30-yr-old maps guide forces in Red areas | delhi | Hindustan Times
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30-yr-old maps guide forces in Red areas

"Avoid villages" was the unequivocal message to the security officials in the nine Naxal-hit states at a high-level security meet called by the ministry of home affairs last week. Harinder Baweja reports.

delhi Updated: Jan 27, 2013 15:13 IST
Harinder Baweja

"Avoid villages" was the unequivocal message to the security officials in the nine Naxal-hit states at a high-level security meet called by the ministry of home affairs last week.

But HT has now learnt that maps - which would help the troops spot the villages - have not been updated for at least 30 years in several states.

The meeting was called after the June 28 gunfight in Chhattisgarh's Sarkeguda village in which some innocent civilians are said to be among the 19 dead.

The new guidelines - framed to skirt villages where women and children are likely to be used as human shields - has officials, especially in Chhattisgarh, worried as scores of villages simply do not show up either on the Survey of India maps, satellite images or even Google Maps.

HT wrote on April 22 how the CRPF personnel chanced upon Bodiguda village in Bijapur that fell off the map after 1947.

The tribals of Bodiguda were discovered accidentally when the CRPF and police were drawing up a plan to breach the dense Abujmahd jungle - believed to be a Naxal stronghold.

Using Google Earth, they zoomed in on a structure that looked like a Naxal training camp.

"Abujmahd (6,000km of forested area) has not been surveyed since Independence and our maps are more than 30 years old," a CRPF official, who attended the MHA meet, told HT.

In a strict dos and don'ts list, the forces have been asked not to go past villages while on counter-insurgency operations.

"We have been asked not to shoot in the dark but are being told to fight a battle with our hands tied," said a security official.

In Chhattisgarh for example, where jhoom cultivation (shifting cultivation) is a common practice, the tribals keep shifting base for newer pastures.

Salwa Judam (state-backed vigilante group) has uprooted many villages in the central Indian state.

The forces often find villages that don't exist on maps. Similarly, villages marked on maps are not found on the ground.

The problem is also compounded by the vast stretches of territory -- also referred to as liberated zones by the rebels -- that have not been breached in years.

Only locals, who serve as reluctant guides, know the topography. They are often not available especially for time-bound operations based on intelligence inputs.

In Sarkeguda, the forces were on way to a village in a "liberated area". The intelligence was provided by the Andhra police.

"While the State cannot afford any collateral damage whatsoever, the fight against the Naxals and the battle to try and win over the tribals" just got tougher, an MHA official said.