Malkangiri encounter: Operation Bauxite Ore?

  • Speculation rife on RK five days after ‘encounter’

Visakhapatnam:  Ramakrishna, alias RK, has become the centre of speculation. Is he alive or dead? If alive, is he in police custody or somewhere underground? These questions are making rounds for more than four days with no responsible person, except the AP DGP, coming forward to clarify. AP Chief Minister Nara Chandrababu Naidu or AP Home Minister Nimmakayala Chinarajappa are yet to comment on the historic ‘encounter’.

The police claimed to have killed 34 Maoists in three encounters since early hours of Monday, 24 October 2016. The rights activists suspect that top Maoist leaders operating in Andhra-Odisha Border (AOB) are in police captivity and demanded that they should be produced in a court of law immediately. The AP Director General of Police (DGP) N Sambasiva Rao reiterated on Friday that the two leaders are not with the police and the activists are making false allegations. He also said that the combing operations have been stopped.

There have been killings on both sides for more than 50 years ever since Naxalbari in West Bangal thundered with Charu Majumdar and Kanu Sanyal launching the CPI (ML). Whenever the Maoists killed someone, they made the claim immediately. The police, on the other hand, kill and try to disclaim. The word ‘encounter’ has come to mean, in due course, killing in cold blood. The DGP’s statement, therefore, is taken with a pinch of salt.

Sources on either side of the AOB revealed that the police had orchestrated a foolproof plan before plunging into action. Information about the Maoist plenary reached Mitra Bhanu Mahapatro, Malkangiri Superintendent of Police (SP), on October 16. He did not have the trained forces capable of fighting the Maoists in that difficult terrain. He has border security force (BSF). But the BSF personnel are not trained in guerrilla warfare. Malkangiri forest has steep hills unlike the plain forest areas in Chhattisgarh and other parts of Dandakaranya. That was the reason why the Malkangiri area was treated as a safe haven by Maoists for long.

Mahapatro passed on the information to Rahul Dev Varma, Rural Visakhapatnam SP.  He, in turn, took Dr Kolli Raghurami Reddy, SP, Greyhounds, into confidence. Mahapatro, Varma, Reddy along the IG of Special Intelligence Bureau (SIB) of AP and a senior officer from Odisha had a meeting on October 18 in Visakhapatnam. DGP Sambasiva Rao also flew in to take part in planning. That was when the strategy was reportedly finalized.

On Sunday, the 23rd, the police had cut off BSNL network in Munchimput, Malkangiri and Machkund areas. The Greyhounds comprising 150 personnel got divided into four teams and formed a C-angle cordon near the cutoff area. On the other side is the Sileru river (a tributary of Sabari) and Machkund hydroelectric project.

Agenda of Plenary

The AOB Zonal Committee organized the plenary to discuss the arrangements to be made for the forthcoming week -long celebrations of People’s Liberation Guerrilla Army (PLGA) starting on December 2. Elections to the three-tier Panchayati Raj system in Odisha were scheduled for February next year. One hundred and forty villages in eight mandals are under the influence of Maoists.

The plenary discussed the ways and means to boycott the Panchayat polls. About 50 Maoists are understood to have participated in the meeting.  After finishing with the plenary on the other side of the river, one unit comprising some 30 Maoists and six civilians crossed the river in a boat. Ramakrishna alias RK, Central Committee Member, and Uday alias Ravi Gajarla stayed back at the plenary venue.

Unaware of the Greyhounds encircling them, the Maoists went about their activities, got the meals cooked, had dinner and slept. It was at about 4 am on Monday, the 24th, that the Greyhounds attacked the camp and killed almost all of them. Four persons had managed to escape with injuries. Among those killed there were six civilians who came with the Maoists to cook for them, according to the villagers of Pansput, where the plenary was held.

Those who were killed in the attack included Mamata (Srikakulam), Venkataramana alias Ganesh (Hukumpeta in Visakhapatnam district), Daya (Secunderabad), Munna, RK’s son who hails from Prakasam district, Murali alias Hari (Vizianagaram), Kiran (Malkapalli, West Godavari), Madhu (West Godavari), Rajita (Visakhapatnam) and Suneeta. Chalapathy and Aruna are safe according to Pratap alias Venu, secretary of Malkangiri division. He claimed that RK was killed in the operation. But, Kailasam, secretary of Eastern division, insisted on Friday that RK is in the custody of the police.  Abubakar, a Greyhound constable, was injured and died on way to hospital. The DGP visited his home and presented a cheque for Rs 40 lakh to his parents.

Fighting For Adivasis

On Tuesday, the Greyhounds carried on with the combing operations in which they may have captured RK and Uday whom they reportedly carried away to an unknown destination by helicopter. On the third day, Wednesday, the police reported that two more Maoists were killed in combing operations. Revolutionary writer Varavara Rao said on Friday morning that the police themselves told the media that two Maoists Venkat and Srikant were picked up from Koyyuru mandal. An estimated 130 Maoists, hundreds of militia and sympathizers are still left in the AOB motivating the tribals to fight against the attempts to mine bauxite ore. More than 4,000 tribal families will have to be evacuated if the mining has to be carried out as desired by AP and national governments.

The Maoists were holding public meetings since 2005 in this area exhorting the Adivasis to unite and fight against the moves to explore the ore. Jodanbo, Panasput and Ondrepalli are three panchayat villages in Odisha. There is a police station at Jadanbo. There are at least 400 Greyhound personnel in these three villages. Besides the Greyhounds, Malkangiri district has four battalions of BSF. Each battalion consists of a thousand personnel. The combing operations by BSF, Greyhounds and special police force have been going on for two years. The police action was intensified after the TDP government headed by Chandrababu Naidu had come into being in June 2014. In fact, Naidu had picked up the threads he left in 2004 in connection with mining of bauxite ore.

Sixteen years ago, Naidu gave 2,000 acres of land to a Dubai-based company.  Maoists stood like a wall between the companies and bauxite deposits. But, he had to backtrack due to a strong resistance movement organized by the Maoists. After the UPA came to power, laws were made making it difficult for the governments to take over lands from farmers. The law is more rigid in case of scheduled areas where Grama Sabhas have to accept the proposal of the government to take over the land. Without Gram Sabha’s acceptance, the lands cannot be taken over by governments. This principle was reiterated by the apex court in Samata Vs AP State case. All the same, the UPA government had signed an MoU with Jindal and Anrak companies for supply of bauxite ore.

Getting stumbling block out of the way

All the plans envisaged by TDP government for the development of North Coastal Andhra are dependent on peaceful conditions. For Kakinada-Visakhapatnam Industrial Corridor, Coastal Corridor, Kovvada diamond mines, bauxite mines and eight power projects along the coast in Srikakulam district, Maoists remained a stumbling block. One year after assuming power, Chandrababu Naidu had concentrated on the mining of bauxite. AP government had issued a GO on November 5, 2015 allowing mining of the bauxite ore (which is primary source of aluminum) in Visakhapatnam and Vizianagaram districts. At this point in time, the local minister Ayyanna Patrudu said he received threats from Maoists. His security was scaled up. On November 13, 2016, the then DGP Ramudu told reporters at Visakhapatnam that the Maoists are likely to intensify the resistance movement in order to regain their lost glory in AOB. On February 21, 2016, AP Home Minister Chinarajappa admitted that the presence of Maoists along the AP-Odisha border had become a problem.

The Vizag district has huge deposits of bauxite ore. Araku area alone has 54.47 million tons while Sapparla has 210.25 million tons and Jerrela block has 224.60 tons. Chintapalli and GK Veedhi also have huge quantities of bauxite. From mineral, industry and development point of view, Visakhapatnam district is very important. But the tribals influenced by Maoists are standing in the way. The government of AP had pursued a two-pronged strategy. Visakhapatnam is one of the 35 worst Maoist-affected districts in the country. The UPA government had described Maoists as the single biggest internal security challenge for India and classified them as terrorists. Naidu had obviously decided to go all out to remove the stumbling block. The code given for the operation in Malkangiri forest was significantly “Operation All Out”. It is part of the ‘Operation Green Hunt’. Operation All Out was also the code name given to earlier operation against Bodo militants in Assam.

Following the threats held out by Maoist leaders after the ‘encounter’, the AP government has enhanced the level of security provided to Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu. In the meanwhile, the Adivasis are living in perpetual fear with the guns booming and the sight of the march by the armed police.

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