The Indian government is streamlining forces to fight Naxal terror. However, there is a lack of regular police force in most naxal-affected states, with Bihar occupying the lowest position in terms of its population to police ratio. The DGP of Bihar corroborating this has accepted that the police-population ration in Bihar is 59:1 lakh compared to the national ratio of 130:1 lakh. Moreover, a significant chunk of the police forces are usually deployed to protect politicians, bureaucrats and others.
The change in the naxalite strategy has made it clear that it is aimed at primarily targeting the police force and state infrastructure. Recent naxal attacks in Bihar have clearly demonstrate this new strategy. The untrained and ill-equipped police force has become a vulnerable target for naxal attacks and the last few months have seen police personnel in Bihar being killed in such attacks.
Nitish Kumar’s initiative to recruit the Special Auxiliary Police (SAP) to fight naxal outfits has been appreciated by all especially since it has been very effective. The achievements of the SAP have indubitably helped boost the people’s confidence and the state has been quick to take credit for an initiative which is seen as unique in the country. Many other states have also decided to follow the Bihar model. Initially, 5000 ex-army men had been recruited on a two-year contract, after a merit-based screening procedure and strict adherence to the age criteria.
The SAP was raised as an elite force of the state for tackling Maoists. With personnel from an Army background, the SAP was conclusively able to push the Naxalites on the back foot, although in the process, it suffered some casualties. Ironically, the same elite force is now being mishandled, misutilized and permitted to be weakened by the police headquarters with due consent of the political bosses. What is more irksome and demoralizing is that the elite force is now embroiled in petty issues. A few of them now engaged in providing protection to the VVIPs of Bihar.
This mismanagement has led to the decline of the SAP. A senior officer at the police headquarters, however, maintained that the SAP is being allowed to engage in normal law and order duties due to acute shortage of personnel in the constabulary rank. The Special Task Force, set up a few years ago to counter the Maoists, has either been engaged in providing VIP security or posted in ‘peaceful areas’. In a submission before the Patna High Court earlier this year, the Bihar Police disclosed that approximately 20,000 individuals, including politicians, present and former, were being provided police protection.
Change of focus and dilution of objectives have corrupted the elite force. The SAP has been seen extorting money from truck drivers on national highways. Often, its personnel have been seen regulating traffic and are sometimes constituted into raiding parties to apprehend petty criminals. If this remains unchecked, the SAP will lose its sheen.
It has already been pointed out by successive DGPs of Bihar that there is a lack of Special Task Forces to fight the Naxals. In such a situation, the SAP has been very effective, especially with their strength having increased to over nine thousand. The Bihar Inspector General of Police (Operations), KS Dwivedi, sought at least 20 extra battalions of the Central Paramilitary Forces (CPMFs) for anti-Maoist operations. Bihar is one of the states where illegal arms factories are operational across several districts. There are over 1,500 illegal arms manufacturing units in the state with most of them located in the Nalanda, Nawada, Gaya, and Munger districts. The Maoist forces are taking full advantage of these illegal arms factories. A general breakdown of law and order, the proliferation of criminal gangs and militias, criminalization of politics and an ill-equipped police force, have contributed to the continuous consolidation of Naxalites in the state.
It is not only the shortage of the police force in Bihar, but the lack of basic training which has created a significant mismatch between the police and Maoists. Their physical appearance, loose morals and widespread corrupt practices make them unfit to be regarded a well-trained anti-Maoist force. It was the SAP which triggered terror within the naxal-affected districts of Bihar. They are not only physically fit, but also mentally tough to wage war against the Maoists.
The 80,000-strong police force in Bihar also lacks access to modern weaponry like anti-landmine vehicles, bulletproof vests and bomb disposal equipment. According to the Bihar Police Association, a majority of about 300 police stations, 92 police pickets and hundreds of police outposts in the Maoist-affected districts are facing severe infrastructure shortages. There is not only a need to increase the number of SAP forces, but also engage them in specialized tasks. Deploying them for maintaining routine law and order will only undermine the SAP forces.