At the same time, the Centre, at a meeting of chief ministers of Naxal-hit states, which was addressed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and home minister P Chidambaram, asked four of these states to set up a unified command each for Central and state police forces to ensure better coordination in anti-Naxal operations. Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Orissa and West Bengal have been asked to include a retired Major General as a member of these unified commands which are to be headed by the state chief secretaries.
These unified commands would be on the lines of the ones that exist in the states of Jammu and Kashmir and Assam, where the Army, Central paramilitary forces and the state police, operate under a common command structure. Chidambaram said some states wanted the Centre to allow them to use air power against the Naxalites but they were told that at present such aerial support would be limited to provision for more helicopters for the purposes of logistics, troop movement, supplies and evacuation. The governments Naxal policy did not permit the use of air strikes against Naxalites as of now.
He said the Centre was looking at providing about 20-22 helicopters for Naxal operations in some time. Some of these helicopters would be recalled from UN duties and pressed into service for domestic needs.
This was the second such meeting of the chief ministers of Naxal-hit states this year and came in the backdrop of a sharp increase in Naxal activity and violence. CMs of Chhattisgarh, Orissa, Bihar, Andhra Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh attended the meeting. Jharkhand was represented by its Governor while West Bengal sent its health minister.
Speaking at the meeting, both Manmohan Singh and Chidambaram reiterated the governments resolve to tackle Naxalism with the two-pronged strategy involving police action and developmental works in the affected areas. The states were also told to fill large-scale vacancies in their police forces on priority basis. As of March 31 this year, there were a total of around 97,000 vacancies in the police forces of seven Naxal-affected states.
The Prime Minister acknowledged the fact that the affected areas had not benefited from the progress made by the country in the last six decades and urged the state governments to ensure that this problem was corrected at the earliest.
These areas have lagged behind the rest of the country so far and this state of affairs needs to be changed. Our tribal populations have traditionally depended upon the forests for their livelihood and we must ensure that this link does not get disrupted without alternate means of livelihood being made available, Singh said.