Maoist guerrillas, who hold sway over vast stretches of Chhattisgarh's forested interiors, have now virtually taken control of a diamond deposit area after the state government removed a police post there last July, officials said.
The 18-hectare diamond deposit site at Pailikhand village, located some 150 km from the state capital in Raipur district, is close to the border with Orissa and holds high quality diamond deposits.
"The Pailikhand diamond deposit site is now left to the Maoists' care. Since removing of a police post in the fenced portion in July 2009, the rebels have consolidated their base and the situation has reached the level where policemen hardly dare to even patrol the area," a state intelligence bureau (SIB) official told IANS.
The state government awarded a prospecting licence to a private firm, B. Vijaykumar Chhattisgarh Exploration Pvt. Ltd, in 2000 but cancelled it a year later. The area was fenced off and security personnel were deployed.
The company, which had confirmed that Pailikhand has diamond reserves of high quality, has since moved the Chhattisgarh High Court against the government decision to scrap its licence.
Referring to a number of recent intelligence inputs, the officer remarked, "The entire Mainpur area covering Pailikhand has now become a red zone where rebels are planting explosives on jungle roads."
"The situation is very grim in the region. We are lobbying with the central government to put a central paramilitary battalion in the massive Mainpur-Gariaband-Devbhog stretch before things go out of hand," the intelligence official added.
Raipur Superintendent of Police Dipanshu Kabra confirmed that there were no security personnel at Pailikhand now as they had been called back for a number of reasons in July last year.
"It is a Maoist-dominated area now and the re-deployment of policemen at the diamond site can only be done after mining authorities make housing and other basic facilities available for about 40-50 police personnel so that our jawans can handle any attacks by Maoists," Kabra told IANS.
Local police officials also warned of the deteriorating security situation.
"Each day, the situation is becoming worse. Maoists blew up an under-construction forest department building in the area Wednesday night... In a few months, they will be in a position to strike in the area at their will because a majority of locals are now backing them and joining their ranks," said Ramesh Markam, in-charge of the Mainpur police station under which Pailikhand falls.
Indicating how the Maoists had stepped into the vacuum, a tribal youth residing in the area said: "Dadas ache log hai, bahut khayal rakhte hai, wo log bare larai larne wale hai, hum sabhi unke saath hai (Maoists are good people and take good care of us. They are preparing for a bigger fight and we are with them)," said the 20-year old Ramesh (name changed on his insistence).
The issue assumed political overtones when the opposition Congress, which had sent a six-member party delegation to Pailikhand in November after security personnel were recalled, sought a high-level probe into the withdrawal of police from the site.
"It seems the state government has deliberately left a diamond site to the Maoists. We have already approached the governor and urged him to look into the matter, but the state government is determined to sit on information that a massive area starting from Gariaband till Devbhog covering Pailikhand has been slipping fast to Maoists," party spokesman Ramesh Varlyani said.
Meanwhile, the local MP, Chandulal Sahu, who belongs to the state's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, said it was "shocking that a confirmed diamond-rich site has been left unprotected since July".
"Maoists have taken maximum advantage of security withdrawal and the area is now under their strong influence," said Sahu, who represents the Mahasamund constituency under which the Pailikhand area falls.