Originally Published 2006-07-10 09:24:48 Published on Jul 10, 2006
Travelling by horse back is the fastest mode of communication in the tribal-inhabited remote and interior forest areas of this (East Godavari) district,¿ said my guide during a visit to the Naxalite-Maoist-affected parts of the Andhra-Orissa Border Special Guerrilla Zone (AOBSZ).
Naxal menace: Security forces challenged in difficult terrain
Travelling by horse back is the fastest mode of communication in the tribal-inhabited remote and interior forest areas of this (East Godavari) district," said my guide during a visit to the Naxalite-Maoist-affected parts of the Andhra-Orissa Border Special Guerrilla Zone (AOBSZ).&nbsp; <br /> <br /> I heard that with disbelief while we were travelling in the Eastern Ghats from Rampa Chodavaram, headquarters of the Integrated Tribal Development Agency (ITDA) project, to Chinturu in bordering Khammam district. "The tribals here", he added, "have little capacity to assess and quote a suitable price for their produce. They sell them dead cheap to traders from the plains, who make huge profits". <br /> <br /> Some months ago, in an interior forest area, my guide bought two sacks full of mausambi, each with 100 fruits, all for Rs 2 a piece; they would cost Rs 8 a piece in the towns. To me, a native of East Godavari, a very prosperous district and one of the rice bowls of India, the striking differences there - in connectivity and levels of development - were rather incomprehensible. <br /> <br /> Another surprise in store was that along the road for a stretch of nearly 50 kilometres, one could spot just one settlement of some 15 dwellings, and down below, on either side, were deep ravines. The villages are scattered way off the road and trekking is the only mode of commuting. <br /> <br /> The scale of Maoist violence has not been high in East Godavari's forests, but the quietitude is misleading. In Maredumilli, near Rampa Chodavaram, Maoist sympathisers in Rajahmundry and Kakinada procure logistics (dress material, medicines, provisions, etc) and stealthily transport them further beyond Maredumilli, deep into the forests, sometimes with the connivance of forest department officials in their vehicles, who are either sympathisers or have been coerced.&nbsp; <br /> <br /> Having read that the Maoists operate weapons "production units" deep inside forests, a security official in Rampa Chodavaram was asked whether one existed there. "We have some vague information that they are fabricating rocket-launchers somewhere in these forests", he replied.&nbsp; <br /> <br /> Rocket-launchers were recovered for the first time in the country in Malkangiri forests, Orissa, in 2002. The Maoists have used rocket-launchers with partial success on at least a dozen occasions since 2003 in Andhra Pradesh, including in AOBSZ. <br /> <br /> The guerrillas twice made failed attempts using rocket launchers, etc, to blow up the police station in Gudem Kotta Veedhi (better known as G K Veedhi), the mandal (taluk) headquarters, Visakhapatnam district, my next stop in the AOBSZ. Two streets -- GK Veedhi (Gudem new street) and Gudem Pata Veedhi (Gudem old Street) comprise Gudem village.&nbsp; <br /> <br /> I was advised against visiting G. K. Veedhi and was told that it is a "proper liberated area". Here the Maoists routinely hold up vehicles, ascertain the credentials of passengers, thoroughly check vehicles and let them go only after satisfying themselves that they are not police. Here, much as in several other Maoist-affected parts of the country, for reasons of safety, the police travel incognito in public transport. By sheer coincidence I did not run into a rebel squad, as they were camping elsewhere. <br /> <br /> At the weekly market, in this age of e-commerce, one could not miss noticing that a tribal was bartering his load of tamarind for something, to a trader from the plains! Watching barter for the first time was an experience to me. <br /> <br /> Thereafter, we sat at a kiosk and bought a bottle of "bottled mineral water", where I was introduced to the stringer of a vernacular daily. While he was explaining to me that the Maoists have an excellent informer network in the area, two teen-agers approached us, intently watching the strangers that we were.&nbsp; <br /> <br /> The Maoists virtually run a parallel administration in GK Veedhi. They are known to have collected "taxes" and "fines" from non-tribal government employees; approximately, the equivalent of 15 days of salary per annum. As in many other affected areas, they have virtually evicted the civil administration and occupied its space.&nbsp; <br /> <br /> They confiscate medical supplies of the state health department upon arrival and promptly distribute them among the tribals. Committees have been formed to fight for water, education, health and cyclone relief and to oppose bauxite mining in a forest land. <br /> <br /> For almost a year now the Maoists have killed many civilians, branding them as police informers. Apparently, an active informer network helped in recovering many arms dumps in the past two years. A media report of May 17, 2006, said that a few days earlier, besides two claymore mines, for the first time in the country 50 shells of 'pressure bombs', too, were recovered near Kumkumpudi village.&nbsp; <br /> <br /> The latter's finish indicated they were manufactured in a workshop or factory. Pressure bombs are circular in shape, and are easy to fabricate and detonate. To set it off, an unsuspecting person would merely have to step where it is planted.&nbsp; <br /> <br /> The guerrillas frequently attack the police in GK Veedhi. Barely a few hours after we left, members of the Maoist people's militia set off a landmine blast in a village in the area, injuring a constable and a home guard. On May 28, 2006, in a sneak raid on a weekly market in Sileru, GK Veedhi mandal, the Maoists shot dead a CRPF jawan, injured another and two tribal women, besides looting two AK-47 rifles.&nbsp; <br /> <br /> In fact, the rebels make comprehensive preparation before an attack. They conduct thorough reconnaissance and separate teams are tasked with a specific responsibility during the entire attack and the retreat. Reportedly, 60 rebels were mobilised for the raid, but meticulous planning and lightning speed enabled a mere handful to complete it. Without losing time, they all retreated into the forests. <br /> <br /> "The Maoists appear at a village, melt into these dense forests, and surface at another", a senior security official of Southern Orissa said, pointing to the impregnable forests lining the hills in Rayagada district, my next and final stop in the AOBSZ. We were at a height of 4000 feet above MSL, on the state highway from Rayagada to Gunupur in Andhra Pradesh's Srikakulam district. The district is a full-fledged guerrilla zone.&nbsp; <br /> <br /> </font> <font size="2" class="greytext1"> <em>The writer is a Fellow, Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi. <br /> <br /> Source: The Tribune, Chandigarh, July 10, 2006.</em> <br /> <br /> <br /> <em>* Views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Observer Research Foundation.</em> <br />
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