India: Weakness Amid Gains In Bihar – Analysis

On January 5, 2022, a Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) cadre was killed in an encounter that took place between the Security Forces (SFs) and Maoists in the Pachrukhia Hill area under the Madanpur Block of Aurangabad District. Superintendent of Police (SP) Kantesh Kumar Mishra disclosed that the Maoists triggered an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) and opened fire, targeting SFs who were on a search operation in the area. In retaliatory fire, SFs killed one Maoist. No SF casualty was reported.

This is the lone fatality recorded in the State in Naxal [Left Wing Extremism, LWE]-linked violence in the current year, thus far (data till January 30, 2022).

According to partial data collated by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), Bihar recorded 13 fatalities, including seven civilians and six Naxalites (Left Wing Extremists), in LWE-related violence in 2021. In 2020, there were a total of 15 fatalities, including 10 civilians and five Maoists.

Indeed, for the second year in a row, SFs did not suffer any loss in the State in 2021. The last SF fatality was reported on February 14, 2019, when a Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) sub-inspector was killed in a landmine blast triggered by the Maoists targeting a SFs team on a combing operation in the Langurahi Forests of Gaya District. On the other hand, the SFs killed six Naxalites in 2021, as against five in 2020. Also, at least 45 Naxalites were arrested in 2021 as against 34 such arrests in 2020. At least 50 Naxalites were arrested in 2019 and 101 in 2018.

The SFs success on ground has led to improvements in the security situation. Civilian fatalities, a crucial index of security, registered a decline of 30 per cent in 2021, in comparison to 2020, from 10 to seven. This was the second lowest number of civilian fatalities recorded in a year since March 6, 2000, when SATP started documenting data on LWE-linked violence across the country. The previous low of four civilian fatalities was recorded in 2015. A high of 46 civilian fatalities in the State was recorded twice, in 2000 and 2010.

Other parameters of violence also registered some decline. The number of LWE-related incidents fell from 43 to 42. Two major incidents (involving three or more killings) was recorded in 2021, as against three such incidents in 2020. Two incidents of arson carried out against civilian construction companies were recorded in 2021, as against five in 2020.

Out of the State’s 38 Districts, LWE-linked fatalities in 2021 were reported from four Districts – Gaya (eight), Jamui (two), Lakhisarai (two) and Munger (one). In 2020, fatalities were recorded from five Districts – Gaya (five), West Champaran (four), Khagaria (three), Munger (two) and Lakhisarai (one). Moreover, according to SATP data for 2021, based on assessments of underground and over-ground activities of the Naxalites, four Districts – Gaya, Jamui, Lakhisarai and Munger – remained moderately affected; and seven Districts – Aurangabad, Kaimur, Nawada, Patna, Rohtas, Sitamarhi and West Champaran – were marginally affected. In 2020, five Districts – Gaya, West Champaran, Khagaria, Munger and Lakhisarai – were moderately affected; and seven Districts – Aurangabad, Bhojpur, Jamui, Muzaffarpur, Nawada, Patna and Saharsa – were marginally affected.

Significantly, 10 Districts of the State – Aurangabad, Banka, Gaya, Jamui, Kaimur, Lakhisarai, Munger, Nawada, Rohtas and West Champaran – are covered under the ‘Security Related Expenditure (SRE)’ scheme for the conduct of focused operations against the ultras, among 70 LWE-affected Districts in 10 States across the country, identified by the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (UMHA). Moreover, three Districts – Gaya, Jamui, and Lakhisarai – are among the ‘25 Most Affected Districts’ from eight States across India. Aurangabad is classified as a ‘District of Concern,’ along with seven Districts from five States across India.

During his meeting with Union Home Minister Amit Shah in New Delhi on September 26, 2021, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar briefed Shah about the prevailing Maoist situation and discussed the steps that were needed to stop the Naxalite activities. He noted that, though the Naxal threat in Bihar had declined and “the situation has bettered in the State, that does not mean we relax on that.”

Indeed, problems persist. According to SATP, the number of explosions carried out by the rebels increased from one in 2020 to three in 2021. The number of attacks on civilian infrastructure increased from two in 2020 to four in 2021. The number of exchanges of fire between SFs and the Maoists increased from three in 2020 to four in 2021. The Maoists issued one bandh (shut down strike) call in protest against the killing of their cadres in 2021, while there was no such call in 2020.

Meanwhile, three incidents linked to the Tritiya Sammelan Prastuti Committee/Tritiya Prastuti Committee (TSPC/TPC), a CPI-Maoist splinter group, were recorded in 2021, as against no such incident in 2020. On May 17, armed TPC cadres attacked a stone crushing plant and set ablaze a JCB Excavator machine near the Chakand Police Station on the Gaya-Patna Highway in Gaya District. TPC cadres also resorted to aerial firing to spread panic and gave threats if the contractors failed to pay their ‘levy’ (extortion demands). At least eight TPC cadres were arrested, seven on November 21 and one on June 29, 2021.

To meet the residual challenge of Left Wing Extremism, it is necessary to have a strong Police Force. Appallingly, however, according to the latest Bureau of Police Research and Development (BPR&D) data, as on January 1, 2020, Bihar had an abysmal police-population ratio (policemen per hundred thousand populations), at 76.20, the lowest in the country, and less than half the national average of 155.78. Also, the Civil Police/Area Ratio (number of Civil Policemen per 100 square kilometers) is 35.29, below the national average of 40.58. Moreover, at least 47,099 Police posts were vacant, against a sanctioned strength of 1,38,961 – a deficit of 33.89 per cent. 25 posts of apex Indian Police Service (IPS) Officers were also vacant, against a sanctioned strength of 242 – a deficit of 10.33 per cent.

Bihar currently has a total of three regular Battalions of CRPF, one specialized Commando Battalion for Resolute Action (CoBRA) battalion and three Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB) battalions, deployed for anti-Maoist operations in the State.

Moreover, the State lacks fund to meet the challenge. Indeed, on September 26, 2021, Chief Minister Nitish Kumar demanded an increase in the Centre’s funding ratio under the Modernization of State Police Forces (MPF) Scheme, arguing,

The Centre has been assisting the states through the MPF Scheme. In consonance with time, it is being realized that the structuring and scope of this scheme need to be expanded, but on the contrary, the Centre has reduced funding under the plan component of the MPF scheme. The ratio of Centre and state share in the scheme has been kept at 60:40. From FY 2000-2001 to 2014-2015, the Centre provided average funding under the MPF to the tune of Rs 40 crore [INR 400 million] only. But subsequently, it has been reduced to Rs 27 crore [INR 270 million] per annum. This amount is highly insufficient and needs to be enhanced manifold. For a state like Bihar which has limited resources, the ratio should be 90:10.

Chief Minister Kumar also requested the Union Ministry of Home Affairs to reconsider Bihar’s proposal to deploy one helicopter permanently in the State, to intensify anti-Maoist operations. Currently, Bihar uses the helicopter deployed in Jharkhand as and when the need arises, for surveillance, logistics and rescue operations.

The Maoists are losing their foothold in their erstwhile areas of domination in Bihar, as they are across the country. However, any lowering of the guard by the security establishment would be seen as an opportunity to regroup. It is crucial that existing lacunae in the State be addressed with urgency, and that security and developmental efforts be amplified, to consolidate the relative peace that has already been established.