|Published: Wednesday, 19 December, 2007, 01:42 AM Doha Time|
The rebels, who say they are fighting for the rights of landless labourers and neglected tribals in rural India, have been described by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh as the biggest single threat to domestic security.
Ahead of the meeting tomorrow, Minister of State for Home Sriprakash Jaiswal talked with senior officials on ways to counter the rebels, including extending more rights over forest produce to tribals.
Many in India's hinterland still survive on its shrinking forests, gathering items such as the leaves used for Indian "beedi" cigarettes.
But industrial and real estate developers are increasingly eyeing such land as well.
Officials are particularly concerned about 33 districts, more than half of them in two newly created eastern states — Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh — carved out of other states seven years ago.
The chief ministers' conference will be held just days after a jailbreak on Sunday that saw hundreds of inmates, including many accused of being Maoist sympathisers, flee into the hills in Chhattisgarh.
The jail superintendent was arrested and under investigation, a Press Trust of India report said, and only a handful of the fugitives had been recaptured.
Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Raman Singh and Home Minster Ramvichar Netam have admitted that escape from the Dantewada jail in a smooth 10-minute operation was a "clear case of security lapses".
They said that officials posted in the jail department in the capital Raipur and those responsible for security at the Dantewada jail had let down the government.
But the government got into action only late Monday when hundreds of police and paramilitary Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel returned after a daylong search of Dantewada's thick forests.
"We will not let any official who is either directly or indirectly involved in (the) shameful jail breakout go free. I have sent several letters to senior officials in the past to look into the security issue of Dantewada jail but my instructions were overlooked," Netam said.
Meanwhile, in the neighbouring state of Bihar, a siege by Maoist inmates at a jail ended yesterday evening after the police used force.
The police resorted to mild baton charge to disperse the inmates and send them back to their wards. The siege ended without any violence.
The Maoists took control of the inner wing of Patna's Beur jail in protest against alleged ill-treatment by jail authorities.
It all started when Maoist inmates attacked policemen on duty inside the jail, forcing them to flee. The inmates freed two top Maoist leaders, including Ajay Kanu.
Kanu was the mastermind behind the Jehanabad jailbreak when around 300 inmates, including 150 Maoists, escaped in 2005. He was later arrested and lodged in Beur jail. The Maoists also reportedly assaulted some inmates, including a legislator, who tried to pacify them.
Maoists have been staging protests inside the jail for the last few days after Nagina Manjhi, 40, a member of the outlawed Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist), committed suicide on December 14. Manjhi was found hanging from the iron gate of the jail infirmary where he was being treated for a minor ailment.
Official sources said over 300 Maoists were lodged in Beur jail. The Maoist inmates have found support from hundreds of other inmates.
According to jail officials, there are about 2,400 inmates in Beur jail, almost more than double its capacity.
Maoist inmates accused jail officials of failing to provide medical help to Manjhi. They began a hunger strike inside the jail on Sunday to protest against the lack of facilities. – Agencies