June 30, 2009
June 29, 2009
Under-staffed West Bengal police will face serious post-operation challenges
LALGARH,27th JUNE: Early on Friday, a big blast shattered the stillness of the forests around Lalgarh. It appeared to be the first sign of a major battle Maoists have long been threatening to launch as the police inch forward into their forest strongholds.
But by evening, Kadasol village was firmly under the control of the security forces. The Maoist cadre had melted into the adjoining forests, abandoning their positions. The landmine blast, it turned out, was set off by a bomb-detection team.
For days, media had been reporting that the counter-Maoist operations in Lalgarh have ground to a halt. The appearance is deceptive. Police have been conducting metre-by-metre sweeps to clear roads and forest paths of dozens of improvised explosive devices.
Judging by the insurgents’ reluctance to engage the advancing forces, the Maoist presence in Lalgarh is now mainly propagandistic: having declared victory, their forces have little interest in fighting.
Less than 250 armed men, police sources say, are now believed to be present in the so-called liberated zone: a thin arc running along the road east of Lalgarh, through Bara Pelia, Kantapahari and on to Ramgarh. Most of them are local sympathisers, with only rudimentary weapons training.
Key insurgent commanders like M. Koteshwar Rao are believed to have long ago retreated to the safety of Jharkhand’s un-policed hills.
At its peak, the Maoist presence was concentrated in just 17 villages and hamlets in four of West Medinipur’s 31 administrative blocks along West Bengal’s border with Jharkhand.
Even this presence was established not by guerrilla war, but under the cover of a political movement. In November, a Maoist-led organisation, the People’s Committee Against Police Atrocities, initiated an agitation calling for the withdrawal of police pickets from 15 locations. To avert a bloody confrontation, the government agreed and the Maoists took control.
Evicting Maoists from Lalgarh will, more likely than not, prove to be the easy part of the counter-terrorism operation.
The real challenge will be to prevent their regrouping once the special forces are pulled out. Most propagandists often describe West Bengal as a police State. Like other States in India, West Bengal in fact has a police force, which can at best be described as anaemic.
Responsible for the safety of a population, which stood at 80,221,171 in 2001, the State police have a sanctioned strength of 106,340 personnel. That means 92 personnel are in theory available for protecting every 100,000 population, compared to an all-India ratio of 121:100,000.
Figures released by the United Nations Division for Policy Analysis and Public Affairs in March, 2005 show that these levels are amongst the lowest in the world.
Mexico, home to narcotics problem and low- grade insurgency, has 491.8 police personnel for every 100,000 residents; Italy, which faces only an organised crime threat, has 559; even peaceful Belgium has 357.5.
Moreover, the West Bengal police are chronically short-staffed. The State police’s civil police component, responsible for the maintenance of law and order, should have 70,328 personnel at its disposal. It has only 50,381.
The worst deficiencies are at the officer level. The police’s civil component is 35 per cent short of Senior Superintendents of Police, Superintendents of Police, Additional Superintendents of Police and Deputy Superintendents of Police. At the cutting-edge level of Inspectors, Sub-Inspectors and Assistant Sub-Inspectors, the deficiency is even worse: 27 per cent.
Staffing of the armed police, charged with dealing with violent activities like terrorism and communal violence, is also below the sanctioned levels. The State Police should have 36,012 personnel available for duty, but only has 26,290 on its rolls. Like the civil police, the State’s armed police are grossly short of officers: 35 per cent in the SSP-DSP band, and 37 per cent below that.
Factoring in the gap between sanctioned strength and actual strength, the police have just 70 police personnel for every 100,000 residents.
Why has this happened? Policing simply wasn’t a priority and with good reason. Speaking at the City College of New York in 2007, eminent economist Amartya Sen pointed out that Kolkata “has an exceptionally low crime rate — indeed absolutely the lowest crime rate among all the Indian cities.”
Dr. Sen pointed, in particular, to the “the incidence of murder.” “The average incidence of murder in Indian cities,” he noted, was 2.7 per 100,000 people, 2.9 for Delhi.” The rate is 0.3 in Calcutta [Kolkata].” By way of contrast, in 2005, Paris had a homicide rate of 2.3, Dhaka 3.6, Los Angeles 8.8, Johannesburg 21.5 and Rio de Janeiro an astonishing 34.9.
Like other States, though, West Bengal could now be compelled to divert funds from development to securing its residents.
By B PRASANT
KOLKATA: Bengal Left Front met on 25 June at the Muzaffar Ahmad Bhavan in Kolkata. Biman Basu, Chairman, led the discussion. Bengal chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee was present. The meeting conversed in discursive detail the outline of a political campaign across Bengal touching the issues that concerned the mass of the people. The meeting as usual specified the details of the campaign. Biman Basu later briefed the media in some detail.
The LF leadership in attendance at the Front meeting earlier took up the issue of violence committed with impunity on the people by the goons and professional hoods in the pay and protection of the Bengal opposition, especially the Trinamul Congress, the Pradesh Congress, and the self-styled ‘Maoists.’ The attacks and assaults have been an unpleasant if ongoing feature of opposition ‘politics’ from the time of the parliament election. The aggression intensified following the publication of the Lok Sabha results.
Political programmes have already taken place at the initiative of the LF in major cities and townships of Bengal, and this programme has to be made situation specific and with increased and intense mass contact. Biman recalled that the Front meeting after the election results had been announced called for an intensification of people-oriented political campaign work. The bond with the masses must be further improved, the Front had then already decided.
The present meeting dwelled on the mapping out of a precise scenario where the political campaign had the participatory presence of the people themselves, irrespective of their electoral inclination. ‘Common people,’ or ‘sadharan manush,’ were the two important words in the resolve that the experienced Front leadership chose to focus the political highlight on, in the meeting and later at the proscenium of the masses.
COMMON PEOPLE TO THE FORE
The Front chose to stress on such particular programmes touching the sadharan manush in the townships as amongst the hamlets as the rectification of anomalies in the BPL listings; the extended implementation of the NREGA, the work of furnishing of fertilisers (the Front had always particularised bio-fertilisers, one recalls), supply-side qualitative and quantitative improvements in pesticides, higher-yield and pest-resistant seeds-seedlings and so on. The district-specific issue again touching the people are to be identified and implemented appropriately at the level of the district LF.
Taking up the BPL issue the LF leadership felt that the factor of correct identification of people eligible to be brought in the purview of BPL contained lacunae. A section of the impoverished faced problems of livelihoods-- and of lives because of the anomalous situation. Inclusion in the BPL list, Biman pointed out, entailed the cascading benefits of free healthcare as well as of PDS-supplied essential goods of daily consumption at a lower array of prices.
BPL, NREGA ANOMALIES
There was an associated problem to which Biman drew the attention of the media. There remained a plethora of districts in Bengal where the number of counterfeit ration cards proliferated and continued to do so. There are districts where the number of ration cards exceeded the estimated population. A vice versa has prevailed in some other districts. In such staringly anomalous cases as these, the Front’s suggestion to the administration was the cancellation of the ration card and an issuance de novo of such cards to the people. This could be done after the BPL list has been made to stand corrected.
Dwelling on the NREGA, the Left Front thought that weaknesses persisted in the implementation of the programme. Biman would mention ‘various difficulties,’ that would seem to have set the programme back a while. The LF leadership agreed that it must be probed how newer projects could be included in the NREGA programme without flouting or causing anomalies to occur in the concerned central government act. Citing examples, Biman mentioned the task of erecting bunds, earthen or otherwise, in the districts affected by the recent and devastation-causing cyclonic storm.
Bengal must rise above the national average of employment rate of people under this scheme, which is at 60% at the all-India level. The LF leader pointed out that in invoking newer schemes, the evolving situational reality of the Bengal countryside and the principal rural characteristics of the state must be recalled. During the ‘off’ season in the agricultural belts when work is hard to come by for the khet mazdoors and the itinerant farm workers, the NREGA projects could come in very handy for this section of the rural poor. The NREGA could also be used to employ gainfully those of the agri-labour who found it tough going even in the ‘on’ season of sowing, growth, and harvest.
FARM WORK TO BE ACCELERATED
Noting specifically the shortcomings in the supply of farm ‘productive collaterals’ like seeds, pesticides and fertilisers, Biman noted a few precise points in this connection. The senior CPI (M) leader noted that supplies often failed to turn up in good time. In the case of seeds and seedlings, errors of choice have turned up again -- and then once again. Citing instances Biman said that to the astonishment and often dismay of the farmer, the seeds purchased proved to produce crops of a variety different from that anticipated.
The district units of the Left Front have been asked to meet and put on motion a wide-ranging political campaign on all the issues. The campaign-movements will take place in seriatim, at the levels of the blocks, the sub-divisions, and the districts, with each tier of movement climaxing with organisation of deputation to the concomitant levels of state administration. The matters touching the people’s peace and security would be placed before the various levels of the police administration at the same time. Rallies would be organised in a lengthy schedule all over Bengal-- on the developmental and people’s security-related issues, Biman Basu assured the media.
DEVELOPMENT OF THE LATERITE ZONE
Biman also dwelled on the issue of development of the western part of Bengal, an issue that the Front leadership had taken up. Earlier, chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee reported on the recent developments taking place at Lalgarh and adjoining blocks of Midnapore west. The report made it clear that with 30, 000-odd people ejected out of home-and-hearth in the jangal mahals by the aggression of the ‘Maoists,’ the façade has been ripped away and the real anti-people face of the marauders exposed in the pitiless light of facts, hard facts. The forcible push forward of the innocent women and children to form human barricades to daunt the security forces has been another example of the barbarity perpetrated by the ‘Maoists’ and their allies, the Trinamul Congress.
LF leadership focussed on the need to speed up development further in the laterite zone of Bengal where most of the poor villages of the state are located. The majority of the Gram Panchayats and the Panchayat Samities of the blocks affected with ‘Maoist’ depredations, e.g., Binpur I and Binpur II, are controlled for some time now by an ally of the ‘Maoists,’ the Jharkhandis. The decentralised plans and programmes were deliberately not implemented in these blocks by the forces of division.
ANTI-PEOPLE JHARKHANDIS, ‘MAOISTS’
Biman mentioned a case that he knew of to exemplify the anti-poor behaviour of the Jharkhandis. At the village of Amlasole, there is an acute water crisis, especially of potable water, come the cruel and unproductive summer months. The need is to dig a large pond where rainwater and sub-soil water will accumulate and filtrate to create a perennial source of water. Since the excavation will endanger the anti-Communist propaganda of both the Bengal opposition and their belligerent cohorts in the big media, the pond never materialised. Finally, it was Dr Pulin Behari Baskey, the present MP and then Zillah Parishad chairman, utilised ZP funds to have the pond dug.
Much in a similar vein, the ‘Maoists’ have indulged in acts of commission including blasting of land mines to destroy both roads and road-making machines. Government offices and tourist bungalows, one recalls in this connection, have been blown up, repeatedly. Road rollers have been set a-fire, and cement mixers have been dragged off into forests and systematically dismantled. Communication network has been torn down for communication is something of which ‘Maoist’ is always afraid. The LF urged upon the state government to add a further and fresh impetus to the ongoing developmental work in the laterite zone of Bengal in particular.(INN)
June 28, 2009
Is the violence in West Medinipur district really an adivasi uprising?
Land reform has given adivasis a high level of freedom and security
Poll results in the area showed no resentment against CPI(M)
LALGARH,26th JUNE: Early this month, as police marched into the forests around Lalgarh, the adivasi residents of Salboni were told, by Maoists, to start building barricades. Insurgents armed with rifles and side-arms watched over the villagers as they felled trees and dug trenches. Not surprisingly, no one disputed their orders.
But on Monday, Bongaram Lohar summoned courage to speak up on behalf of the dozens of local residents who had been press-ganged into the building work. For his defiance, Mr. Lohar was brutally beaten up and forced to flee the village.
Most commentary has cast the violence in Lalgarh as an expression of primal adivasi rage: rage against being denied development and justice. One critic even claimed the Lalgarh region had, for the past three decades, been “untouched by development.”
But Mr. Lohar’s story — and a mass of empirical evidence — give reason to doubt this telling of the story.
Back in 1977, after the first Left Front government took power in West Bengal, entire villages were freed from the control of jotdars, or landlords, by the Communist Party of India (Marxist) workers.
Data from West Bengal’s Department of Land and Land reforms shows that till 2002-03, land measuring 16,280 hectares was redistributed to peasants in the blocks of Jhargram, Binpur and Salboni — the areas now under Maoist assault. “In the Jhargram block village where I conduct research”, says Aparajita Bakshi, Senior Research Fellow at the Indian Statistical Institute in Kolkata, “75 per cent of all households are land reform beneficiaries. Of Scheduled Tribe households, no less than 70 per cent gained agricultural land and 90 per cent gained homestead land as a result of land reform.”
Income poverty and deprivation continue to exist throughout the region — but land reform has given adivasis a level of freedom and security their counterparts in the rest of India do not enjoy.
Marketed as the liberation of Lalgarh, Maoist rule, in fact, made the life of most adivasis worse. Income from forest produce, on which most local residents are dependent, dried up. Government programmes intended to mitigate hardship collapsed altogether.
“In November,” says Bhumidhansola resident Manek Singh, “the Maoists forbade us to enter the forests to cut wood. The Forest Department used to pay us Rs.70 a day for this work. Now, no one even enters this area to purchase the leaf-plates we make. We have been left with nothing.”
Extortion and attacks
Faced with extortion and attacks by Maoists, government staff also fled the area. Lalgarh residents told The Hindu that the Integrated Child Development Scheme workers were ordered to pay Rs.1,000 each month; school teachers and staff at the Block Development Office said they were compelled to part with twice as much to local Maoists.
Following the assassination of government doctor Honiran Murmu and staff nurse Bharati Majhi in October, the Lalgarh area has had almost no access to health care.
Politics and power
Election data debunks the idea that there is a popular rebellion against the CPI(M) under way in Lalgarh.
In the 2006 elections to the West Bengal Legislative Assembly, the CPI(M) had won six of the seven Assembly seats which together make up the Jhargram Lok Sabha seat: Garhbeta East, Garhbeta West (SC), Salbani, Nayagram (ST), Gopiballavpur and Jhargram. The CPI(M) has held the Jhargram Lok Sabha seat, of which Lalgarh is a part, ever since 1977.
Last year, the West Bengal Police carried out raids across the Lalgarh area, following a November 2 attempt to assassinate Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee. Fighting between police and Maoist supporters broke out during the raids; several people were injured.
Backed by the Maoists, Trinamool Congress leader Chhatradar Mahato — the brother of the principal accused in the November 2 bombing — set up the Police Santras Birodhi Janaganer Committee (PSBJC), or People’s Committee Against Police Atrocities.
The PSBJC activists blocked roads, shut off police access to the area, and attacked CPI(M) workers.
Prior to this year’s Lok Sabha elections, the Maoists even initiated protests insisting that the police not enter the villages of Boro Pelia, Chhoto Pelia, Dalilpur Chowk and Khas Jungle — all areas where they had a substantial armed presence.
Had the PSBJC represented widespread resentment against the CPI(M), it ought to have showed up in this year’s Lok Sabha elections. But Jhargram constituency swam against the anti-CPI(M) tide. The CPI(M) candidate, Pulin Bihar Baske, polled 5,45,231 votes, giving him a respectable lead over the 2,52,886 claimed by the Congress’ Amrit Hansda. Mr. Baske even won in the Binpur Assembly segment, of which Lalgarh is a part.
Rule of fear
How, then, have the Maoists gained so much influence in Lalgarh? Jharkhand Party candidate Chunibala Hansda had this simple answer for one journalist reporting on the Lok Sabha elections: “People are scared of them”.
Last year, even as the PSBJC was mobilising people against the West Bengal government, the Bharat Jakat Majhi Marwa — an organisation of traditional adivasi community leaders, which is opposed to the CPI(M) — organised a rally to protest Maoist violence. More than 10,000 adivasis gathered in Bhulabheda area of Belpahari on December 9.
Sudhir Mandal, the adivasi leader who organised the rally, was shot dead less than 48 hours later.
June 27, 2009
The size of the housing package isn’t known immediately. It could be anything between Rs 75 crore and Rs 350 crore, a senior official familiar with the matter told mediapersons. The state government will offer Rs 2,500 to Rs 25,000 per family depending on the extent of damage of their dwelling units. The state machinery is busy assessing the damage and puttting together a list of potential beneficiaries. The state’s finance department has firmed up the package a couple of days ago and activated banks to disburse the sum to villagers in North 24 Parganas and South 24 Parganas, the two worst-hit districts by Aila.
All the district headquarters, reports reaching us, witnessed big assemblages of people from all facets of lives and livelihoods. They came together in condemnation of the doings of the Bengal opposition in the ranks of which there is the entire opportunist political array from the reactionary right to the sectarian left.
The Kolkata rally attracted more than ten thousand people. The addresses of the LF leaders were suitably interspersed with songs, recitations, poster dramas, and such other cultural events. Painters drew pictures in vivid colours and bold strokes of the brush-and-the-pen that represented the remonstration of the culture of Kolkata and Bengal against anarchy of every kind. There was a poster exhibition on related themes as well.
Biman Basu, Bengal LF chairman said in his address, which expressed a controlled anger against the killings of the innocent yet taking place in Bengal courtesy of the Trinamulis, the Congressites, and the self-styled ‘Maoists,’ that the Left Front had in the past battled against authoritarianism, communalism, divisism, and anarchy. The task is not yet finished for the stakes in society continue to fuel disorder and division for their own class interest. Where the ruling classes go, the corporate media follow faithfully.
Biman recalled the terrible days, and months, and years between 1970 and 1977 when the dogs of war were let loose on the masses of Bengal. The CPI (M) was the prime target. The same form is hideously emulated shamelessly by the Bengal opposition following their detesting and condemnably triumphal fall-out of the electoral results they had had in recent times.
Party offices are put to the torch, residences are pillaged, hutments are burnt to the ground, roads are dug up, crops are set on fire, relief materials are looted, women are harassed even molested, and above all, CPI (M) workers are butchered – 56 CPI (M) workers, and one Forward Block worker, being the latest list of casualties in Bengal. In one area of Khejuri alone more than 200 residences, pucca, and kutcha have been pulled down and set fire to. 10 Party offices have been burnt after being ransacked within a radius of 19-odd kilometres.
The Trinamulis averred a total of 45 activists of their ranks having been killed post-poll, but would print and publish, after a lengthy delay following the vaunted claim, carried expectedly in the corporate media with aplomb, a list containing 23 names. One name refers to a person as a resident of ‘Nandigram, of the south 24 Parganas living in the’ (non-existent) ‘Purba Midnapore Lok Sabha constituency.’ Such gross ‘errors’ of location linking the deceased to the area where that person lived, abound, among other ‘mistakes.’ This is a clear attempt to baffle the people, declares Biman Basu.(INN)
The affected people belong to principally the four blocks of Lalgarh, Goaltore, Salboni (where the proposed steel industries unit yet hangs fire), and Jhargram. Six kilos of rice is provided to each affected family, and here it is a declared policy of the pro-poor Left Front government that the administration would not look for political affiliation even if well-known for notoriety.
When the families approach the relief centres with containers and bags, they are each of them treated to a large dollop or three of the ubiquitous khichdi on sal leaves that the starving innocent visibly relish, with a second or even a third servings. We found it very moving how entire families- even the walking sick - and thin-visaged bahus with children on their back, tribal-fashion, stand patiently and in all politeness, no shoving here, in queue for hours together to await their turn of the rice, occasionally dal, and of course the servings of khichdi that were much appreciated by everybody around, eyes ashine with the sheer pleasure of digging into the victuals. Plenty of drinking water was around for taking long swigs and ten carrying home in two-litre plastic bottles
These are the people who were forced by the predators from the neighbouring lawless areas on the other side of the state border to starve, and to take up bows and quivers of arrows in a bid for ‘revolution.’ Unwilling to bear arms against anyone, the peaceable people, as we were told in tales that were filled with pathos, were tortured, kept in a condition devoid of the basic means of life, and then muscled in to rob them of the little they had by way of household items – a few much-dented, and scrubbed-thin metal utensils, earthen water pots with long narrow necks, a pestle or two and a stone slab with a rough-surface to grind lentils and rice on, a extra sari, a spare dhoti or two, perhaps also headgears bedecked in tender care with the long and sweeping tail-feathers of the waterfowl, and very occasionally the prize possession - a charpoy.
Central forces carrying INSAS stens and having a variegated nomenclature, ‘specials,’ ‘cobras,’ ‘strakos,’ ‘greyhounds,’ led by cordons thrown up by the hordes of state police squads armed with AK-47 rifles, uncoiled past us in two-by-two formations from Pidakata rural zone either to mount anti-landmine trucks or to go ahead on foot, disappearing into the thick of the forestry. Some of the police personnel were in mufti, t-shirts, denim trousers, and ‘sports’ shoes prevailed-- which made a strange sight to us of ‘civilians,’ carrying AK-56 rifles, GPS-equipped man-packs, and pouches of survival kits strung around their waists. One lives and learns.
Not much of the much-feared-in-the-corporate-media ‘Maoist’ military opposition could be seen. From what we heard, and we dared not flout the state government’s strict instructions never to tag along with the force, although our corporate counterparts irresponsibly did, that when the ‘fierce warriors’ of the extreme left did appear, it was in a most amateurish fashion. They ran without covers, they took pot shots and stayed rooted on-the-spot completely exposed, were clad in bright red or orange coloured clothing that was easy target for the professional sharp-shooters in the ranks of the ‘cobras,’ and 12 or maybe more were picked off and killed on the spot before the rest 50-odd ‘braves’ simply ran, dragging the bodies ignominiously away. By the time, the combined forces reached the Lalgarh police station, led by the Midnapore range DIG, the ‘armed’ opposition has become distinguished by its absence.
DRAMA OF THE ABSURD
A boring drama of the absurd was played out all the while on the air waves, in several TV channels, over one ‘Kishanji,’ supposedly a ‘supreme leader’ of the ‘Maoists,’ occasionally sounding quite plaintive and pathetic while calling in a thin, high-pitched, reedy voice for an end to the ‘police aggression,’ and asking piteously of the Trinamuli chief to ‘please, please, help us out.’ The appeal was echoed by the once-all-powerful-leader of the ‘people’s committee,’ the Trinamuli goon Chhatradhar who in turn appeared on TV as pale, bleary, and somewhat devoid of cognitive abilities, especially when he was solicitously told by the scions of the corporate media that the police ‘were out to kill him’ (a lie if ever there was one). We are told that the man broke down and started to whimper about him being caught between a rock (the ‘Maoists’) and a hard place (the Trinamulis who now disown him.)
POLITICAL BATTLE AHEAD: BIMAN
As we file this report, the police are regrouping for mopping up ‘ops’ if there is need for any. ‘Kishanji’ and ‘Vikash,’ the two Maoist leaders who appeared almost daily on most TV channels have quietly slinked away from Midnapore west to Jharkhand, in the company of their lackeys, and thence to Andhra Pradesh. The anti-Communist ‘civil society’ a few of whose members met ‘Kishanji’ and came back quite unimpressed, are crest-fallen. State secretary of the Bengal CPI (M) Biman Basu has said that the Left Front was against the banning of the ‘Maoist,’ stressing the need for a political battle ahead while the administration looked to the safety and security of the people. At the moment, all is quiet, and peaceful, on the western side of the red clay zone of Bengal. (INN)
June 25, 2009
By Praveen Swami
|Killing campaign focused on eliminating CPI(M) activists and other political opponents|
JHARGRAM: Little pieces of glass still lie embedded in dry earth next to the cot where Abhijit Mahato fell.
On the morning he was executed as an enemy of the people, Mahato had been drinking a cup of tea at the end of an eight-hour night shift guarding trucks parked along the Kharagpur-Ranchi highway — the job that paid for the college classes he would have made his way to an hour later.
But then, six men arrived on motorcycles at the truck-stop, carrying automatic rifles. They announced to bystanders that Abhijit Mahato and his friends, Anil Mahato and Niladhar Mahato, were members of the Communist Party of India (Marxist). The punishment for this crime, the men announced, was death.
The June 17 murder of Abhijit Mahato and his friends didn’t make it to the national press — or draw the attention of the growing numbers of human rights activists, who have arrived in West Medinipur district to investigate the ongoing confrontation between the West Bengal government and Communist Party of India (Maoist) operatives in Lalgarh. But the killings — and dozens like it — are key to understanding the still-unfolding crisis.
District police records show that 111 West Medinipur residents have been killed by Maoist death squads since 2002. Most of the killings were concentrated in the twin blocks of Binpur and adjoining Salboni — the heartland of the Lalgarh violence.
Seventy four of the dead were targeted because they were cadre or supporters of the Communist Party of India (Marxist). Twenty-three of the victims were police personnel; five were adivasis community elders; one belonged to the Congress; another was a former Maoist who had left the movement in disgust. Seventeen CPI(M) workers have been executed by Maoists since November alone.
It is instructive to compare the murders in West Medinipur with those in India’s most violent State — Jammu and Kashmir. In the years from 2003, Jammu and Kashmir Police records show, 71 political activists from all political parties have been killed by jihadists. More lives have been lost in attacks by Maoist death squads by one single party in one single district of West Bengal.
The data also shows the contest has been uneven: not one Maoist operative has been shot dead in West Medinipur until police moved into Lalgarh last week, either by the state or their political opponents.
Most of those killed by the Maoist death squads come from the ranks of the rural poor; many of them from the same adivasi communities whose name the Maoists have invoked to legitimise terrorism in Lalgarh.
The only son of his widowed mother, and one of five children, Abhijit Mahato was the first member of his extended family to succeed in gaining admission to a college degree. In photographs his mother, Savita Mahato, recently had taken at a local studio, to be shown to the families of prospective brides, Mahato can be seen posing against a movie set-like backdrop.
“I cannot understand”, Savita Mahato says, “what kinds of people would kill a boy who did them not the slightest harm”.
Many others have died in similar circumstances. Karamchand Singh, a noted chhau-dance performer, was executed in front of his primary school students at Binpur last year. His crime was to have campaigned for the CPI(M) despite Maoist warnings to dissociate himself from the party. Pelaram Tudu, a locally renowned football player who supported the CPI(M), was shot dead in another death-squad attack. So, too, was Kartik Hansda, a folk artist.
Honiran Murmu, a doctor working in the Laboni area, was killed along with staff nurse Bharati Majhi and driver Bapsi in October, after an improvised explosive device went off under their car. No explanation was offered by Maoists for the attack, why the vehicle was targeted, but Laboni residents say the attack was intended to punish Mr. Misir for renting out vehicles to the police.
In May, Maoists executed Haripada Mahato as he was bathing in a pond outside his home in the village of Bhumi Dhansola. A former activist with the Maoist-affiliated Kisan Mazdoor Samiti, Haripada Mahato had left the movement in disgust a decade ago. He had since then worked as a night watchman and polio-immunisation campaign volunteer at the Medinipur Medical College.
“The Maoists said he was an informer for the police”, says Haripada Mahato’s wife, Padmavati Mahato, “and we swore he wasn’t. But who can win an argument with a gun?”
|“We have to combat them politically and administratively”|
NEW DELHI: The Communist Party of India (Marxist) said on Monday that the ban imposed by the Centre on Maoists would not serve any purpose.
“Our stand in West Bengal is that we have to combat [Maoists] politically and administratively,” general secretary Prakash Karat told The Hindu.
His point of view was not in response to the decision of the Centre, which could ban organisations, but the party line, he said.
Mr. Karat said a political strategy was necessary, because the Maoists had to be isolated from the sections of the people who associated themselves with them, and a firm administrative action was needed when they indulged in violence. “A combination [of political and administrative] measures is the most effective.”
All-India Forward Bloc general secretary Debabrata Biswas said the Maoist movement could not be seen as a mere law and order issue, and banning it would not solve the problem.
Bharatiya Janata Party spokesperson Rajiv Pratap Rudy said the government should also act against organisations that had ties with the Maoists.
CPI general secretary A.B. Bardhan has said imposing a ban on the CPI (Maoist) is not a cure to the problem and the CPI will prefer countering such outfits politically.
“That has been our stand and that will continue,” Mr. Bardhan said. He extended his party’s support to the operations launched jointly by the State and Central governments in West Bengal to recapture the areas occupied and declared as ‘liberated provinces’ by the Maoists.
Asserting that the rule of law should be established in all parts of the State, he, however, said the operations should be conducted “as peacefully as possible” and the common people should not be unduly harassed. “Even if the operation is conducted slowly and steadily, efforts should be made to see that harassment is not unleashed on the people,” he said.
KOLKATA: The ruling Left Front in West Bengal believes that the activities of outfits such as the Communist Party of India (Maoist) cannot be countered by banning them. But the State government will ascertain whether the Centre’s announcement proscribing the Maoist organisation is binding on it. The legal implications will be looked into.
Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee will discuss the matter with his colleagues and legal experts. The matter is not entirely an administrative one, Chief Secretary Ashok Mohan Chakraborty said here on Monday when asked for the State’s reaction to the Centre’s ban.
“We have discussed the issue in the past too and taken a decision that outfits that pursue misguided politics should be countered politically, not by banning them,” Biman Basu, chairman of the Left Front Committee, said in a statement. But administrative steps should be taken at the government level to ensure that people could lead normal lives.
The “political fight” by the Left parties against the misguided politics of such outfits was continuing. “We are opposing the terrorist activities of such outfits which is why we are being attacked,” he said. To alienate the people from the dangerous politics pursued by the Maoists was a continuous process and this work had to be carried on.
NEW DELHI, JUNE 24: CPI (M) general secretary Prakash Karat on Tuesday clarified that his party had never demanded a ban on Vishwa Hindu Parishad.
Reacting to news reports stating that in the past, CPI (M) had demanded ban on VHP, Karat said, "We only demanded ban on Bajrang Dal after violence in Kandhamal. As for VHP and RSS, we have all along maintained that political organisations should not be banned."
|LALGARH, JUNE 24: West Bengal government today ruled out talks with the People's Committee against Police Atrocities (PCPA), spearheading a tribal resistance against police at Lalgarh, until they laid down arms and ended the reign of terror unleashed by them in the area.|
State chief secretary Ashok Mohan Chakraborty said here that members of the PCPA, which is believed to have a strong link with Maoists, were equipped with sophisticated arms and unless they surrendered them in order to create a conducive atmosphere, talks could not be held.
He said a reign of terror had been unleashed by them in the area and they had to bring an end to this to pave the way for talks.
The administration was trying to restore law and order in the area by taking local people into confidence, he said, adding police was talking to the people to instill confidence in them in the fight against terrorists.
Chakraborty, who was accompanied by DG (Coordination) Bhupinder Singh, IG (Law and Order) Raj Kanojia and district magistrate N S Nigam, said police was helping the district administration revive the PDS system which lay disrupted for months.
Before coming to Lalgarh by a helicopter, the chief secretary visited some villages in Purulia, hit by Maoist activity, and Sarenga in Bankura district to oversee the preparedness of the forces deployed there.
NEW DELHI, JUNE 23: While the Centre has listed the CPI (Maoist) as a terrorist organisation, there is still need for the West Bengal government to declare the outfit an “unlawful association,” highly placed sources in the Union Home Ministry said.
Underlining the fact that the laws in force make a distinction between a “terrorist organisation” and an “unlawful association,” the sources said a terrorist organisation is defined in Section 2(1)(m) of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act 1967.
It means an “organisation listed in the Schedule or an organisation operating under the same name as an organisation so listed.”
The Schedule to the Act listed 32 organisations and it included CPI(Marxist-Leninist), People’s War and Maoist Communist Centre (MCC), all its formations and front organisations.
Once the Centre includes an organisation in the Schedule and lists it a terrorist organisation, that order will apply throughout India. Penal action can be taken against it, or a member or supporter of, or a fund raiser for it anywhere in India.
On the other hand, the sources clarified, the concept of an unlawful association is “very different.”
Under UA(P)A, ‘unlawful association’ is defined in Section 2(1) (p), and it means any association which has for its object any unlawful activity. “Unlawful activity” is defined in Section 2(1)(o) as any action which is intended to bring about secession of a part of the territory of India from the Union or which incites secession or which questions the sovereignty and territorial integrity of India.
While UA(P)A is directed against unlawful associations that support secession, the Criminal Law Amendment Act 1908 has a very different objective. It is directed against associations which encourage or aid persons to commit acts or violence or intimidation. The power is vested in the State government to declare an association as unlawful if the object of the association is interference with the administration of the law or interference with the maintenance of law and order or if the association constitutes a danger to the public peace.
The sources said once an association is declared an “unlawful association” under Section 16 of the Criminal Law Amendment Act 1908, Section 17, 17A, 17B, 17C and 17E are attracted.
Broadly, these provisions provide for offences and penalties. It will be an offence to contribute or solicit a contribution to an unlawful association or manage an unlawful association. The offences are cognisable and non-bailable.
Further, the State government will acquire special powers under Sections 17A, 17B and 17E.
“It will be seen that the scope and application of the Criminal Law Amendment Act is very different – and much wider – than UA(P)A. Besides, the former Act vests power in the State government; UA(P) A vests the power in the Central government,” sources said.
The West Bengal government has been advised by the Union Home Ministry to act under Section 16 of the Criminal Law Amendment Act and declare CPI (Maoist) as an unlawful association, the sources said.
23 Jun 2009, 2301 hrs IST
Just minutes after a naxalite spoke to TIMES NOW , the government cracks down ordering the police to detain and arrest the spokesperson of the Maoists, Gour Chakraborty. The West Bengal government is now cracking down on Maoist sympathisers on a day it decided to comply with the Centre's ban.
"Chakraborty was initially detained for interrogation this evening as he left a media office at Park Street after giving an interview. He was later put under arrest," Deputy Commissioner (Detective Department) in-charge of Headquarters Jawed Shamim said.
A resident of Patuli, in the southern outskirts of the city, Chakraborty acted as the spokesperson of CPI (Maoist) which was banned by the Centre yesterday.
Maoists were believed to be behind the tribal agitation at Lalgarh in West Midnapore district.
But only hours before Gour Chakaorty was detained, the Maoist spokesperson told TIMES NOW that they were ready for talks with the Centre provided security forces were withdrawn from Lalgarh. In short, the Maoists are ready to strike a compromise, but with riders.
MUMBAI (Reuters),JUNE 23: Paddy sowing in West Bengal, India's largest rice producing state, may be affected following an over two-week lull in monsoon rains, and the preparation of seed-bed has been affected, a senior government official said.
"If it starts raining from tomorrow there will not be any problem...but if it does not rain in June at all then it will adversely affect the rain-fed seed-beds," S.D. Chatterjee, director in the state's farm department, told Reuters on Tuesday."The delay in rains has also impacted direct seeding," he added.
Paddy is usually first sown in a nursery or seed-bed and allowed to develop for about 21 to 24 days before transplanting it into the main field. Farmers in West Bengal also under take direct seeding, without growing it first in a nursery. "Sowing is not progressing well...It is time for preparing seed-bed but a delay in rains have impacted the process especially in south Bengal," Chatterjee said.
Early onset of monsoon in West Bengal had given a push to early sowing, but the monsoon's progress was subdued between June 7 to June 21, which has impacted seed-bed preparation. As per data from India Meteorological Department, in the period between June 1 to June 17 monsoon rains were more than 50 percent lower than normal in the state. As per the latest government figures, paddy has been sown in over 0.8 million hectares compared with 0.72 million hectares in the same period last year.
Bombay Hospital in Mumbai, has decided to set up three new multi-speciality hospitals — one in Kolkata and two each in Rajasthan.
The group is now finalising the investment outlay. For starters, the group is scouting for 5-to-6 acres in Rajarhat for the Kolkata facility which will have more than 200 beds. While it has sought land in Rajarhat from the West Bengal government, the group is also exploring options to acquire land on its own.
"The Kolkata hospital will provide world-class healthcare to patients from the economically weaker sections of society. The cost of the service will be priced accordingly," said Harsh Vardhan Lodha, trustee and member of the managing committee of Belle Vue Clinic and son of the erstwhile MP Birla Group chairman Late R. S. Lodha.
On the other hand, the two proposed hospitals in Rajasthan will come up in Jaipur and Chittorgarh. The group has already acquired seven acres in Jaipur from the Rajasthan government. "The Jaipur hospital will have more than 300 beds. On an average, we will invest around Rs 10-15 lakh per bed for these facilities," said Mr Lodha.
The MP Birla group also operates a speciality eye care venture in Kolkata, Priyamvada Birla Aravind Eye Hospital, Bombay Hospital in Indore, and M.P. Birla Vikas Hospital and Priyamvada Birla Cancer Research Institute, both in Satna. It plans to expand the Belle Vue Clinic by increasing number of beds and foraying into newer specialities.
"We are adding 60 new beds by setting up a mother and child care department comprising maternity unit and a neonatal intensive care unit. This apart, there will be a 26-bed invasive cardiac unit with provision for Cath Lab and a dedicated cardiac operation theatre. The total investment on this expansion will be around Rs 20 crore," said Mr Lodha.
KOLKATA, 23 JUNE: The West Bengal government will raise a new specialised force to deal with terrorism in Kolkata, Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee said here on Tuesday.
The crack unit, to be trained by instructors from the army and the Border Security Force (BSF), will be attached to the Kolkata police.
"We already have three battalions of a specialised unit - Straco - to deal with terrorist strikes in areas under the state police. Today it was decided to recruit one battalion for the Kolkata police to fight terrorists," Bhattacharjee said after a meeting of the state cabinet.
The specialised force, comprising around one thousand men, will be ready within a year, city police sources said.
In a colonial legacy, the West Bengal police has jurisdiction over 18 districts, while the metropolitan area of Kolkata has a separate city police force constituted and administered under Calcutta Police Act,1866 & Calcutta (Suburban Police) Act, 1866. This arrangement is unique in the entire country.
“How to enforce the order against the outfit is our business”
KOLKATA, JUNE 23: The Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act under which the Communist Party of India (Maoist) has been deemed a banned outfit is applicable across the country “and West Bengal is no exception” though “how far the States will go [enacting it], whom to arrest, how to arrest and when is our business; that we will decide,” West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee said here on Tuesday.
“This is a Central Act and is applicable to all States. We just cannot say ‘no’ we do not want to accept it [in West Bengal],” he told journalists, even as the operation by security forces against the Maoists and activists of the Maoist-backed Police Santrash Birodhi Janashadharaner Committee in the Lalgarh area of the State entered its sixth day.
Pointing out that the CPI (Maoist) is now banned in the State as stipulated by the Act, Mr. Bhattacharjee said a “holistic” approach was required to tackle Maoist activism. It should comprise socio-economic development in areas where the extremists were trying to extend their influence, a political campaign to isolate them from the people and strong administrative steps against their activities.
“There is a strong opinion that administrative action is not enough and should be backed up with a political campaign” against the Maoists, he said in a reference to the call by the ruling Left Front to counter the outfit’s activities politically.
“What is also imperative is that the State government continues with development schemes to improve the lives of the people [being influenced by the Maoists],” Mr. Bhattacharjee said.
Earlier Mr. Bhattacharjee held a meeting with his Cabinet colleagues where the developments at Lalgarh were among the issues discussed.
The joint operations will continue, the Chief Minister said. “We are raising our combat forces and it is increasing in number [to tackle Maoist activities] … A new battalion is also being raised by the Kolkata police to combat other types of terrorist groups,” he added.
Rejecting the argument that there has been no development in areas such as Lalgarh where the Maoists are active, he said a task force had been set up to oversee development in the economically backward areas of the State and much work had been done over the past year, though much more needed to be done.
Socio-economic backwardness was, however, not the only factor giving rise to terrorism, he said. If that were so how did one explain the terrorism in the name of the Khalistan movement in Punjab — a State whose per capita income was among the highest in the country, he asked.
On whether there was need for separate legislation in the State to enact the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act against banned outfits, Mr. Bhattacharjee replied in the negative.
The Chief Minister said he had got to know that the Centre was contemplating adding the CPI (Maoist) to the list of banned organisations during his discussions with Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram in New Delhi last week.
ZEE NEWS Bureau Report
KOLKATA, JUNE 22: At a time when West Bengal government’s industrialisation drive has suffered a major jolt, PepsiCo India is poised to make its Frito-Lay manufacturing unit in the state its largest in the country by 2011-12.
PepsiCo India has acquired an extra 4 acres near its existing factory in the state to ramp up production of Frito-Lay -- the food division of the company.
Talking to newsmen Mr Animesh Banerjee, vice -president (operations) at PepsiCo India Holdings Pvt Ltd (Frito-Lay division), said: "The West Bengal facility will emerge as the largest factory by calender 2011. The factory’s capacity will increase from 25,000 tonne per annum to 50,000 tonne per annum by 2011-12. However, the expansion plan will largely hinge on the demand curve in the next two years."
Incidentally, apart from West Bengal, Frito-Lay has manufacturing facilities at Channo in Punjab and Ranjangaon in Pune.
PepsiCo India had initially invested Rs 140 crore in its West Bengal facility, which is located at Sankrail Food Park. "In addition, the company will invest another Rs 110 crore in a phased manner to enhance the factory’s capacity," Mr Banerjee said. The unit produces two of its major brands - Frito Lay and Kurkure.
Frito-Lay uses around 1.5 lakh tonnes of potatoes per annum for its products, 50% of which comes from contract farming. PepsiCo has partnered with more than 10,000 farmers working in over 12,000 acres across Punjab, UP, Karnataka, Jharkhand, West Bengal, Kashmir and Maharashtra for the supply of potatoes. The company aims to collaborate with 25,000 farmers in next five years time for procuring potatoes.
Frito-Lay India on Monday launched a new brand Aliva in the baked savoury cracker category. "It is being manufactured at our Ranjangaon facility. With the launch of Aliva, the company aims to create a new sub-segment of great tasting savoury crackers in the greater than 1500 tonne biscuit category. Our aim is to make Aliva much bigger than Kurkure," said Mr Vidur Vyas, executive vice-president (marketing), Frito-Lay India.