Kanha National Park now a Maoist habitat: Police
Kanha National Park, also known for high density of tigers, spread across Balaghat and Mandla districts of Madhya Pradesh is now virtually under strong Maoists influence with the forest department officials having to provide rebels grains, groceries and other essentials, according to a police officer.
Kanha is considered one of the finest tiger reserves in the country having over 130 tigers, as per 2018 tiger estimate. The tiger density is most after Corbett National Park, Kaziranga National Park and Ranthambore tiger reserve.
The park has been doing well till about two years ago when the Maoists facing pressure from security forces in Maharashtra and Chhattisgarh decided to shift to the dense and difficult terrain of Kanha for a safe haven. Police said that in 2017 the rebels formed a platoon to increase its influence in the region and started recruiting locals.
Abhishek Tiwari, superintendent of police (SP), Balaghat, said Maoists influence was earlier restricted to just the buffer zone of Kanha tiger reserve, which they used as a route to and from Chhattisgarh and Maharashtra.
“Now Maoists of Vistar Dalam (the platoon) have shifted to the core area of the reserve in Mandla and Balaghat districts and are using it as a gateway to enhance their reach to other parts of MP including Vindhya region,” he said.
The SP said this was revealed by Maoist leader Badal Singh Markam, who was arrested by Balaghat police after an encounter on September 18. On basis of his interrogation, the police found three dumps of arms, ammunition and essential items from the core area of Kanha.
A tiger reserve is divided into buffer and core zones with the latter being most guarded for animals.
An officer of Madhya Pradesh’s anti-Naxal wing said Maoists’ presence in the core area of the tiger reserve was a new and different type of challenge as movement of people is restricted in the core area, which has poor mobile connectivity.
“The forest guards can help but they are scared and are providing dry ration to Maoists,” he said.
Balaghat police have issued an advisory to forest officers of Kanha Tiger Reserve asking them to provide them information about the presence of rebels.
“Forest department officials should cooperate with police as it is their fundamental duty,” inspector general of police, Balaghat, KP Venkateshwar, who issued the advisory.
He said that the police have assured the forest guards of security if they provide information or action would be initiated against them.
The Kanha forest department officials refused to speak on record on the advisory and Maoists now having virtual control of the park.
A deputy ranger at the reserve, not willing to be named, said the forest guards have no option.
“Armed Maoists come to patrolling camps located at every 8-10 sq km of core area and ask for ration from the guard. Our guards are unarmed and they have no option but to give them the ration. They can’t put their life at risk by challenging them,” he said.
MP’s additional principal chief conservator of forest (wildlife), JS Chauhan, said: “Earlier, the movement of Maoists was in a buffer zone so it was easy for police to take action but now their movement has shifted to a dense core zone and it is difficult for forest authorities to locate them. The unarmed guards, who are protecting wildlife in the core area and living in camps can’t resist Maoists and risk their lives by sharing information with police.”
He, however, said that all possible help was being provided to the police.
The police officials said Maoists movement has increased in and around Kanha, especially during lockdown, when surveillance in the forest areas was low.
The anti-Naxal wing officer, quoted above, said special zone secretary for Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh (MMC) zone Deepak Teltumbde alias Jeeva has been spotted in Mandla and Balaghat region for recruiting the locals.
Maoists had also allegedly killed a 30-year-old migrant labourer in June this year in Balaghat on the suspicion of being a police informer. As many as 800 personnel of the anti-Naxal Force have been deployed in Balaghat division to combat Maoists, the official said.