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Road to Bastar: At the heart of CRPF-Maoist fight is 172 kms of roads Centre needs built

CRPF battalions have spent over 2,00,000 manhours guarding high risk roads, such as the 56 km Dornapal-Jagargunda stretch, on which 25 troopers were killed in a Maoist ambush in April 2017.

india Updated: Mar 30, 2018 07:59 IST
Azaan Javaid
Azaan Javaid
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Security personnel inspect the site of an IED blast where nine CRPF personnel were killed and two more were injured after Maoists ambushed them in Kistaram area of Chhattisgarh’s Sukma district on March 13, 2018. The government has been trying to build roads in the region to limit access of Maoists to potential recruits.(PTI File Photo)

The March 13 blast that ripped through a mine protected vehicle (MPV), killing nine Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) troopers in Chhattisgarh’s Sukma district, has brought the focus back to a problem that’s at the heart of the Maoist conflict — construction of roads.

Successive central and state governments have stressed the need to build roads in areas affected by Left-wing insurgency to reach out to locals and wean them away from Maoist influence.

The idea was not only to serve the administration’s development agenda. The hope was that building roads would bridge the gap between the power centres and peripheries of central India and cut the Maoists’ access to potential recruits, experts said. That hasn’t proved easy. Government data shows how difficult it has been to build so-called priority 1/Risk1 (P1R1) roads in the South Bastar region.

Official records reviewed by Hindustan Times shows that 14 P1/R1 roads, measuring 451 km, were sanctioned for construction in Bastar in 2011. Only 241 kms, or 53% of the sanctioned length, have been completed.

The CRPF is responsible for providing security cover to private contractors who build the roads for the state government.

CRPF battalions have spent over 2,00,000 manhours guarding high risk roads, such as the 56 km-Dornapal-Jagargunda stretch, on which 25 troopers were killed in a Maoist ambush in April last year, the 78 km-Sukma-Konta stretch and the Injiram-Bhenji stretch, near which the detonation of an improvised explosive device (IED) claimed the lives of nine troopers earlier this month.

According to the documents, CRPF has been able to recover nearly 1,000 kilograms of IEDs from the 14 roads since 2011. Since 2014, 53 CRPF personnel have died on road construction duties; the maximum deaths — 38 — were reported in 2017. Eighteen CRPF troopers were killed in blasts triggered in South Bastar alone. Twenty five were killed in gunbattles with Maoist rebels.

“Unpaved roads increase Maoist capability of planting an IED without it being discovered. Furthermore, if the pace of construction is slow, it means CRPF will end up spending more time guarding the sites, thus making them vulnerable for ambushes,” an intelligence official said on condition of anonymity, adding that the pace of work has picked up since last year. Not fast enough, according to official data. In Bastar, for instance, only 14.8 km roads have been built between December 2017 and February 2018.

“The contractors are not very professional but due to the law and order situation, the delay is understandable,” said another CRPF official, citing the recent killing of a contractor on a road construction site in Bijapur.

Internal security expert Ajai Sahni thinks lack of will is to blame. “I cannot believe India can build a road in Afghanistan but can’t do the same back home. Some 200 kms of unpaved roads were identified to be built in 2005 and they are the most critical yet remain in initial stages,” said Sahni.

The roads are vulnerable to planting of mines because they are blacktop roads, or asphalt roads, which the government favours and the Maoists attempt to sabotage, said former CRPF director general K Durgaprasad.

“Contractors end up making only a granular sub-base on the roads, which means the roads are still raw and thus vulnerable for planting mines. If you see, the recent attacks are on roads which the government wants to be blacktopped,” Durgaprasad said.

Documents show that out of the 451 kms of roads sanctioned in 2011, 172 kms are yet to be blacktopped.“That is 172 kms of high-risk, high-priority work,” said a CRPF official.

First Published: Mar 30, 2018 07:44 IST