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Robbed solar panels now powering Maoists

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RAIPUR: Guns, explosives, detonators, cordtex wire, painkillers, soap… and solar cells. Solar panels are turning up among the staple seizures from Maoists in Bastar as insurgents seek to up-tech their gear in a losing battle. The tide has long turned in the insurgency and Maoists are being increasingly cornered in ever-shrinking pockets of influence.Pressure from the security forces is forcing Maoists to be constantly on the move and change camps frequently, often several times a night. The insurgents are using solar panels to get power on the go to operate/charge mobile phones, radio sets and other gadgets.

It appears the Maoists initially exploited govt’s shift towards renewable energy. Some years ago, Chhattisgarh State Renewable Energy Development Agency (CREDA) had installed solar panels in remote villages, security outposts, and relief camps, which were stolen by Maoists. Then, Maoists resorted to outright looting from villagers. But now they simply order solar panels and gadgets online.

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Bastar range IG P Sundarraj told TOI that solar panels are lightweight, easy to carry and often foldable, easily fitting into the ‘pitthoo’ (backpack) the cadres carry in forests.

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“These panels are good enough to charge wireless batteries, radio sets, mobile phones, laptops, and other electronic devices for Maoists. Most of them are looted from villagers, who have got it under a distribution scheme. But there was never a complaint lodged against Maoists for looting solar panels from a village in bulk,” IG Sundarraj added.

CREDA officials told TOI that these small solar panels are only 70% efficient in dense forests and cloudy weather but enough to charge phones/batteries. They said it wouldn’t be difficult for Maoists to order such panels online (the cheapest ones are a couple of thousand bucks). No village has yet requested replacement of their looted solar panels, said an officer.

Under the govt scheme, solar panels of 150W-300W capacity each are installed in houses. Each is enough to power four lights and a fan. Upgraded versions come with sockets that are compatible with most gadgets and mobile phones and can be used to directly charge equipment.

Chhattisgarh: Tribal woman injured in ‘crossfire’ in Bijapur forest

A tribal woman, Raje Oyam, was injured in a gunfight between security forces and Maoists in Bijapur district, Chhattisgarh. She received medical treatment at Bhairamgarh community health centre and later at Jagdalpur Dimrapal hospital. The incident highlights the ongoing insurgency in the Maoist-affected Bastar division.

None considered it a big loot if Maoists made off with solar panels but it’s turning out that the robbery is powering the insurgency. Solar panels of various sizes have been seized after encounters or raids on Maoist camps, indicating that they are still foraging.

Security officers anticipate the trend to rise with the Centre recently having cleared a Rs 24,104 crore project to electrify homes of one lakh ‘Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups’ in 18 states, including Chhattisgarh. The challenge will be to ensure that the welfare scheme doesn’t end up benefiting enemies of the state.

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