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Remote tracts of Kanha National Park new Maoist refuge: Chhattisgarh police

CPI(Maoist) Vistaar Dalam has a presence in Balaghat, the only Madhya Pradesh district affected by left-wing extremism, by the Centre’s reckoning. Both Balaghat and Mandla border Chhattisgarh.

india Updated: Mar 11, 2018 20:14 IST
Punya Priya Mitra and Ritesh Mishra
Punya Priya Mitra and Ritesh Mishra
Hindustan Times, Bhopal/Rajanandgaon
Kanha National Park,Maoist refuge,Chhattisgarh police
The burnt remains of a semi-permanent forest post at Lathawar that suspected Maoists torched on March 2.(HT Photo)

Remote sections of Madhya Pradesh’s Kanha National Park, a top tourist destination as a tiger reserve, are the new refuge of Maoists, according to security forces battling them in neighbouring Chhattisgarh.

MP officials, however, insist that the Maoist presence is mostly limited to Chhattisgarh forests bordering the 960 sq km park, which is also popular as Kanha Tiger Reserve.

Members of the CPI(Maoist) Vistaar Dalam (area expansion brigade formed about two years ago) stamped their presence in Kanha on February 12, attacking two forest posts, according to police.

The rebels beat up forest guards, snatched their wireless set and mobiles, and set fire to their maps and topography sheets. This was the first time Maoists attacked Kanha staff. Both the posts were in the tribal-dominated Mandla district.

The Vistaar Dalam has a presence in Balaghat, the only MP district affected by left-wing extremism, by the Centre’s reckoning. Both Balaghat and Mandla border Chhattisgarh.

“The Maoists wanted to intimidate the guards. This is a familiar, initial strategy. Their goal is to ensure forest guards do not report their presence to seniors,” said an intelligence officer who tracks left-wing extremism. The officer did not want to be named.

Another Maoist attack in Kanha occurred on March 2, when a semi-permanent forest post at Lathawar, also in Mandla district, was set on fire.

“The Maoist plan to penetrate Kanha is not new. They have been working on this for over a decade,” warned the intelligence officer.

“In 2006, security forces recovered more than 30 pages of a typed document from the jungles of Chuuikhadan (Rajnandgaon). These listed Maoist plans to build a new corridor in Balaghat, Mandla and Dindori on the Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Chhattisgarh (MMC) tri-junction.”

This so-called MMC corridor, which includes Kanha, is a new worry for security forces, who believe Maoists are building this to escape the crackdown in Chhattisgarh’s Bastar region.

GP Singh, inspector general of police, Durg, Chhattisgarh, said, “It is a fact that Maoists are making Kanha National Park a safe haven. The recent attacks in the tiger reserve are examples.”

What worries security forces

Chhattisgarh police have intelligence that the Vistaar Dalam has grown from a few members to around 180. “Gathering intelligence is a nightmare. Nearly 80% of the park is not explorable and Maoists are banking on this,” said a senior police officer. He too did not want to be named.

“Gathering intelligence is a nightmare. Nearly 80% of the park is not explorable and Maoists are banking on this.”

Referring to the attacks on the forest posts, the officer said, “It means they have done their mapping and want to establish a base. Maoists are eyeing Kanha and it will be naive to deny this.”

MP police, Kanha officials play down fears

Makrand Deouskar, inspector general of police (intelligence), MP, said the presence of Maoists in Kanha was an “important” development, but denied the “safe haven” fears of Chhattisgarh police. “No locals have joined the Maoists and they are not getting support from villagers,” said Deouskar.

The park’s field director, Sanjay Shukla, said, “Kanha is not a safe haven for Maoists. They are active mostly in Kawardha and Mungeli (in Chhattisgarh). Teenpani chowki area, where an attack took place on February 12, is also close to Chhattisgarh.”

Contrary to police belief that Maoists set the forest post at Lathawar on fire, Shukla said, “We think it was handiwork of local villagers.”

He said tourism would not be affected in any way. “Tourism is confined mostly to western parts of Kanha. There is little tourism in Phen sanctuary or the eastern parts adjoining Chhattisgarh.”

Kanha has more than 85 tigers, according to OP Mishra, in-charge of the tourism section in the park. “Kanha attracted 140,000 tourists in 2017,” he said.

Chhattisgarh too has a national park-tiger reserve adjoining Kanha. Chhattisgarh announced the Bhoramdeo Tiger Reserve in 2017. Tigers have not been spotted in Bhoramdeo, but officials expect the ones in Kanha will, in due course, move in.

Chhattisgarh is in process of displacing 27 villages under the Bhoramdeo reserve limits. Police have information that Maoists are reaching out to people in some of these villages to foment trouble.

First Published: Mar 11, 2018 18:20 IST