“No fire exercises near Maoist zone”
In the clearest indications of their plans till date, senior officers in the Army said the Chhattisgarh government and the Army were in the process of finalising two separate training grounds in the State. While one training centre shall be built in the north-eastern district of Raigarh (on the Orissa border), a second one shall be identified in the south-western district of Narayanpur (on the Maharashtra border).
“The Army is in the process of acquiring a large patch of land at Saraipali in Raigarh district to set up a military college modelled on their counter-insurgency school in Varangte [Mizoram],” said a senior official in the Chhattisgarh administration.
“Raigarh shall have college buildings, possibly firing ranges, and classrooms and shall be on government land. There is not enough forest cover in the area, so we are giving them another patch of land for forest exercises in Narayanpur district and a small brigade headquarters in Narayanpur town,” said the official.
Although the size of the land in Raigarh is not known, sources in the Army said they had earmarked a 600 sq.km. plot in Narayanpur in an area known as Abujmard for drills and military manoeuvres. While the facility in Raigarh may have provisions for a firing range, the Army stressed that no live fire exercises would be permitted in Abujmard.
Sources said the Army had originally asked for land on National Highway 43 in the hilly forests around Keshkal. But the Army settled for Abujmard as the Chhattisgarh police were already using Keshkal for jungle training.
Loosely translated as the “unknown forest,” Abujmard is a 4,000 sq.km. patch of densely forested land that has been declared a “liberated zone” by the Communist Party of India (Maoist). In 2010, Maoist cadres killed over 100 well-trained paramilitary troopers in Chhattisgarh alone.
Subject to conditions
Sources said the Army might conduct exercises near Abujmard on conditions that they should not cut trees, displace villages, build any permanent structures and conduct any aggressive exercises using live ammunition.
In January this year, the Army wrote to the Home Ministry asking for rules of engagement in case they are attacked.
In August last, the Air Force was granted permission to return fire in case their helicopters were fired upon. Sources said the Army expected similar clearance.