Unified command against Maoists a cosmetic exercise

Give tribals their right over Rs 50,000 cr worth of forest produce

prasanna

Prasanna Mohanty | July 14, 2010


PM, home minister and finance minister at a meeting with the CMs of Maoist-hit states
PM, home minister and finance minister at a meeting with the CMs of Maoist-hit states

The centre’s move to establish a unified command in Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Orissa and West Bengal to fight the Maoists is nothing more than a cosmetic exercise. Not only has such a step made no material difference in the fight against insurgency in Jammu and Kashmir and Assam—from where the concept has been borrowed—it does not address the key issues, which are effective intelligence and a strike force capable of taking on the Maoists the way the Greyhounds of Andhra Pradesh do.

The only difference in the present set-up from the one being proposed under the unified command system is the presence of a retired major general of the army. But the presence of a senior army official will make a difference only if he is charged with providing specialized guerrilla training to the local police forces.  There is no indication of this in the plan unveiled at yesterday’s meeting with the chief ministers. That the chief secretaries of the state would head the unified command is no more than the formalizing of a system which already exists.

All the states battling the Maoists have a well-established mechanism in which all the paramilitary forces and the state police forces, including the STFs and the Greyhounds, work out a joint plan of action and launch a coordinated offensive, including the area-domination exercise. What has gone wrong is the reluctance of the state police to take part in the offensive, a complete lack of intelligence and training and focus of the paramilitary forces at the battle front. Had that not been the case, the Maoists would not have butchered the CRPF contingents with unfailing regularity in Chhattisgarh.

Fortunately, Jharkhand has now joint the anti-Maoist operation because Shibu Soren is out and the state is under president’s rule. Unfortunately, however, Bihar, which is poll-bound, has refused to join the battle. It will have to, sooner than later, but by then it may be too late and provide an easy escape route to the ultras facing resistance in other bordering states—something that happened in the case of Chhattisgarh and Orissa over the past two decades. Bihar refuses to learn from history.

The other worthwhile development at the chief ministers’ meet was an increased focus on implementing the Panchayats (Extension to the Scheduled Areas) Act, particularly regarding the rights over minor forest produce, which the planning commission estimates to be worth Rs 50,000 crore. By law, the tribals are the owners of the minor forest produce but this has been denied to them for long. Imagine what this Rs 50,000 crore will do for the economic wellbeing of the tribals if they get their rightful ownership!

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