Marxists govt recruits militia to fight Maoists

The personnel would be called special police officers (SPOs) who are likely to serve as ‘yes and ears’ of the regular security forces. “The decision to raise SPOs is final and now, fact files are in the process of being prepared,” official sources said.

The Union ministry of home affairs has asked the state government to recruit SPOs to serve as an ‘auxiliary’ to the police force in the three Maoist-dominated districts. Initially, the Centre will foot the cost of raising the force under the security related expenditure scheme which reimburses various non-plan expenditure not covered under the police modernisation scheme.

The Centre is also actively considering the proposal to revise the amount of honourarium that is being paid to the SPOs, who are mostly locals and have a better knowledge of the terrain.  

Grim reminder

The move, coming in the wake of the Dantewada killings of CRPF personnel, is a grim reminder of the highly controversial Salwa Judum, a group of special forces raised under active patronage of state authorities in Chhattisgarh in 2005. States like  Orissa and Chhattisgarh which have a long history of Maoist activity, have quite a large number of SPOs already operating in the Red corridor. Ironically, these states have not only faced the brunt of Naxalite violence, those opposing the operations of the security forces to curb Maoist activities have often accused the SPOs of atrocities against the tribals.

According to those familiar with the development, the Marxist government plans to pick up men for SPOs from a mix of ex-servicemen, retired police personnel and locals who all will be provided with arms to fight the Leftwing rebels as and when required. While the West Bengal government will pay a contractual amount to an SPO, the consolidated pay for an SPO in Chhattisgarh is around Rs 3,000 per month and there are about 3,500 SPOs in that state.

However, sources in the APDR (Association for Protection of Democratic Rights) in Kolkata have claimed that a Salwa Judum-style anti-Maoist people’s militia has already come up in West Midnapore district that has been worst hit by Leftwing insurgency and the state government’s latest proposal is nothing but an attempt to formalise it. The state
authorities have denied knowledge about who organised the ‘Maobadi daman sena’ (army to suppress Maoists) or its leader Bhagat Ram Sardar.

But leaflets distributed by the militia across the Jhargram sub-division in January this year, asked people to combat the Maoists, as fierce fighting broke out between the Maoists and the combined forces in Salboni and Belpahari, about 160 km west of Kolkata.
 Sardar argued in the leaflet, “Kishenji, whom you have been worshipping...is turning our kids into killing machines.” West Midnapore police superintendent Manoj Verma said he was not aware of the militia or its leader. Yet villagers claimed the fight between the Maoists and Maobadi daman sena was fierce, leading to at least seven to eight deaths in the subdivision alone.

Human rights organisations across India and abroad have already raised strong objections about these SPOs, arguing that it is meant to create a divide in the tribal population. It is still not clear how the authorities in West Bengal plan to deal with the situation as the rebels have already killed scores of people in the trouble-torn Lalgarh region on suspicion of being police informers.

The state officials say they are considering certain checks and balances to keep the SPOs under tight leash. “The SRE committees in each district which have district magistrates and superintendents of police as members will decide on recruitment,” sources said. It now remains to be seen how the recruitment in Bengal takes place and to what extent, these SPOs prove effective in countering the Naxalite problem.

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