A first-time concerted crackdown has been launched against 'overground' Maoist supporters in various states and about 500 such people have been apprehended by the security forces in Chhattisgarh alone over the last one year, the chief of country's lead anti-Naxal operations force, the CRPF, has said.
CRPF Director General RR Bhatnagar told PTI in an interview that this fresh action is being undertaken by them in coordination with state police forces with an aim to deny 'space' to the Left Wing Extremists and to counter them beyond the field operations.
The Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) has deployed close to a lakh armed personnel and a heavy assortment of weapons and gadgets to tackle the Left Wing Extremism (LWE) in various states of the country.
"We are now going to the villages and we are trying to see that action is taken against their (Maoists) overground supporters and workers, 'jan militia' and other people who give them the intelligence and local support," he said.
"We are working with the local police and we are seeing that all the people who have been identified, either 'jan militia' or are wanted in different cases, they are rounded up (by the police). More than 500 people with the help of our forces have been taken into custody in the last one year in Chhattisgarh. We are trying to see that their (Naxal) overall support is also reduced," the DG told the news agency.
A senior official heading a special combat unit in Chhattisgarh later informed that all those people who have been found to have helped the Naxalite cadres in planning, aiding and executing an attack on security forces are the ones who are on their radar primarily and such persons are being tracked and apprehended or arrested as part of this new strategy to counter the LWE challenge.
Mr Bhatnagar, a 1983-batch Indian Police Service officer of Uttar Pradesh cadre, said the paramilitary force is gradually increasing its footprints into the core Naxal areas and has opened at least 15 new camps in the highly impenetrable and inhospitable jungles and terrain of south Bastar in Chhattisgarh which shares borders with Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Odisha and Telangana.
"If you were to look at figures this year, 160 Naxals have been neutralised in various states and the number of incidents (anti-Maoist operations) are maximum in Chhattisgarh followed by Jharkhand," he said.
The CRPF boss said he has taken some major policy decisions to better orient his combat units for success in operations without suffering major reverses.
"What we have also done is hardened our defences. We have also placed emphasis that it is not only only the special forces like the CoBRA (specialised jungle warfare unit of CRPF) who have to be competent but also the GD (general duty) battalion troops who need to be properly trained as they are in the highest numbers by way of deployment and they are facing the maximum attrition," Mr Bhatnagar said.
The officer took charge of the force in April last year in the backdrop of two major ambushes in Chhattisgarh's Sukma that claimed the lives of 37 CRPF men.
The regular battalions of the CRPF are the ones, he said, who go out every day in the same area where the threat is severe.
They actually are facing more threats than the special forces who largely go out for focussed operations and hence it has been decided to make the regular units stronger, the DG said.
"We have focussed to make our general duty battalion component very strong. We have infused the concept of young platoons, boys who are fit and well-trained and able to counter. We have also introduced a lot of young element in the Naxal theatre and in Chhattisgarh we have recently introduced about 5,000 new young recruits after their training," the officer said.
The DG said as a result of undertaking these policy and operational changes, this year during three or four severe attempts of ambush by Naxals, the force has been able to successfully "break" the killing ring without suffering any casualty and they affected injury to the attacking party.
"That has got the salutary effect for the forces," he said.
This year, the DG said emphatically, "the CRPF operations and the boys are now much more confident, much more stronger and our area domination is better."
"We are also introducing a lot of new technology in terms of IED (improvised explosive device) detection and UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) coverage, night vision devices, static surveillance like PTZ (pan, tilt and zoom) cameras not only for camp security but also for keeping a watch on the roads," the CRPF chief said.
"We have tried to deny the Naxals the space to operate by deploying all these measures," he said.
No doubt, the DG said, the area and the number of districts in the control of the Naxals has reduced and there has been a 40 per cent decline in LWE violence incidents over a period of the last few years.
"West Bengal is almost clear except some areas on the border, Telangana has got a lot of success and now Naxal activity is restricted there close to the Chhattisgarh border," he said.
"Today, the main movement (of the Naxals) is restricted to certain areas, primarily Chhattisgarh's south Bastar region and also the cut-off area in Odisha which is the Odisha-Andhra Pradesh border and certain parts of Jharkhand," the DG said.