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The Hindu
The Hindu
Satyasundar Barik

BSF, Odisha police establish company operating base at Jantri in Swabhiman area

The Border Security Force (BSF) has established its company operating base (COB) at Jantri in Swabhiman area in Odisha’s Malkangiri district, marking the complete domination of security forces in the former bastion of the CPI (Maoist) rebels.

The setting up of the base at Jantri, which is at extreme end of Swabhiman Anchal and still not reachable by road in monsoon season, is said to be an important event in the history of anti-Maoist operation in Odisha and neighbouring Andhra Pradesh.

Swabhiman Anchal, erstwhile Cut-Off area, had slipped into the hands of Maoist rebels due to its extreme remoteness, which was inflicted upon people by Balimela Dam project. The construction work of Balimela project was started in the then Koraput district in 1962-63 and competed in 1977.

Due to the project, the reservoir created a 62-km water channel cutting off 151 villages mainland of Odisha. While these villages could be accessed by boats in the water route from three sides, one had to cross an inhositable forest terrain from Andhra Pradesh side.

For over two years in 1970s, the water-locked villagers had struggled to reach the district headquarters. They were isolated from Odisha mainland and hence the name Cut-Off area. When the government provided steamers, the villagers came out of isolation.

Such was the domination of Maoists and remoteness of the Cut-off area that a bridge that was planned to connect 151 villages with the rest of Odisha by road route in 1980s did not materialise till 2018. The work on Gurupriya Bridge started in 2014 in full swing. The 910-metre bridge was constructed at a cost of over ₹187 crore ending six decades of isolation of 30,000 villagers.

Swabhiman Anchal used to be a liberated zone for extremists of CPI (Maoist), who were fiercely guarding against the entry of security forces into the region. The turning point in security situation came 11 years ago when the BSF was deployed in Malkangiri district – one of the worst affected Left Wing Extremists (LWE) district in India.

According to the paramilitary force, it was very difficult on the part of the civil administration to move to interior areas. “Even police with limited resources could not access remote areas. Vehicles did not ply during night hours, shops closed in the evening hours, business was affected and and development activities of Central scheme and State government were beyond imagination,” said the BSF.

A battlefield in the hinterland

According to State police sources, a total of 81 Maoist incidents have been recorded in Swabhiman Anchal since 2000. While 46 security personnel were killed in naxal violence, 29 Maoists were killed in encounter during this period. As many as 35 villagers were killed mostly by CPI (Maoist) cadres.

In 2008, as many as 39 security personnel belonging to Andhra Pradesh police’s elite Greyhound Force, were killed in a Maoist ambush in the Balimela reservoir. In 2011, then Malkangiri Collector R. Vineel Krishna was abducted while he had gone to supervise developmental work. Similarly, in 2012, four BSF personnel, including a commandant, were killed in a landmine blast triggered by Left Wing Extremists.

As far as casualty on part of CPI (Maoist) was concernced, 22 prominent cadres were wiped out in an encounter at Ramanguda of Swabhiman Anchal on October 24, 2016. Ganesh and Daya, two Special Zonal Committee Member and Gangadhar and Kiran, two Divisional Zonal Committee, were gunned down in that anti-Maoist operation. Twenty six CPI (Maoist) cadres have laid down their arms since 2000.

Such was the influence of CPI (Maoist) cadres in Swabhiman Anchal that memorials of extremists could be found in almost every village while permanent buildings were constructed by red rebels at Jodambo and Gurasethu.

Apart from deployment of the BSF and regular police, the Odisha government had positioned Special Operation Group, India Reserve Batallion and District Volunatry Force in Swabhiman Anchal to counter influence of CPI (Maoist)

The COB at Jantri assumes huge signifiance as CPI (Maoist) were wielding their influence in gram panchayats such as Jantri, Andrapalli, Dhauliput and Ralegaon. Due to fear of LWE, the Malkagniri district administration even failed to accept nominations from candidates at these panchayats during just concluded rural polls.

After the construction of the Gurupriya bridge, the BSF has slowly and steadily started establishing COBs one after another. The COB helps mobilisation security forces at short notice and prevents escape routes in that particular area. Prior to the one at Jantri, the BSF had established COBs at Jodambo, Janbai, Jantapai, Hantalguda, Gurasethi and Ghanabeda.

After establishment the COB, the State government has been strategically taking the civil administration to the Swabhiman Area. Two police stations at Papermetla and Jodambo have already started functioning. According to sources, Odisha would set up seven police stations for a population of 30,000 in nine gram panchayats in Swabhiman Anchal.

The State government is also implementing ‘Socio-Economic Transformation and Upliftment’ (SETU) pumping developmental projects, both livelihood and infrastructure, worth ₹161 crore.

Due to the presence of security forces, the State government has managed to reclaim the area from Maoists. As against 392 km of target road network, the State government has built 200 km road in Swabhiman Anchal in three years. Given the difficult terrain and threat from Maoists, the laying of road is no mean achievement.

Agricultural lands that were being used for ganja cultivation with the active support of CPI (Maoist) cadres are covered with other crops. Vehicles, including government ones, are plying uninterrupted up to Pepermetla in Swabhimaan Anchal. Violence activities of Maoists to a large extent have been reduced to almost nil in the region.

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