Gadchiroli needs growth

Thick forests, hills, the Godavari and the Gondwana Kota formations of the early Jurassic period make Gadchiroli district a delight for naturalists, conservationists and tourists. For archaeologists, geologists, paleontologists, metallurgists, meteorologist, naturalists, historians and even mythologists, there is a lot to study in this remote area, and it could throw up many surprises. In fact, the district is part of the ancient region of Dandakaranya.

However, this district in the Vidarbha region of Maharashtra is part of the Red Corridor that experiences considerable Maoist activity. Members of the People’s Liberation Guerrilla Army have taken shelter in the dense forests and hills of this district. Over the years, the outlawed Maoists have used Gadchiroli as an “oscillating point” between the Bastar region of Chhatisgarh and Telangana. Left Wing Extremism has taken a toll in this remote district that borders Chandrapur and Gondia in Vidarbha region, which is also seeing demand for a statehood.

The district is often in the news because of encounters between Maoists and security forces. However, on April 22-23, when the local police, Anti-Naxalite Operations (ANO) unit of the Maharashtra Police and the 9th Batallion of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) killed 40 Maoists in two encounters, the district was once again in the news. In terms of casualties inflicted, this was the biggest anti-Maoist operation and it came around a year after the Naxalbari movement completed 50 years.

According to the 2011 Census, Gadchiroli district has a population of 1,071,795 people of which a majority are tribals. Seven languages are spoken in the district: Gondi, Madiya, Marathi, Hindi, Telugu, Bengali and Chhattisgarhi. To understand the problem, one has to first look at the geography and the administrative set-up.

The district is divided into six sub-divisions, Gadchiroli, Chamorshi, Aheri, Etapalli, Desaiganj and Kurkheda. Each sub-division has two taluks. There are 457 Gram Panchayats and 1,688 Revenue Villages. The district has three Assembly constituencies - Gadchiroli, Armori and Aheri. All of these are part of the newly carved Gadchiroli-Chimur Lok Sabha constituency. The district is divided into 12 talukas and 12 Panchayat Samitis. There are 10 Nagar Panchayats and two municipalities - Gadchiroli and Wadsa.

The district is situated in the south-eastern corner of Maharashtra and is bounded by Chandrapur district to the west, Gondia district to the north, Chhattisgarh to the east and Telangana to the south and south-west. Gadchiroli district was created on August 26,1982, by the separation of Gadchiroli and Sironcha tehsils from Chandrapur district. In the last three decades, a major part of the district had been experiencing Left-wing extremism and this has been a major roadblock for development.

The Ministry of Home Affairs and the Maharashtra government are trying to address the issue which is posing a major challenge to the Gadchiroli Police, the ANO and the State Intelligence Department (SID). The Commando Battalion for Resolute Action (Cobra) of the CRPF is also present in the area.

In the last three decades, there have been several big attacks against the police and security personnel. Over 100 security personnel and 350 to 400 civilians lost their lives. The Maharashtra government has also come out with a surrender policy and several Maoists surrendered and joined the mainstream. “In 2017, as many as 30 Maoists, including woman cadres, surrendered,” an ANO official said. “Gadchiroli is an oscillating point for Maoists. It is being used for transit, regrouping and preparing for strikes,” said Shirish Inamdar, former Additional Deputy Commissioner of SID and faculty at the Pune-based Maharashtra Intelligence Academy (MIA).

C-60 special force

One of the special measures that the government took was to create Commando-60 or the C-60 special force, in which tribal youth from Gadchiroli were recruited. In 1992, K P Raghuvanshi, the then Superintendent of Police, raised the C-60 which was trained by battle-hardened veteran Col (retd) M P Choudhary, who had earlier raised the Special Operations Group when Indira Gandhi was the prime minister. Raghuvanshi went on to become the chief of the Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS).

The training module is still being followed. “The training is tough….one of the things is to assemble and disassemble an AK-47 rifle within one minute….in fact, at the end of the course, we don’t even take 60 seconds,” said an officer with the ANO.

Col Choudhary, who has trained commandos for the Mumbai Police, said, “We trained them in various aspects, including how to lay an ambush and how to counter-ambush and so on…the climate is a factor here, so survival techniques were also taught.”

For the C-60, that is part of the ANO, the recent encounters have been the best operations – in terms of casualties they inflicted. Moreover, not a single policeman or security personnel was injured. Another important decision that the government took was the creation of a Gadchiroli range to concentrate and focus more on anti-Maoist activities. “What is more important is Gadchiroli’s development…and this development should be with a human face….the involvement of locals is a must,” said Lalsu Nagoti, a tribal leader, lawyer and a member of the Arewada-Nelgunda Zilla Parishad.

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Gadchiroli needs growth

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