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Drones to track Maoist jungle before blitz

Abujhmad is part of the Bastar Lok Sabha constituency and is believed to be the insurgents’ stronghold

By Imran Ahmed Siddiqui in New Delhi
  • Published 23.07.19, 4:22 AM
  • Updated 23.07.19, 4:22 AM
  • 2 mins read
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Abujhmad forests in Chhattisgarh. In the absence of official administration and even basic infrastructure, the area has become virtually inaccessible to the security forces.

The Centre has narrowed its hunt for Maoists to the Abujhmad forests in Chhattisgarh and plans an intense counter-offensive, with drones flying lower and longer to provide better real-time images from the “liberated zone”, officials said.

They said the National Technical Research Organisation, a technical intelligence agency that analyses the images taken by the air force-operated unmanned aerial vehicles, was given the necessary instructions during a recent security meeting.

“Once we get images of the Maoists camps inside the Abujhmad and can track the rebels’ movements from the sky, the security forces will plan the counter-offensive,” a Union home ministry official told The Telegraph.

Abujhmad, spread over 3,900sqkm in southern Chhattisgarh, is part of the Bastar Lok Sabha constituency and is believed to be the insurgents’ stronghold.

According to an Intelligence Bureau report, the Maoists are in complete control of the forested area and have built several camps there to provide arms training to recruits.

In the absence of official administration and even basic infrastructure, the area has become virtually inaccessible to the security forces.

“Besides, they have booby-trapped all the entry points with landmines and other explosives,” the ministry official said.

“Abujhmad has emerged as a ‘liberated zone’ and the Maoists’ stronghold. They hold regular meetings there with their cadres, in the presence of the top leadership, to plan attacks on the security forces.”

While drones have been used for reconnaissance and surveillance before anti-Maoist offensives in the past too, the effort this time would be more intense and more focused, because it will be largely restricted to the Abujhmad, the official said.

Sources said the National Technical Research Organisation (NTRO) had been asked to increase the hours of surveillance by the unmanned aerial vehicles and fly them lower than before. Officials declined to mention the altitudes and hours involved.

Drones had been introduced in Chhattisgarh after the Maoists killed 76 security personnel in Dantewada nine years ago.

The NTRO, set up in 2004 on the recommendation of the Kargil Review Committee as a nodal agency for technical intelligence, along the lines of the US National Security Agency, reports to the national security adviser. It has a code-breaking wing too.

Among the densest forests in the country, Abujhmad has few roads and no police stations. The tribal people spread over the 200-odd villages in the area depend almost exclusively on the forest for livelihood and have virtually no contact with the outside world.

“Such is the fear of the Maoists that not a single candidate dared campaign in Abujhmad during the recent Lok Sabha polls,” a CRPF officer posted in Chhattisgarh said.

A Union home ministry report says that Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand together accounted for over 70 per cent of the Maoist violence and 75 per cent of the killings in 2017. Bihar, Odisha and Maharashtra reported 13 per cent, 8.2 per cent and 7.1 per cent of the violence, respectively.

Of the 31 Maoist-infested districts in the country, 13 are in Jharkhand, 8 in Chhattisgarh and 4 in Bihar. A recent intelligence report suggests the rebels are regrouping in Chhattisgarh, Bihar, Jharkhand and Maharashtra.

In April this year, the Maoists assassinated BJP legislator Bhima Mandavi and four security personnel in Dantewada. A month later, a blast triggered by Maoists killed 15 security personnel in Gadchiroli, Maharashtra.

Sources said Union home minister Amit Shah had during his first meeting with the security bosses made it clear that the crisis in Kashmir and the Maoist insurgency were his biggest priorities.

He also discussed ways to choke the funding to the Maoists and seize the assets of their leaders, besides building infrastructure in the states where they are active.