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    Posted on 03 April 2012
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    A Paradise in Exile

    Increased Maoist activities, which picked up pace after the Kandhamal riots of 2008-09, is eclipsing tourism in the Daringibadi region of Odisha

    Bibhuti Pati
    Bhubaneswar

    Photos: Bibhuti Pati

    KANDHAMAL IN the tourism map of Odisha is a notable spot. Its location nestling amidst hills clad in greenery, the dense forests, the waterfalls and natural beauty make it a tourist hub. These natural attributes prompt tourists from the state and foreign to throng the place.


    Among the other tourist spots, Daringibadi, known as the ‘Kashmir of Odisha’ often becomes abnormally crowded. After the Kandhamal riots in 2007-08 the ruche ebbed, especially after the killing of Laxmananda Saraswati in 2008 dampened the spirits of tourists.

    Coinciding with these the Maoists stepped up their activities in the district, which further shrank the tourist fraternity in the area till 2011.

    Though nature’s gifts continue to attract visitors here, the place is now better known as ‘Maoist territory’ or more specifically Sabyasachi Panda’s belt. Italian Bosusco Paolo, like many others, certainly fell in love with Daringbadi for the right reasons and as a tour guide brought countryman Claudio Colangelo here, little realising that his passion for trekking could land him in rebel captivity.

    “Ever since Panda’s activities in Daringbadi have increased their manifold, with the 2008 riots in Kandhamal following Hindu seer Swami Laxmananda Saraswati’s murder, strengthening his hold over a sizeable section of the local populace opposed to the VHP leader activities”, said a policeman.

    “Though his strength has decreased in the past months due to several surrenders and arrests of his aides, Panda continues to be active in abduction of the Italians, he possibly wants to make a strong statement” he added.

    If locals are to be believed, Panda who is secretary, Odisha State Organising committee of the outlawed CPI (Maoist) comes here at regular intervals bug does not stay put. “He is always on the move. He operates mostly in Kandhamal, Gajapati and Rayagada districts, which form the vansadhara division of CPI (Maoist)”, a local trader said.

    "Despite the increased security arrangements, we are not safe. Majority of the villagers don’t trust the administration"
    LOCAL POLICE

    In fact, few locals agreed to talk about Panda and Maoist activities, not just in Daringbadi but also in neighbouring locations like Gajabadi (where the rebels blasted two telephones a few months ago) and Kotpad.

    “It is difficult to know when Panda is around. Though occasionally we get information, we cannot act as we don’t know how he looks like. His photographs that come in the media are very old,” explained a cop.

    Incidentally the Maoists is so entrenched in the area that any bandh call by them generates total response; the well fortified Daringbadi police station has anti-extremists security men in good numbers to guard it; crpf personnel are manning Gajabadi; cops avoid visiting the interiors; Panchayati Raj representatives run a thorough check before entering certain village and commoners seldom share information with police.

    The reasons are not far to seek: Maoists have killed at least eight civilians (contractor Manoj Sahu, businessman, Udaynath Sahu, mason Dhananjay Pradhan, besides a pregnant woman and four others in an ambulance blast at Bamunigaon) during the past two years. Though the guerillas publicly apologised for the ‘accidental’ killing of those in an ambulance in November, 2010, locals are wary not to ‘upset’ the radicals.

    28,420 tourists visited the spot in 2006, which came down to 19,500 in 2007

    Undoubtedly, Maoist sympathisers are large in numbers here. “People are very unwilling to give us information. Despite increased security arrangement, we are not safe”, admitted a police officer. “Majority of villagers doesn’t trust the administration”, he added.

    Towards the end of 2011 the security forces achieved some less worthy success in the battle against the Maoists. In December 2011 the Maoist terror abated to resurface in 2012. They struck on 14 March abducting two foreigners and two Odias. One foreigner is still in their captivity. Tourists do not consider it safe to travel to the place anymore. According to official sources, 28,420 tourists visited Daringibadi in 2006 which came down to 19,500 in 2007. Also, this year the inflow of tourists was perceptibly high.

    bibhu_gutul@yahoo.com


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    Posted on 03 April 2012
 

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