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Chopper unit on Maoist vigil

Hyderabad, Feb. 26: The chopper division of a unified command for anti-Maoist operations covering four states has started functioning in Andhra Pradesh’s Karimnagar.

The division, set up after the Union home ministry’s approval, will help monitor operations in the rebel- infested districts of Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh, Odisha and Andhra, which shares borders with the three other states.

The areas to be covered include Dandakaranya, an inhospitable hilly and forested stretch that is located not far from the conjunction of the four states.

Among the districts known to be hotbeds of rebels in the zone are Gadchiroli in Maharashtra, Bijapur in Chhattisgarh and Malkangiri in Odisha.

Andhra police chief V. Dinesh Reddy, who launched the chopper division at Mahadevpur in Karimnagar yesterday, said after an aerial survey that the unit would help improve combing operations, especially in the aftermath of attacks on forces and installations.

The infrastructure at Mahadevpur is being developed and till the work is over, the helicopters will be kept at Visakhapatnam to facilitate operations.

The chopper vigils are also expected to bring down the incidents of Maoists entering Andhra from neighbouring Chhattisgarh, Reddy said. Such sky surveillance will soon be launched near the Andhra-Odisha border, he added.

The rebel-affected districts in Andhra include Karimnagar, Adilabad, Khammam, Warangal, Visakhapatnam, Vizianagaram, Srikakulam and East Godavari.

Andhra, seen as a pioneer in anti-Maoist operations, will provide training to cops from Maharashtra, Odisha and Chhattisgarh in combing drills and prevention of infiltration, Reddy said. Greyhounds, Andhra’s crack anti-rebel force, will be sent to Chhattisgarh on missions if the latter makes a request.

Reddy attributed the decline in rebel activities in Andhra to the offensives — including unmanned aircraft to monitor the movement of rebel cadres in districts near the Dandakarayna forests — and “people-friendly policing”.

Welfare plans have also helped, the DGP said. These include schemes under which medical and financial support is extended to families of Maoist activists to persuade them to give up violence and return to the mainstream.

Cash baits have worked, too. Last December, Andhra increased from Rs 5 lakh to Rs 25 lakh the incentive for information on the movement of Maoist top guns. The incentive helped the forces hunt down around 22 leaders — commanders, district secretaries and central committee members of the CPI (Maoist) — so far, police sources said.

Many of the leaders were aged or sick, and taking shelter in hospitals of border towns in the four states.