Guarding the mandate in Maoist areas

More booths means the security forces will be on their toes in the agency area

The Election Commission has strategically scheduled the election in all Maoist-affected areas in Andhra Pradesh, Odisha, Maharashtra and Chhattisgarh in the first phase on April 11.

Security forces welcome the move, as voting will be completed on a single day, removing the hassle of moving troops from one place to another. Transporting personnel is a risky proposition in conflict zones, as they can come under landmine attack or be ambushed.

The security forces in Visakhapatnam district, however, are a worried lot as the number of polling stations in the Visakhapatnam agency, including the Maoist-affected Andhra-Odisha Border region, has gone up. The booths in the sensitive agency area have been increased from 400 to 614 across the 11 mandals for the convenience of voters. Eight of the mandals are very sensitive, a senior police officer said.

According to the officer, all the 614 booths are sensitive, but 200 of them are very sensitive and 20 critical, as they abut the cut-off area (no-man’s land between Andhra Pradesh and Odisha) right in the Maoist heartland.

Nearly 200 booths lack any form of network connectivity, even landlines, and 20 in the cut-off area are not accessible by road. Even the election duty officers have to trek and carry the EVMs on horseback.

These sensitive booths are located in places such as Injari, Busuputtu and Killamkota in the interior spots of sensitive mandals such as Pedabayalu, Munchingput and G. Madugula. The challenge for the security forces is to provide security to the polling stations and see the safe entry and exit of the polling officers and EVMs.

In 2014, there were incidents of booth capturing in the Busuputtu area and polling material and EVMs were destroyed by the Maoists in Palakjeedi. In 2007, seven security forces and polling officers were ambushed and killed in the Balapam area.

The agency area spans 5,000 sq.km, and about 2000 sq.km of it is identified as sensitive. Though the security forces have started an area-domination exercise two months ago, and central paramilitary forces will be deployed, covering 2000 sq. km of thickly forested terrain is still a challenge, said a senior officer engaged in anti-Maoist operation.

The Maoists are in an upbeat mood after the killing of Araku MLA Kidari Sarveswara Rao and former MLA Siveri Soma last September. Intelligence reports says the extremists would try something big before or on the day of the election, he added.

Officers feel that security can be provided at the polling stations, but it will be difficult to seal the routes. The only solution in sight is to disband these 20-odd polling stations and club them with booths located close to police camps and are relatively safer.

Moreover, in these sensitive areas, the Maoists hold the sway and if they pass a diktat that people should not go for voting, the polling stations would go empty, as none from that particular village or neighbouring villages will be able to reach the booths.

“But if the polling stations are clubbed with some safer booths that are close to police camps or armed outposts, at least 20% to 30% of voters from the neighbouring villages can walk up to the booths and cast their franchise. Tribal people are used to walking long distances and it should not pose a problem,” said a senior revenue officer, who has conducted poll duties on three earlier elections in the agency area.

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