Hear the silence of our human rights activists
by Sandhya Jain on 15 Jan 2013 3 Comments

Above the sound of gunfire and improvised explosive devices was the deafening silence of the human rights industry. Binayak Sen, Arundhati Roy, Mahasweta Devi et al, quick to berate government for alleged atrocities against Maoist marauders, did not squeak when Maoists in Jharkhand planted IEDs in the bodies of two CRPF jawans last week; 17 persons including 12 jawans lost their lives in the operation in the Latehar district forests.


Two issues are pertinent in this regard. First, Jharkhand director general of police has said that the Naxals are receiving support from outside India. Second, the connection between mineral wealth and the Maoist or Red Corridor can no longer be ignored; in Latehar district alone, there are 20 coal blocks, eight of which are in the private sector.


The situation calls for deep introspection. In Africa, countries have been torn apart by rebel militias that have seized control of rich mines by terrorizing the countryside; they are exceedingly well armed and have links with international corporations. In India, Maoists thrive in the mineral-rich districts of Odisha (15), Jharkhand (14), Bihar (7), Andhra Pradesh (10), Chhattisgarh (10), Madhya Pradesh (8), Maharashtra (2) and West Bengal (1). According to conservative estimates, they extort over Rs. 14 billion from these districts annually.


Human rights activist Suhas Chakma warns that Maoists acquire huge amounts of explosive substances and detonators from mining companies and pose a major threat to the country. In a presentation to the parliamentary Standing Committee on Coal and Steel in 2011, he said the security forces recovered 1,50,940 kg of ammonium nitrate explosives, 60,511 detonators, 8,000 rings for grenade making and 1,964 kgs of gelatin  and 1,918 gelatin sticks from Maoists between January 2009 to September 2010. In the same period, security forces say the Maoists snatched 54,500 kg of explosives. These figures are only indicative.


It is pertinent that all these explosives are issued from government factories to various licensees. The easy access to explosives has enormously empowered the Maoists in recent years; they no longer need to confront security forces but can simply plant mines through detonators obtained from the mining industry. In large swathes of Naxal-affected districts, the writ of the Indian State is confined to fortified camps of the security forces.


But in these same districts, mining companies operate successfully. Possibly Maoists force the mining companies to handover/provide explosives to them. The flip side – which deserves investigation – is that Maoists help the companies engage in illegal mining (beyond the licensed area) by keeping locals and snoopy officials at bay.


As the recent power sector and coal block allocation scam has shown, the mining industry cannot be viewed as a pure source of energy for India’s development. Besides a proven obsession with disproportionate profits, it has a disturbing potential as an internal security threat. It would therefore be in the fitness of things for government to strictly monitor the procurement, stocking and end use of all explosive substances issued to licensees. Strong action including cancellation of licences must be taken against those found guilty of financing or in any way supporting terrorism and unlawful activities through direct or indirect actions or under threat which may result in Maoists acquiring or taking possession of explosives issued to the licensee.

The Prime Minister has often stressed that Maoists are the biggest internal threat to the nation. Despite this, the government has shown little interest in protecting the tonnes of explosives held by at least the State-owned mining companies. Coal India Ltd, for instance, buys explosives worth Rs 1,500 crore annually for mining purposes, which is nearly 30% of the total explosives used in the country. The explosives, including gelatin and detonators commonly used by Maoists in landmines, are stocked in 150 storehouses across eight states, seven of which are in the Maoist belt. The security arrangements here are utterly inadequate, despite instances of Maoists looting the depots.

The lack of concern afflicts the political level as well. There has been no amendment of the Explosives Act, 1884 or the Explosives Rules (revised 2008) to ensure that explosives sold or sanctioned to licensees are used only for lawful activities or purposes allowed under the Act and the Rule. Nor is there any provision for monitoring end use of explosives by physical inspection on-site; there is only a banal Rule 24 of the Explosives Rules, 2008 which calls for “maintenance of records and submission of returns”. End-use monitoring could meaningfully curb the menace of illegal mining.

As of now, explosives are sanctioned by the Petroleum and Explosive Safety Organisation (PESO) under the Ministry of Commerce and Industry. Thus, the anti-terror bodies such as the Multi-Agency Centre under the Union Home Ministry, or State Multi Agency Centre, are unaware of the explosives and other materials being sanctioned by PESO.

The human costs of easy access to detonators and explosives are devastating. According to South Asia Terrorism Portal, from January 2005 to 14 November 2010, Maoists triggered 533 explosive devised bombs of which 380 explosions were fatal and caused the death of 442 persons and injury to 422 others. During January-December 2011, Maoists triggered 72 bombs damaging public properties like bridges, school building, police stations, rail tracks and killing 50 persons including 6 civilians. The failure to regulate mining is putting India’s security forces and civilian lives at grave risk.

Maoists operate in regions rich in iron ore, coal, bauxite, manganese and other minerals with the potential to attract large investments (and provide handsome extractions). No one should be under the illusion that Maoists are fighting on behalf of poor villagers and tribal communities whose resources are being exploited; they have killed more than 9,200 civilians and security personnel since 1998.


At Latehar, the authorities hoped to nab Maoist central committee member Dev Kumar Singh alias Arvindji. But news of the raid by 300 CRPF and anti-Naxal Jharkhand Jaguars was leaked and the group ambushed. In a deadly surprise, Maoists booby-trapped the bodies of two jawans with IEDs. The body of Baidyanath Kisku exploded when moved, killing four villagers. Luckily, the body of Babulal Patel did not explode when airlifted to Ranchi district hospital for postmortem, where doctors suspected mischief and called the police who recovered a 2.75 kg IED from the abdominal cavity. A search of the surrounding jungles revealed that the Maoists had practiced this ghastly tactic on innocent animals.


The Pioneer, 15 January 2013

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