Archive for May, 2012

Retail Segment in Orissa Gearing Up For Tough Competition

Patia Big Bazaar, Bhubneswar

Patia Big Bazaar, Bhubneswar

Orissa is experiencing a new kind of competition with major retailers having already forayed into the big markets in the state particularly in Bhubaneswar and Cuttack they are now planning to go to other cities like Balasore, Berhampur, Rourkela and Sambalpur where there are a good number of people with purchasing power and have urge to better living. And this new trend is forcing the traditional business to adopt new strategies for their survival and growth.

Apparel business, for example, is facing the toughest competition, so also the grocery segment. With entry of organized retail giant like pantaloons, Big Bazaar, Vishal Retail and others in the market, apparel business in the state is experiencing cut throat competition. Further, other organized retailers like shopper’s stop, Westside and Spencer’s are also gearing up to enter the Orissa market. Shyam Shundar Agrawalla Managing Director of Satyam sivam Sundaram Lifestyle Pvt Ltd in Bhubaneswar is a man who has not given up. He knows that survival of the fittest philosophy is dominating the market place. He said, ‘’There is lot of competition in the market. To survive in this market we have to adopt innovative strategy’’. And he is sure that those shops who would fail to realize the new trend in the market, would have to invite their doom.

‘’Many have been forced to either wind up their shop or are struggling for their survival,’’ he said. However, he is happy that most of the local shops have carved a niche for themselves in the market  with their goodwill and customer loyalty.

Big organized retail chains have their own strength and of course weaknesses too. Local retailers need to realize that. In fact, they have started realizing just that. Big Bazaar and Vishal Retail, for example, are among the organized retailers who are only focusing on lower and middle class people. Pantaloon, on the other hand, is a high end retailer and is eyeing to capture high-end customers.

‘’Organized retailers do not sell traditional dresses and saris of the state. They are more into western apparel retailing. This traditional apparel has a huge demand among the people in the state. Moreover, those who come from other state here as tourists often like to purchase traditional items such as Cuttacki or Sambalpuri saris. Many of the local apparel retailers are trying to take advantage of this,’’ Agrawalla said.

‘’Earlier Satyam Sivam Sundaram had its own labels and manufacturing unit. But materials used to make garments are not manufactured in state and have to be outsourced from other states. As a result, the production cost had gone up considerably. So the company was forced to shut down its manufacturing unit and instead resort to outsourcing. It is cheaper if we procure garments from outside,’’ he said. ‘’as we are locals, we know better about the dressing habits of customers. We focus more on direct interaction with customers and on salesmanship. Thus we have an edge over the organized apparel retailers,’’ said Ragunath Patra, BranchManager of Krishna Fashion. Local retailers know very well that they are lagging far behind as regards to infrastructure. ‘’ The big players are having well planned infrastructure highly paid and qualified employees. We do not have them,’’ he said. Moreover, the big players go for huge sales campaign through advertisements, whereas we are lacking it,’’ he said.

To compete with them indigenous retailers have also started advertising their shops through local SMSes, roadside hoardings, and local newspapers.  And this ensure that they are able to stay ahead than their rivals.

                                   

Royal Remnants of Odisha

Rajkanika

Rajkanika Palace

Rajkanika Palace

Standing tall despite the ravages of time the Rajakanika palace is proof of the glorious exploits of king Rajendranarayan Bhanja Deo who laid the foundation stone of the palace June 9, 1909.

To give a whole new dimension to the erstwhile kingdom of Kanika, the new capital, Rajkanika, was built as a block. The palace was also built with the intention to provide employment to many people.

It has four to five courtyards and houses two ponds measuring six to 10 acres each which were dug up in a traditional manner by a British architect. The palace is divided into three sections; the main palace, the ladies’ enclosure and the summer retreat. The drawing room hosts a stencil painting about 100 years old and hallmark of the breathtaking beauty of the palace known for its oriental furniture and an elegant wooden staircase. The walls are adorned with stained Belgium glasses.

The Kanika museum inside the palace has the largest crocodile skull in the world. It also showcases hunting trophies and other rare artifact. Set up in the 1960s by the royal family, it has hundreds of antique pieces comprising wildlife trophies, mirrors painting rare photographs and art pieces on display. The museum was renovated recently for public display, thanks to the efforts of the scion of the regal family, Shivendra Narayan Bhanja Deo stays with his family at Kanika palace. ‘’Kanika is close to our heart and we can never think of shifting anywhere. We are trying our best to renovate the palace to maintain its glory and fame’’, says Shivendra Narayan.

Dhenkanal

Dhenkanal palace

Dhenkanal palace

The only fort-palace in the state, Dhenkanal palace is a marvelous assortment of sumptuous apartment, corridors, pavilions, terraces, courtyards and gardens. The fort that survived the long drawn-out wars with, and subsequently the sieges laid by various marauders provides a bird’s eye view of the city from the top and was built with the purpose of tracking enemy movement. The palace at the foot of Paniohala hill was built during the latter half of 19th   century  and is an abode of tranquillity standing a little way off the hustle bustle of the city with rows of Sal trees screening the airy verandas. The Ranga Mahal where the king and their companions used to indulge in artistic pleasures is fascinating where folk dance groups from across the state were invited to perform. Painting bespeaking the kings’ exploits are inlaid in the wall with stones and mirror. Ancestral swords and royal chairs adorn the hall. Although Ranga Mahal has been converted in to a guest house called the royal eastern retreat, the past lives on in the grand décor of the palace. A broad steep way leads directly to the main hall from the entrance.

After kings Sura Pratap Singh Deo and his son Shankar Pratap Singh Deo the former’s grandson former union minister Kamakhya Prasad Singh Deo now lives in the palace with his wife Savitri Devi and his family. Apart from the lavish lawn, the royal library is a special attraction with a large collection of books and scriptures from various places and its collection of the chronicles of different imperial clans makes the library a must-visit.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     ‘’Being the only fort –cum –palace in the state our palace is one of a kind. Flanked by lush green tree and steep hills, we are living happily in nature’s lap,’’ says Amar Jyoti Singh Deo, eldest son of Kamakhya Prasad Singh Deo.

Deogarh

Brundaban palace

Brundaban palace

Bamanda or Bamra, now in Deogarh district, was a princely state the story goes that the king of former bamanda state Sarju Dev was touring his kingdom one day when he was surprised to see a small rabbit rushing out of a bush and biting his pet dog who used to accompany the master hunting expeditions.   He was so impressed by the rabbit’s bravery that he announced a palace to be built at the foot of Pradhanpat hill. Rajbati of Deogarh, the residence of the royals of former Bamanda state, opens a window to its glorious past.

In contrast to the western district’s current backward status, it was a region that evolved faster than others at the bygone period. Hydroelectricity in Asia was first produced here in Kurudkot waterfall. After Ganga rulers came to power and established their capital at Deoghrh, the region began to flourish. Especially during rule of king sir Basudev Sudhal Dev and his king Sachidananda Tribhuban Dev’s tenure the state witnessed rapid socio-economic development the imprint of which the palace bears. A water pipe coming all the way from the top of  the waterfall at Pradhanpat hill help meet the domestic necessities of the palace.

The project was executed by Italian engineer in such a remarkable way that during heavy rains when  water become mucky the pipe temporarily stops pumping in water. The golden pipe is timeworn and most of the gold has been replaecd with iron. However the architectural dexterity reflects the high living standards of the king.

As a matter of fact the palace was spread over 22 acres of verdant greenery with skilful amalgamation of Rajput culture and lavish interiors. The green Rani Mahal could be readily distinguished from the white palace. ‘’Though  I was born and brought off in Mumbai I always yearned to return home. I used to come twice a year at least in the serene surrounding, the echoes of the waterfall could be heard in the palace, ‘recounts nitesh Gana Deb, the king of Bamanda. The magnificent Sabha ghara and the ‘honeymoon’ palace a hop away from the main palace complimented the Rajpati. The honeymoon palace has been converted in to a government guest house [Dag bangala]. Some parts of the main palace haven given on rent to western electricity supply company of orissa ltd. [wesco] for maintenance.

Chilli-man of Orissa

Chilli Man

Chilli Man

Many people would shiver by the very mention of “green chili’. But meet 72-year-old Charan Barik who can savor green chilies is like salad to me. I eat 1 kg of green chilies every day,’’ say Barik, a resident of Endor village in the district, when asked about his unusual fondness for the hottest vegetable humans eat.

A chilli grower by profession too, the septuagenarian has a fetish for munching hot chilies everyday and that too without any other food or water. This extraordinary habit of Barik has been the talk of the town for quite a while now as people often gaze at him with awe when he gulps down a basketful of chilies in just a few minutes.

According to Barik, he started taking chilies when he was just 11 years old. Recollecting his childhood memories, he narrates his story of the day when he was hungry and there was nothing to eat at home. He went out to a nearby field and plucked a few chilies and chewed them to fill empty stomach.

From that day onwards, he developed a taste for green chilies. Once a necessity, eating chilies now has become a habit for him. Today,he claims that he can stay without foot but not without his daily dose of the spicy pepper.

‘’Earlier, my family members disapproved of my habit of consuming such a large quantity of green chilies fearing that I might fall sick. But soon they realized that I was able to digest it unlike other people and they stopped complaining,’’ he adds.

‘’We have seen him having chilies since we were kids. But every time we see him, we look at him in awe,’’ his neighbors say. Not only this, the Chilli-Man is the talk of even Medicos of the Kendrapara district who though are at awe of his supernatural feat explain that even though it is harmful for a person’s body to consume such a huge quantity of chili everyday, Barik’s body has got accustomed to it and thus can digest  the spice without any problem. Another thing that demands notice in case of Barik is that he also consumes bel, Tulsi and Neem leaves on a regular basis. These things are known to aid the digestive process of the body. Might be this is the reason why the man can go and on with Chilies without ever having any problem with them!

Crocs of Bhitarkanika – Posing Threat to Human Habitation

Crocodiles of Bitarkanika

Crocodiles of Bitarkanika

The Bhitarkanika wildlife sanctuary is where the world’s largest living reptile the estuarine crocodile thrives amidst sylvan surrounding after having brought back from the brink of extinction. But now there is trouble with the reptile population booming, pushing threat to natural balance.

From strength of 96 crocodiles in 1976, the population now stands at 1646. A boat ride in some area can yield crocodile sighting as frequent as one croc a minute according to a conservationist. An increasing number of cases of saltwater crocodile straying into human habitation have been recently reported from Bhitarkanika. Here some areas are well populated with crocodile’s sight on a boat ride, you spot a crocodile every minute in other parts of the sanctuary while in other parts of the sanctuary you do not see crocodiles at all.

The human crocodile encounters have mostly ended with tragic results on either side . In the latest incident, a crocodile wandered into a village field killing a thirteen years old boy while in another encounter villagers hacked crocodile in  a neighboring village.

In fact it all boils down to “Space”. Now both human beings and crocodiles are vying for the limited space available in the sanctuary. Around 1646 crocodile inhabit the 175 square Kilo meter of the protected habitat. But if you critically analyze their distribution. You will find them densely packed in the Bhitarkanika river system. Abundance of the crocs is much less in the Maipura and Baunsagada rivers.

Indeed it is this confinement of the crocs in the 26 to 30 square kilometer of water bodies in sanctuary that is leading to conflicts. The crocodiles regularly prey out of the sanctuary not because of food but due to overpopulation. There is no problem of food here. This is a very rich estuarine river ecosystem. They are well stocked with fish,. Every village near the sanctuary has aquaculture, farms and small ponds. The crocodiles usually enter these areas. Conversely people enter the forest and wade in croc infested waters and get into conflict with crocodiles. What then is the solution?

The problem in predator-human relations always arises from too little space. Especially so with the crocs as  they reproduce rather very quickly in good conditions. And in Bhitarkanika , the conditions  are favoring the crocodile extremely well. In the past experts have recommended translocation of crocs to other areas – something on the lines of proposals to translocation of Asiatic Lions from their over populated Gir home. But  some other experts provide contrary view. It is not at all crucial in the case of these reptiles as the species of crocodiles found in Bhitarkanika – The Crocodylus Prosus are already abundantly found in other parts of India as well as Asia. They however come up with other indigenous solutions like consolidating rivers like Maipura and Baunsagada by preventing illegal fishing so that crocodile move to these areas naturally and take shelter here.

Experts feel that controlling the crocs population could be taken up if it continues to grow. The crocodile population in Bhitarkanika sanctuary needs a  pro-scientific evaluation. Their breeding habits, its success rate etc should be thoroughly studied. And if it proves that the crocodile population is going to grow in the future, extreme steps like destroying their nests should be taken. Until then we should aim at avoiding the number of encounters by educating the dwellers to handle the crocodile encounters properly.

Mining Malady of Orissa

Mining Malady

Mining Malady

It is not uncommon for unscrupulous companies to find ingenious ways such as evading taxes and duties to bloat their bottom line. In many cases the policies are so framed, courtesy the bureaucracy that they leave several loopholes waiting to be exploited. In the 1980’s there used to be a big racket operating in the bicycle exports to Iran which when discovered revealed that the revenue generation from the export actually came from the sale of bicycle parts and not bicycles per se.

This was because of the prevailing cash compensatory support and duty drawback was heavily loaded in favor of export of bicycle parts than the fully assembled bicycles. Exporters even posted their own men to receive the consignments and then do their job of fixing the nuts and bolts and releasing the bicycles in the markets. It is also well known that during those periods it was not uncommon for manufacturers to bamboozle the excise department of valuable excise duties by collaborating with Excise inspectors.

But there is nothing to beat the revelation that a company in conjunction with the South Eastern railways (SER) entered into a criminal conspiracy and built a private railway siding in Keonjhar district. The union minister of mines Mr Dinsha patel dropped a bombshell in the Rajya Sabha by stating in writing that a private company had  illegally constructed the railway siding in Belkundi area near Barbil by diverting a line from rail track of the Thakurani railway siding of Orissa Mineral Development corporation, a PSU under the charge of the ministry. This was apparently done by forking out a line from the rail track and fraudulently transporting out iron ore under concessional freight rates!

Significantly, the iron ore so transported out of the mines thus transported were meant for domestic consumption. But the ore was systematically diverted and exported using fake excise documents causing heavy losses of Rs 660 Crore to the railways. Though not much apart from the fact that a CBI case has been registered against the railway officials and the company in question is known, this is something that goes beyond the comprehension of normal people as to how a loot of such a magnitude could be executed with such marvelous ease and that too under their nose!

Whatever be the fallout of this, one thing is clear out of this incident and that is the supernoramal profits the mines are making by operating in Orissa where their writ runs and where they keep on flouting norms at will. That a company had the audacity to hijack a portion of railway track and on top of it misuse it virtually to smuggle out valuable resources’ with impunity all the years, show how deep rooted and collusive the mining malady is!

For, the entire minister’s startling revelation may just be the tip of the iceberg. It is an open secret how far the mine owners may go to carry on their business unabated.  Until and unless everything is carried on with transparency, this kind of systematic loot will continue unabated. Implementation of the Integrated Mines and Minerals management System where all transactions made from the major minerals, the relevant details including that of the Lessee/ licensees etc, issue of e-passes and e-permits to all vehicle transporting minerals is a step that was lingering on for long. And though this is just the beginning, government must work towards implementing other policies to make the working of the mining companies more accountable and transparent.

Brewing Tragedy of Country Liquor in Orissa

Spurious Liquor

Spurious Liquor

Barely three months after the Cuttack- Khurda hooch tragedy that took a toll of 40 people  in Orissa, fears have been expressed about the possibility of yet another tragedy of same caliber brewing in the state.

Almost every state had to deal with liquor tragedy periodically and Orissa is no exception to it. The trouble is such tragedies strike without notice and it is up to individual states to constantly remain on alert and identify and destroy the illegal hooch “factories” and book the perpetrators. No one can predict with certainty that hooch tragedy may never strike Orissa and to that extent that the one which struck Cuttack and Khurda region was the last one. The moment you lower the guard, the tragedy is going to hit you hard on your face again!

An acute shortage of country spirit led to bootleggers mixing the deadly methyl alcohol with liquor that led to the Cuttack tragedy. The excise department has now warned of current shortage in country spirit, pointing to a situation that might repeat the tragedy, if proper watch is not kept. This is a good sign of some sort of vigil being kept by the government on the bootleggers.

The quantity of country spirit solely supplied by Aska Co-operative sugar Industries Ltd (ACSI) is much less than the target fixed. During the last month, the quantity supplied was low at 10.5 lakh bulk liters ( BL), against the actual requirement of 13 lakh Bulk liters ( BL). There is no gainsaying the fact that the state has not achieved self sufficiency in meeting the emerging demand. Yet the government is averse to the idea of importing the same from neighboring states. Now the government has sought an explanation from ACSI as to why it failed to meet demands.

But this in itself is not enough! Now that a formal warning has been issued, it is now up to the government to exercise proper control .It needs to take appropriate steps  to make good the shortfall and ensure that nothing untoward happens that will help nip any such freak incident in the bud itself!

 

Reviving odissi

Odissi - the dance of orissa

Odissi - the dance of orissa

Odissi which is one of the oldest surviving dance forms of India keeps regaling audience worldwide even in today’s age of salsa and hip-hop! The credit of this goes to the dance schools founded by odissi gurus and their disciples who have given the dance a facelift and transformed it to suit the changing times.

Padmavibhusan Keluchara Mohapatra,guru Pankaj Charan Das, Guru Deba Prasad Das and Guru Raghunath Dutta are some of the exponents who revived Odissi in the late 40’s and 50’s. It is now their disciples who are taking to other parts of the world.

Padmashree Mayadhar Rout was instrumental in giving the dance its classical touch while performers like Sanjukta Panigrahi popularized the dance form in India and abroad by enthralling audiences with her nimble and graceful movements. This disciple of Guru Kelucharan was a great crowd puller where ever she performed. Two of his other disciples are Kumkum Mohanty and Sonal Mansingh. It was the persistent performance by this triad which went on to popularize Odissi and make it a dance of the mass.

Odissi schools like Srijan ( Guru Kelucharn Mohapatra), Guru Gangadhar Pradhan Foundation,Guru Pankaj Charan Odissi Foundation , Orissa dance Academy and Guru debaprasad Dance Institute have succeeded in providing global platform to odissi dance. These institutes paved the way for several odissi dancers to hone their skills.

Ileana Citaristi, an Italian dance enthusiast who perfected her odissi skills under Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra displayed extraordinary devotion towards the dance form and made Bhubneswar her home town and  went on to absorb local culture and ethos. She played a stellar role in popularizing Odissi in foreign countries. She herself runs an odissi school in Bhubneswar and trains more than 60 students annually.

Apart from this dance schools, the fairs and festivals organized by the government of Orissa has played a very important role in revival and evolution of odissi. The Konark dance festival is an annualized event that attracts dancers and enthusiasts from far and wide. Thanks to the effort of the performers and with ample encouragement from the government, Odissi is today a dance form that gives us our own identity!

Evolving Facets of Realty Sector in Orissa

Real Estate in BHubaneswar

Real Estate in BHubaneswar

Realty sector in Orissa is undergoing a transformation that is consonant with the changing moods of the economic condition of the place. With the surging prosperity and increasing disposable income of the people in Bhubaneswar, there has been s distinctive change in the preference and pattern of housing in demand in the city.

Many IT companies like Tata Consultancy Services, Mahindra Satyam and Infosys have active offices in the state capital while other Software biggies are following suit. Similarly Bhubaneswar houses almost all nationalized as well as private banks in the state. Add to it, it’s growing reputation as a major education hub, and you have ingredients that end up presenting a swashbuckling and diverse range of growing population who are propelling the demand of living space in the city! Apart from this, upcoming industrial belt at Kalinga Nagar in Jajpur district and the expanding network of ports are also expected to contribute marginally to the aggrandizing city population who are possessed of far better spending capacity!

The city real estate’s are now thus gearing up to cater to the demand of this population in terms of not only residential complexes but shopping zones and commercial sites! In fact a decade or so back, nobody had heard of the concept of shopping malls in Bhubaneswar. Now three major players like the Future Groups; real estate arm, Raheja Group are coming up with their residential cum commercial complexes in the city! Similarly, pantaloon the retail arm of the Future Group is going to open its second outlet and commercial complex in 16 acres of land at Sundarpada, which will be the first of its kind in the state. Realty major DLF group is also coming up with its commercial complex at Patia.

Though the zooming land price is something that does not portend too well for the customers, real estate companies in orissa  are of the opinion that it would not be a deterrent. Bhubaneswar is growing at a brisk rate and attracts more people into it annually than any other tier II cities of the country for employment. Also the city complete with all amenities demanded by its denizens settled or working outside is becoming a favored ground for setting their own home on their return back to the state.

Keeping this in mind, realtors are adopting new concepts too in making houses. Concept of green building and affordable houses are but quite a few darling terms of real estate companies now. Tata Housing is leading the pack of realtors who are up for constructing affordable housing projects in the state where it’s company will provide one BHK ( Bedroom, Hall, Kitchen) flats to Low Income Group ( LIG)people at affordable prices. Similarly home bred companies like Bhuvan Projects private Limited are pioneering in providing Green houses. These houses use less water, optimize energy efficiency, conserve natural resources and provide healthier space for its owners. Similarly valuable facilities like  solar fittings, 1.5 KW home wind turbine tower, water cycling system are slowly getting introduced by real estate companies in Orissa.

The fast changing skyline of Bhubaneswar in realty sector is an indication of the state capital which is gaining in prominence in the east and is poised to challenge its metropolitan neighbors in the near future!

A Prodigy That Plays With Computers

Sampriti with his mother

Sampriti with his mother

Well, this one deserves mention in our post! No one ever doubted the presence of child prodigies who somehow are dowered with unique abilities since their birth and make a mark for themselves in their respective fields of excellence since infanthood!

Latest to join the ranks of such prodigies is a Computer wizard from Bhubaneswar whos is a student of class 7th in the SAI International School! Even at this tender age Sampriti is a master in computer language like Java and HTML. And what’s more, he is now studying C++. And in the recently concluded International Assessment for Indian Schools (IAIS), he earned a gold medal in computer skills from the University of New South Wales, Australia, thus bringing laurels to his state, school and country!

Of the 2,044 schools and 1,82,248 students who participated in the test  which covered subjects like English, mathematics, Science and Computer Skill, Sampriti was the only student from class VII to have excelled in the Computer science test to win the UNSW gold.

For the young Sampriti who beat contestants from schools of 16 countries, it is but a modest achievement as he has other important things to do! “I want to work like Steve Jobs and bring new technology to the world”, he quips.

And yes, if everything goes correct , We have the Steve Jobs of Orissa in making!

The Rising Naxal Menace

Well, this article in Asia Times on the Naxal menance  by Neeta Lal was an eye opener! Could not help but publish it here in its entirety for the benefit of our readers!  So take a deeper look at the functioning and growing of the naxals in India as they grow silently  in deep pockets of forests in Indian heartland! Unhindered!

As India’s Maoists continue to strike terror in the hearts of civilians by looting and kidnapping with impunity – they are now estimated to control a staggering one-third of the country’s districts – more disquieting facts about their modus operandi are surfacing.

According to the latest interrogations of arrested top Maoist leaders by Indian intelligence, the rebels have succeeded in raising a army of their own right in the heart of the country that is fortified with AK- 47 assault rifles and an array of deadly weapons and arms. The strategy that has been employed by the terrorists in building their army paints them as a much deadlier adversary than was previously assumed. Conversant with the techniques of modern warfare, this force is far from a ragtag bunch of confused soldiers inhabiting swathes of jungle.

The new intelligence has found that the Maoist army has three components: the main force, a secondary force and a base force. The main force – armed with ammunition looted mostly from security forces – has companies, platoons and special action teams besides an intelligence unit. The secondary force comprises special guerilla squads, while the base force is made up of the jan militia. The lower-most Maoist cadre use double-barrel and single-barrel guns, homemade weapons and claymore landmines to blow up vehicles.

The government has now officially pegged the figure of the armed cadres at a staggering 46,600. Of these, the hardcore Maoists number around 8,600 while the jan militia numbers around 38,000, with the latter carrying rudimentary arms and providing logistics support to the core group of the People Liberation Guerilla Army of the CPI (Maoist).

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has described the Maoist insurgency as “the biggest internal security challenge since Independence”, and there is believed to be a “red corridor” stretching from the southern state of Andhra Pradesh to the central state of Chhattisgarh and into West Bengal, bordering Nepal and Bhutan.

Naxals Training in Forest

Naxals Training in Forest

The insurgents started their armed struggle in 1967 with a peasant revolt in Naxalbari village in West Bengal, hence the oft-used moniker of the “Naxals”. Regrouping in the 1980s, the group recruited thousands of poor villagers and armed them with rifles snatched from police, with their Maoist cause resonating among a poor population who’ve felt little of the benefits of India’s socio-economic progress.

However, the Naxals have been charged with running an extortion economy under the garb of a popular revolution. They extract enormous sums of money from mining companies, police say. According to a Reuters report, the rebels extort about US$300 million from companies in India every year to fund their movement.
Enlightening as the new facts about the Maoists are, it is also intriguing why the government has chosen now to release details of the Maoist army and its militia in the public domain. After all, doesn’t the disclosure underscore the Maoists’ strength and their acumen while highlighting the government’s continued failure to control them?

Many feel the disclosures will help the agencies better understand their puzzling adversary, as it seems their appeal cannot be diminished by slogans of development and governance alone. Also, as a newspaper editorial put it, the information reveals that the Maoists are working to ensure the state cannot bring the benefits of democratic governance to the vast tracts they control through fear.

Ministry figures reveal that to battle the Maoists, the government has had to deploy 94,000 paramilitary personnel in nine states. In addition, nearly 100,000 policemen are tackling the Naxals in Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand – two of the worst-hit states. Over 78 battalions of the Central Reserve Police Force, Border Security Force, Sashastra Seema Bal and Indo-Tibetan Border Police are stationed in other states to fight the Naxal terror.

Despite the heavy investment of financial and military resources, the Naxals have succeeded in killing 483 security men while losing only 286 from their own cadre since 2010. “The Maoists continue to have an edge because of the topography of their hideouts in deep forests,” revealed Minister of State in the Home Ministry Jitendra Singh in a written reply to the Lok Sabha (lower house) this week.

There is increasing concern in the security establishment over the dramatic upward spiral in the fatalities of the security forces at the hands of the Maoists. Ultras killed 52 security personnel in the first three months of this year until March 31. The CPI (Maoist) – spearheading the Naxal violence across the country – accounts for 95% of the incidents perpetrated by the Maoists in the affected states.

Alarmingly, from traditional guerrilla hit-and-run tactics, the Naxals have moved seamlessly to terror tactics of kidnap and ransom.

Last month, a group of 15 extremists, disguised as villagers, kidnapped a 32-year-old official in Chhattisgarh’s Sukma district. As his pregnant wife pleaded for mercy and asked the government to ensure his safe release, the Maoists radioed to a reporter a list of five demands for his freedom that included the release of many Naxal leaders.

This incident was part of a series of abductions that the Maoists have engineered over the past two years in Chhattisgarh and neighboring Orissa.

Their first major success was Malkangiri district collector R Vineel Krishna in Orissa in February last year, followed by two Italians and politician Jhina Hikaka. The tactic proved effective, with the Orissa government accepting most of their 13 demands, including halting combing operations in the state, to secure Krishna’s release. It had also facilitated the bail of five Maoist leaders.

The kidnap ploy was not limited to two states. After West Bengal Police officer Attindranath Dutta was held hostage in 2009, the state government released 22 imprisoned women with alleged Maoist links for his freedom.

Then chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya termed the swap deal an “exception” and not all abducted officials have been so lucky because the government has no policy to deal with the situation. Overall, according to the Home Ministry, out of the 1,554 people abducted by Maoists in the past four years, 328 were killed.

“There has definitely been a shift in tactics. Since the abduction of Krishna last year, the rebels have realized that it is a more effective way of bringing the government to its knees. We can expect more kidnappings. It’s a dangerous trend,” former Orissa director general of police Gopal Nanda told the media.

Union Home Ministry figures reveal that the Maoists have consciously whittled down the number of direct confrontations with security forces over the past couple of years – from 309 in 2009 to 272 in 2010 and just 223 in 2011. As a consequence, Naxalite casualties also plummeted from 219 in 2009 to 99 last year.

The government’s continued failure to contain the Maoists, resulted earlier this year in Delhi handing over major incidents perpetrated by the Naxals to the National Investigation Agency (NIA) “for a swift probe and to bring the culprits to book in time”.

Union Home Minister P Chidambaram has indicated that Naxal violence could be treated on par with terror attacks and the investigation of such cases may be given to the NIA.

The move to hand over the Maoist attack cases to the NIA, say experts, is a part of the government’s multi-pronged strategy to deal with ultra-left extremism.

Political analysts say the Maoists are able to leverage the situation because of a policy vacuum in Delhi on dealing with Naxalite kidnappings. The government has been dealing with this kind of terror by releasing captured Maoist cadre to get back hostages, thinking they can arrest them again. But clearly this tactic hasn’t worked and a rethink is in order.

However, many are optimistic that the problem isn’t intractable. “Though we are fighting a mini-army, its strength is not so daunting that it cannot be overwhelmed. It is possible to disintegrate it if there is the political will to do so,” says an ex-Border Security Force chief.

So far, however, that “will” seems totally missing.

 

The original article was published in atimes.com and can be read at http://www.atimes.com/atimes/South_Asia/NE12Df02.html