Other States

In Chhattisgarh, Central forces don new mantle

Reaching out: Paramilitary personnel distribute blankets to villagers in a Naxal violence-affected area of Chhattisgarh as part of a civic action programme. Photo: Special arrangement   | Photo Credit: Handout

Their mandate while taking on the challenge of Naxal violence is different. Personnel of 28 battalions of the Central paramilitary forces, deployed in the sensitive areas of Chhattisgarh, are tasked with instilling a sense of security in the local population, bringing about peace and order and helping to initiate development programmes.

Pitted against the armed cadre of Maoists, which includes “our own people,” the Border Security Force (BSF) and the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) are shifting their focus to understanding the problems of the local population and the culture and traditions of tribals.

Realising that Naxal violence cannot be fought with bullets alone, the forces have embarked upon ‘civic action' programmes in their areas of deployment. They are conducting free computer education, organising health camps, distributing seeds and fertilizer and taking up problems of tribals with the local administration.

Five BSF battalions were deployed in Uttar Bastar Kanker district only late last year, but their personnel have struck a rapport with the tribal population, consisting mainly of Gonds and their sub-tribes. “When we came in here, we found there was no administrative presence in the hinterland, and pockets of liberated zones were existing. Apart from the fear of Naxals, there are extreme poverty and illiteracy and lack of basic facilities such as health, transport and electricity,” BSF Deputy Inspector-General (DIG) Ram Avtar told visiting journalists at 31 Battalion's camp at Lohattar, 170 km from Raipur, the capital.

The border guards were seen in a different role at the camp. There were jawans who had returned from an early morning patrol. Local tribesmen and women and members of the panchayats of surrounding villages were called to the camp, and they interacted with journalists and mingled with jawans.

Many tribal leaders appeared satisfied with the efforts of the BSF jawans at helping to establish the writ of the local administration in the hinterland and starting construction of culverts, school buildings and ponds. But others appeared concerned at the lack of facilities for farming. “The water table here is going down, we have to depend on rain and we can grow just one crop here,” complained a villager. Yet another wanted revenue and forest officials to visit the area frequently. What about the fear of Naxals? “We live in a state of uncertainty. There is a fear of unknown, we may be branded police informers,” says another villager, without elaborating.

“We have been able to reduce the gap between the Central forces and the local people who want security, peace and development. At Irekgutta, we were able to organise the local market after eight years. It is a gradual process, but slowly with our initiatives we are striking a rapport with the villagers,” says R.C. Sharma, Commandant of the 31 Battalion. The BSF has spent Rs.60 lakh on organising a multipurpose civic action programme and health camps. In the recent past, the BSF personnel detected 47 improvised explosive devices, lost three of their men in two ambushes laid by Maoists and claimed to have killed 15 militants.

At Keshkal town, 35 km from Kanker, personnel of 188 Battalion of the CRPF were busy conducting free computer classes for schoolchildren in a newly constructed building that also houses the local police station. “About 60 students have been trained in basic computer skills since December last. We have begun with just two computers, but will soon have more work stations,” Commanding Officer A.K. Dhyani said.

Laxman, a Std. VII student, looks pleased with the CRPF's efforts. So is another girl who studies in Std. XI and comes from a nearby village. “We cannot afford to spend Rs.300-Rs.500 every month on computer classes, so this initiative has come as a big relief,” many students told reporters. CRPF Deputy Commandants Pradyuman Kumar Singh and Ashwini Kumar Jha are familiar faces to the students at the computer centre. Though they bore the brunt of the Maoist attack in the recent past, soldiers of 188 Battalion apprehended 25 Naxalites and claimed to have recovered a large quantity of arms and ammunition last year.

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Printable version | Jan 23, 2021 7:28:53 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/In-Chhattisgarh-Central-forces-don-new-mantle/article14694164.ece

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