Fighting Naxals: PM for joint action, States agree on Unified Command
A unified command, an extensive infra package & chopper support were amongst the measures agreed upon to counter Maoists at PM`s meet with states.
New Delhi: A unified command, an extensive Rs.1,750 crore infrastructure package and helicopter support were amongst the measures agreed upon to counter Maoists at Prime Minister Manmohan Singh`s meeting with Maoist affected states here on Wednesday.
The central government and the leaders of the states agreed to revisit their anti-insurgency strategy by deciding to form unified commands in the four worst-hit states - Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Orissa and West Bengal - with a retired major general as one of its members.
The decision was taken at a daylong meeting convened by the prime minister at his 7, Race Course Road residence. The chief ministers of Orissa, Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Bihar, the governor of Jharkhand, which is under president`s rule, and a minister from West Bengal attended.
Also present at the crucial meeting called in the backdrop of intensified attacks on security forces in the last few months were Home Minister P. Chidambaram, Finance Minister Pranab Mukerjee and Defence Minister A.K. Antony.
In his opening remarks, the prime minister said that "though law and order is primarily a state subject, the ramifications of the problem of left wing extremism call for sustained coordination between the centre and the states not only regarding the overall strategy but even on the regular operational issues".
"On the security side, the state forces obviously will have to be further strengthened, though the position has improved in the past few years. I also think that we need more young men and women from these areas in our security forces... In case there are issues regarding intelligence sharing or the pattern or nature of CPMF deployment, I would like to hear them," the prime minister said, stressing "that we cannot afford to let inter-personal issues come in the way of our strategy to tackle Left Wing Extremism".
When Chidambaram suggested the four unified commands, the state governments agreed. Sources privy to what happened inside explained that the retired army general`s role would be advisory in the command to be headed by the chief secretary of the respective state.
Chidambaram said the government would fight the guerrillas with a two pronged strategy of police action and development.
A Rs.1,750-crore package was finalised for building roads, bridges and 400 new police stations. The government would also provide helicopters for logistics support, troop movement, supplies and evacuation.
Chidambaram said the state governments had the "primary" role in defeating the rebels but the central government would assist them "in every way".
Sources said the meeting also highlighted police vacancies as one the major problems and the states were asked to speed up the process to fill the vacancies.
Chidambaram assured the states that the central government would assist them in deploying central paramilitary forces, sharing intelligence, funding the modernisation of police forces and providing logistics and other support.
The government also sanctioned additional special police officers (SPOs) in the Maoist affected states. According to official sources, there are some 13,500 SPOs and the central government is ready to support another 16,000.
A sum of Rs,800 crore will be spent on building new 400 police stations.
Chidambaram said the security operations should be followed by developmental work in the affected areas and asserted that an empowered group chaired by member-secretary, Planning Commission, would modify existing norms and guidelines to implement various development schemes keeping in view local needs and conditions in the districts.
He said road connectivity in 34 Maoist-hit districts would be improved and a number of roads and bridges were proposed to be built at a cost of Rs.950 crore.
The Planning Commission, he said, "is considering a special development plan for the affected districts with emphasis on road connectivity, primary education, primary health care and drinking water".
He said the state governments would be requested to ensure that rights over minor forest produce were assigned to the village level bodies and the interference of government controlled departments, corporations and cooperatives removed.
According to the home minister, 209 security men and 325 civilians have been killed in 1,103 attacks perpetrated by Maoists this year alone.
While most states were in agreement with New Delhi`s suggestions, Bihar Chief Minister and Janata Dal-United chief Nitish Kumar struck a discordant note on the central government`s policy. He said the leftist rebels were "part of our society and enforcement action alone leads to wider alienation, making heroes out of the leaders of the extremist organisations".
He slammed the central government for what he said was the lack of support for the state`s anti-Maoist operations.
His Chhattisgarh counterpart Raman Singh advocated an "integrated action plan" to fight left wing rebels saying state governments were dealing with the issue in their own way.