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Above: 62 Naxalites surrendering before senior police officers in Narayanpur district in Chhattisgarh in November last year/Photo: UNI

The Chhattisgarh govt seems confused as it mulls over curtailing facilities extended to surrendering Naxals and letting criminal cases against them remain

By Neeraj Mishra in Raipur

It is strange that the Bhupesh Baghel government in Chhattisgarh, which had campaigned in Bastar with a sympathetic vein towards the tribals, now finds itself in a jam of its own making. First, it was the iron ore mining permission for Adani Enterprises in Bailadila hills in Dantewada district which the tribals had protested against and now it appears to be on a path of confrontation with its posturing on surrender terms for Naxals.

Surrendering Naxals are seen as brothers by tribals who welcome them back home. They are like them and most would not want to see them punished. They see the transformation of these “brothers” into Naxals as either bad luck or being forced into it. They don’t see it as a conscious choice. So the community does not really hold them as criminals or outlaws.

But the Baghel government is now mulling over curtailing the rights and facilities extended to surrendering ultras. It is still in the nascent stage of policy formation, but indications are that Baghel wants criminal cases against Naxals to remain and that they should be tried accordingly by courts. The policy has still not reached the cabinet, but the main idea appears to be driven by the fact that too many Naxals are surrendering because of the attractive terms of surrender and they go scot-free despite solid cases against them. Baghel may also be thinking of numerous political murders that Naxals committed over the past few years—the latest being of freshly elected BJP MLA Bheema Mandavi. An entire generation of Congressmen was wiped out by Naxals in a deadly attack in 2013 in Darbha Valley in Sukma district. The case has been investigated at all levels but the real culprits are still at large. The Baghel government wants to reopen the case and start investigation into the incident.

There is no national policy on surrender and rehabilitation of surrendering Naxals. Each state is free to form its own policy in consultation with the Union home ministry. Karnataka, for instance, has a reward of Rs 4 lakh on surrender, while the highest that Chhattisgarh pays out is Rs 2.5 lakh if the Naxal surrenders with a mortar.

While the policy of reward on surrender has been in use for long, it was only in 2012 that the home ministry under P Chaidambaram formalised and authorised states to follow their own carrot offers. Chhattisgarh revised its surrender policy in 2015 to make it more attractive. The Raman Singh government, which had failed to make its Salwa Judum (a government-backed “people’s resistance movement” against the Maoists) a success, again wanted to intervene in the Bastar muddle by enticing the tribals into the mainstream. It announced a reward of Rs 2.5 lakh on surrender with heavy arms and refined its rehab policy by providing free assistance for skill development for a chosen trade. It also offered to pay Rs one lakh per year for three years.

But more importantly, and what is relevant here is that the earlier Raman Singh government did not promise to withdraw all cases unilaterally. It laid down a guideline for it. All cases would be sent to the cabinet and would be decided on merit, otherwise the law would take its course. But when it came to act­ual implementation, it proved more generous and withdrew several cases.

This led to the impression that the Naxals were getting away with murder. Its other emphasis on development—road building, police camps and Salwa Judum camps—did little to keep the tribal boys home.

Additional DGP RK Vij, who was in charge of Naxal operations in the state, told India Legal: “The policy was improved after consultation with all stakeholders, including central forces, local police input and others like village elders.” The result was that nearly 200 Naxals surrendered in 2016 and about 180 in 2018—62 of these in the last month before the assembly elections. It also gave Rajnath Singh an opportunity to boast about the successful surrender programme in Chhattisgarh.

But despite the great numbers, the number of Naxal related incidents didn’t stop. So for a brief while in 2017, the state government also played with fire by appointing SRP Kalluri as Bastar’s inspector-general, leading to ugly confrontations with the Naxals and the villagers. Human rights activists took up cudgels on behalf of those villagers who were either being killed or forced to surrender as Naxals.

Baghel may also be influenced by a line of thinking quite common among those who blame the police for inflating the number of surrenders for personal reasons. These range from greed for police medals to an interest in the reward money. For long, it had been alleged that police officials posted in Bastar manipulate the surrenders to get their names on the medals list of Republic Day. Most of those who surrender are not serious Naxals and a list of cases against them is made out simply to show them as prized catches.

But Baghel may be on the wrong track if he thinks surrendered Naxals have an easy time in the courts. Most do not have cases withdrawn against them. They have to regularly follow it up on their own and after some time, the state also loses interest in their fate. He may, however, be partially correct in his assumption that most real Naxals surrender towards the end of their careers when they are either old, infirm or married. There have been several cases of couples surrendering and starting a new life. Women Naxals have also surrendered in good numbers.

“It is very difficult to erase cases of loot and murder under the IPC. In normal circumstances, it is not withdrawn against anyone. FIRs once registered cannot be withdrawn except when the state decides it as a policy,” said GP Singh, IG, Economic Offences Wing. He disagreed that the police manipulates cases but sees the point in getting Naxals to surrender through inducement.

It’s this complexity of opinions on a single subject that may be driving the Baghel government in its policies in Bastar. There appears little home work and ground feedback in whatever it plans on a sensitive issue like Bastar.

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