The articles seized from a Maoist camp after Monday’s gunfight between the rebels and police in Angul. Telegraph picture
Bhubaneswar, July 4: Maoists are trying to expand their footprints in the state. After making successful forays into Balangir and Nuapada districts of west Odisha, they are now pushing into Angul, a district just as famous for its industries as it is infamous for illegal ganja cultivation.
Security forces had their first ever encounter with the Maoists in Angul on Monday when the two sides engaged in an hour long exchange of fire in Patrapara forests within the Chhendipada police station area near Sambalpur and Deogarh border.
Though there were no reports of casualties on either side, the gun battle has robbed senior police officials of their sleep with a growing apprehension that the rebels may try to cut a corridor through Sambalpur, Deogarh, Angul and Boudh districts. That will give the Maoists operating in these areas easy access to Kandhamal and Rayagada districts where they are already well entrenched.
Angul superintendent of police Narasingh Bhol refused to comment on the issue, but he conceded that Monday’s encounter was no freak incident. The rebels had been earlier seen in various villages of the district on June 16 and 26.
“We are launching combing operations and taking steps to strengthen our intelligence network,” said Bhol, explaining his strategy to combat the threat from the Maoists.
Sources said the Maoists appeared to be working to a plan in west Odisha, where having established strong bases in Sundargarh, Sambalpur and Deogarh districts they were out to conquer new areas.
One of their first targets was Nuapada district, where they have penetrated deep into the Sunabeda wildlife sanctuary bordering Chhattisgarh. They announced their arrival in the area in May 2011 by killing 10 policemen from Chhattisgarh in the sanctuary, which has since become their safe hideout. Soon after, there were more killings by the Maoists in and around the sanctuary.
“Their next destination was Balangir where Tureikela and Khaprakhole blocks have become the hotbed of their activities. The rebels have been frequently using the forest route connecting Balangir with Nuapadan and Chhattisgarh,” said the sources.
While the rebels have engaged in stray violence in the district such as the killing of a panchayat ward member in Khaprakhol block in November 2011, the police have had limited success against them.
Their last major success was in August 2013, when a joint team of the CRPF and the Special Operations Group (SOG) destroyed a rebel camp under Tureikela block of the district.
Significantly, Angul is the second industry-dominated district after Jajpur where the Maoists are trying to set up a base.
In April 2009, the Maoists attacked the Panchapatmali bauxite mines in Koraput district, slaying 11 Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) jawans but have not targeted any industrial base ever since.
With Angul, which a high concentration of coal, power and aluminium industries, in the cross-hairs of the rebels, senior police officials remain worried though they are not articulating their concerns for the fear of causing panic among local residents.
There is in their reckoning yet another reason, which might have drawn the rebels to the district.
Illegal ganja cultivation, which is being patronised by the Maoists in many districts of the state because of the high profits involved, allegedly flourishes in Chhedipada, Jarapara, Handappa and Purunakote areas of Angul.
“Interestingly, the Maoists were seen three times recently by local people in areas where ganja is being cultivated. Even the area where the encounter took place is a massive ganja den,” said a police official requesting anonymity.
The fact of ganja cultivation being rampant in Angul has been admitted by the police in past as well and it is also an open secret now that the “grass” has become a major source of income for the Maoists, who have a vested interest in protecting the plantations. Hence the rebels’ foray into Angul remains a matter of great concern for the government.