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State and central government officials who spoke to CNN-News18 said that the target is to enter the core Naxal territory by the end of 2024. (Representational photo/PTI)

CNN-News18 has learnt that a committee has been set up to review the anti-Naxal operations periodically and also formulate plans for the near future. Sources said that the committee, often chaired by the director general of CRPF, has representatives from the Intelligence Bureau (IB), state police, central paramilitary forces, and other stakeholders

Around 6am on April 2, a joint team of the District Reserve Guard (DRG), and Commando Battalion for Resolute Action (CoBRA) of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) encountered alleged Communist Party of India (Maoist) cadres at Lendra village in Chhattisgarh’s Bijapur district. The exchange of fire in the Kendra-Korcholi jungles went on for hours, killing 13 Naxals including top commanders of the People’s Liberation Guerrilla Army (PLGA) 2nd company.

The encounter was one of the various operations that joint forces from state police and central armed forces have launched in the past few weeks. 46 Naxals have been killed in the first 100 days of 2024, as per numbers provided by Chhattisgarh police and corroborated by CRPF. In all of 2023, the figure stood at 22, as per official data. The number of casualties suffered by the forces is also far less. In January this year, an encounter at the operationalisation of the Tekalguda camp saw the CRPF losing three of its men but the facility was not shut down. Bastar’s inspector general of police P Sundarraj said at least six Naxals were gunned down and area domination efforts did not suffer a setback.

Better Centre-state coordination

A senior officer of the security grid involved in the anti-Naxal operations told CNN-News18 that a factor in the recent success of the exercises is also the unambiguous messaging from both the state and the central political leadership.

“Double engine ki sarkar in Chhattisgarh and Delhi has definitely changed things in the last few months. The home minister’s push was clear. But now with the change in government in the state, the forces are feeling confident that they will be backed in the face of challenges,” the officer said. He added that this has brought about better coordination among central and state forces. “We have got the upper hand now but we are also taking all precautions before launching any operation. Seamless coordination and better planning are yielding results,” he said.

CNN-News18 has learnt that a committee has been set up to review the anti-Naxal operations periodically and also formulate plans for the near future. Sources said that the committee, often chaired by the director general of CRPF, has representatives from the Intelligence Bureau (IB), state police, central paramilitary forces, and other stakeholders. The union home secretary too has reviewed the anti-Naxal operations recently, they said. “Specific target setting, assigning of responsibilities, coordination between various stakeholders, and planning are yielding results,” a source said.

New camps

20 camps have been set up by central forces between December 2023 and April 2024. This, officials said, has reduced operational risks for parties that often travel on foot and get targeted by improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and snipers. “The camps opening in Naxal territory means that the distance of operations has come down significantly. About 20 kilometres less travel on foot is now needed. This makes launching of operations swifter and less risky,” a police officer in Raipur explained.

Official assessments suggest that the Maoist domination in Bastar is now limited to a 20 km X 20 km area spanning southern Bijapur and western Sukma. Camps in hardcore areas like Puvarti and Elmagunda have not only reduced the operational area of Naxals but also cut off their traditional escape routes, officials said. Puvarti is the village of dreaded Naxal commander Hidma of Battalion 1.

Union home minister Amit Shah has said that 2024 will be a decisive year in the battle against Naxalism. State and central government officials who spoke to CNN-News18 said that the target is to enter the core Naxal territory by the end of 2024. The villages and forests in the core area have remained cut off from government presence since Independence.

Civilian support

Other than the camps, the support from locals has also become a game changer for the forces. The establishment of camps has brought schools, ration shops, and dispensaries in interior Sukma. News18 spoke to a teacher in Dabbakonta who said the camp across the road gave him the confidence to start teaching the kids in the area. “I live near Sukma district headquarters. Coming so deep inside was out of the question a few months ago. When I was posted to Dabbakonta I thought I would resign,” he said. “But a CRPF camp across the road protects this village. En route also it feels safe.”

At the Puvarti camp, the state government claimed Hidma’s mother is also a beneficiary of the PDS facilities that have now reached here.

“There is a fatigue with the Naxal ideology and violence now. People are aspirational and can see that their resources, jungle aren’t being plundered as was alleged. The villagers are now willing to give the government a chance,” a CRPF officer said.

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