NATIONAL

Orissa to step up security in naxal-hit areas

BHUBANESWAR DEC. 7. The landmine blast triggered on Thursday by the naxalites in Orissa's Rayagada district that left around a dozen policemen seriously injured, has woken up an indifferent State administration.

The explosion, the latest in a series of the recent naxalite offensive in the State's forests, is also a grim reminder that large tracts of rural areas are reeling under the influence of the naxalites.

Faced with a violent campaign, an ill-equipped police force has nearly given the naxalites in Orissa a walkover. "We have a serious problem in hand,'' said the Chief Minister, Naveen Patnaik, in the State Assembly on Thursday while replying to a three-day debate on the deteriorating law and order situation.

What Mr. Patnaik, however, did not mention is that fear sweeps large parts of the State. Senior officials are apprehensive of venturing out and even the Director-General of Police, N.C. Padhi, during one of his recent visits to the naxalite-infested southern districts went incognito in a private vehicle to avoid being noticed. The casualty has been the morale of the police in the lower ranks. With the naxalites being allowed a free run, 15 policemen have been killed during the past two years and many have been injured. Several civilians have also been killed in naxalite attacks.

Considered initially to be only a spillover from neighbouring Andhra Pradesh, the naxalites have come to stay in Orissa. They have been striking at will in the tribal-dominated Rayagada, Malkangiri, Koraput and Gajapati districts.

The latest blast occurred on Thursday when the Assembly was discussing the law and order situation and rise in naxalite activities. Seven security personnel had been killed in a similar attack in Rayagada district in August.

A prominent youth leader of the ruling Biju Janata Dal, Jajati Sahu, was brutally murdered by the naxalites in Rayagada district on November 26. The Government has since ordered an administrative inquiry into the matter. However, the Chief Minister is trying to put up a brave face. Security in the naxalite-affected areas will be strengthened by deployment of specially trained forces, he said.

Mr. Patnaik said that all vacancies in the police department in these areas would be filled up and forces deployed equipped with modern weapons and equipment. While a CRPF platoon has been posted in Rayagada, the State has raised two new battalions to combat the menace.

The Chief Minister said that the MPs and MLAs, whose constituencies lie in such areas, would be provided security whenever they visit their constituency. Yet, the best efforts of the Government are falling way short.

The rural areas remain the perfect fertile ground for the naxalites. Jobless and in penury, the tribals are drawn by the radicals. The State machinery is veiwed with suspicion and its officials as oppressors.

As a senior bureaucrat remarked, "The Government has largely forfeited the trust of the people in tribal dominated areas.''

The resurgence in naxalite activities is an indication of growing assertiveness among the voiceless tribals. It got a fillip after Sabyasachi Panda, educated son of a former Orissa MLA, took to the guns and formed the Chasi Mulia Kui Labanga Sangh, with radical leanings.

Though the police are on the look out for Mr. Panda, he has managed to evade arrest. Many of the recent naxalite attacks are credited to Panda's group.

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