsided. More vigilance and night operations are required on part of the forces to curb it,” party district committee member Dahareswar Sen said.
While the police claim that the Maoists are fast losing local support in the region due to their violent and erratic way of functioning, a different political turf-war appears to have begun in the background as villagers accuse political parties of sheltering armed cadres in several camps — terrorising people and perpetrating violence.
“The armed cadres ransacked our houses, burnt them down and forced us to flee from our villages. They still fire at us if we try to venture into the fields for ploughing and sowing seeds,” said Laltu Mahato of Bhursa village. He has been living in a relief camp at Satpati for the past month.
Officials of the district administration and police acknowledged the presence of such camps in the region, but cited lack of resources and political will as reasons for not taking steps against this development.
“The forces still have a lot of things to do. While more firearms are needed to be recovered from everyone, irrespective of party colour, political parties too should reach a consensus for successful addressing of the problem,” Mr. Verma said.