Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Wednesday held a strategy meeting with chief ministers of Maoist-affected states where it was agreed that the four worst-affected states would set up a unified command to tackle the rebels.”The unified command will be created in Chhattisgarh, Orrisa, Jharkhand and West Bengal while more helicopters will be deployed for logistical support, supplies and evacuation in Naxal-affected areas,” federal Home Minister P Chidambaram told reporters after the meeting.
India’s Maoist rebels are known as Naxals after the Naxalbari area in West Bengal where their movement originated in the 1960s.The meeting also cleared a proposal by the federal government to establish or strengthen 400 police stations in the affected areas over a period of two years at a cost of 8 billion rupees (about 171 million dollars).Chidambaram said the unified command was aimed at better coordination among the police, paramilitary and intelligence agencies. A retired army general could be included in the command, he added.In his opening comments at the meeting, the home minister said there were 1,103 incidents of Maoist violence from January to June, in which 631 people – including civilians, security forces and rebels – were killed.”While 97 extremists were killed and 1,341 apprehended, 209 members of the security forces also lost their lives,” Chidambaram said.An average of 500 civilians were killed every year from 2004 to 2009 and many of them accused by the rebels of having been “police informers,” Chidambaram said.Of the 325 civilians killed in 2010, the Maoist rebels named 142 as police informers.More than one third of India’s 626 administrative districts, are affected by the insurgency, which Singh described as the greatest internal security threat facing India. The rebels claim they are fighting for the rights of tribal, landless and poor people and are active in some of the country’s poorest districts.Chidambaram said the government would continue with its two-pronged strategy of development and police action which, he admitted, had met with mixed results so far.The government also decided to set up a group to modify and oversee development plans for Maoist-affected areas. India’s Planning Commission was considering a development plan for these areas focusing on road infrastructure, primary education, health care and the provision of drinking water.The chief ministers of Orissa, Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Bihar; the governor of Jharkhand; and a minister from West Bengal attended the meeting at the prime minister’s residence in New Delhi.There was divided opinion on engaging the Maoists in talks, NDTV reported, citing sources. While Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar argued that an integrated approach was required because the Maoists were a part of society and attacks made heroes out of them, Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Raman Singh said there should be no talks until they put down their arms.