HYDERABAD: In what could be a rerun of the failed Salwa Judum campaign of Chhattisgarh, the Andhra Pradesh government, faced with a renewed threat from Maoists, is planning to raise a tribal police battalion to take on the insurgents.
The cabinet sub-committee on Naxalite problem, headed by finance minister Yanamala Ramakrishnudu, has recommended a tribal battalion, staffed by tribal youth from East Godavari, Visakhapatnam, Vizianagaram and Srikakulam, exclusively to counter Maoist insurgence on the Andhra-Odisha-Chhattisgarh border. Plans are afoot to locate the battalion either at Rampachodavaram in East Godavari or Paderu in Visakhapatnam district.
While the government says the decision is aimed at discouraging angry tribal youth, many of who would be dislocated due to the Polavaram project, from joining the Maoist fold, security experts feel the move is likely to backfire.
“What happened in Bastar in Chhattisgarh, which is not far from tribal areas of Visakhapatnam, East Godavari and Srikakulam, is still fresh,” cautioned former director general of police Pervaram Ramulu. “In the name of Salwa Judum, tribals were fielded against Maoists. The proposed tribal battalion is similar to Salwa Judum. In the name of employment, tribals should not be made to suffer,” he added.
Roughly 3,000 tribals were slaughtered by Maoists for taking part in the Chhattisgarh government-backed Salwa Judum in mid-2000, before the Supreme Court banned it in July 2011. “There are still hundreds of tribal youth missing. We hope and pray that it’s not repeated anywhere else,” a former member of the civilian militia told TOI from Raipur.
However, the high-powered AP committee, which has deputy chief ministers N Chinnarajappa, KE Krishnamurthy and minister Sidda Raghava Rao as members, wants to go ahead with its plans as the Union home ministry is keen on a tribal police force. The fact that the Centre moved the proposal to rope in Andhra Pradesh, which has a proven track record in dealing with left wing extremism, made the decision easier. AP enjoys high respect in the country when it comes to controlling Maoists as its Greyhounds wing had effectively reduced the number of Naxalites earlier.
“The Union home ministry has prepared a comprehensive anti-naxal policy and wants the state governments to take the lead in the fight against Maoists. We recommended a tribal battalion with the financial assistance of the Centre,” said a minister who is a member of the committee. The AP government has been assured ‘full’ financial assistance by the Centre to raise the battalion, which is expected to cost Rs 300 crore in the first phase.
The cabinet sub-committee has asked the government to come out with liberal eligibility qualifications for the tribal youth willing to be part of the battalion. It has further asked the government to fill 300 vacant home guard posts in Visakhapatnam district with tribal youth in order to stall recruitments to Maoist outfits. The committee has also recommended increasing the compensation for property loss from the present Rs 10 lakh to full compensation while allotting land to victims of extremist attacks.
Govt firm, but experts wary
- Through the spl battalion, AP govt is aiming to stop entry of tribals dislocated by the Polavaram project into Maoist outfits
- Battalion may be located either at Rampachodavaram in East Godavari or Paderu in Visakhapatnam district
- The project expected to cost Rs 300 crore in the first phase
- Experts warn that memory of how the Salwa Judum caused untold suffering to tribals of Bastar is still fresh in the minds of tribals in state