A Maoist carrying a reward of Rs five lakh on his head was gunned down by the security forces in a predawn operation in Odisha’s Bargarh district on Friday after a fierce exchange of fire.

The deceased Maoist identified as Rabindra carried a reward of Rs 5 lakh on his head. He was a zonal committee member of Bargarh-Bolangir-Mahasamund division of the outlawed CPI (Maoist) outfit.

“The exchange of fire occurred in a forested area near Bhanjagunda in Padampur area of the district. The security forces acting on a specific intelligence report on the intrusion of about a dozen of red rebels from bordering Chhattisgarh launched the crackdown today, said Inspector General of Police (operation) Amitabh Thakur.

Red rebels opened fire on the security forces during a combing operation in the forest. The security men opened retaliatory firing in self defence. During the exchange of fire, one of the Maoists was killed, said senior police officials.

Search operations are still continuing in the area. The armed Maoists might have fled to Chhattisgarh forest.

An AK-47 rifle and three magazines, country-made firearms, Maoist publicity material besides other incriminating materials were seized from the spot.

The Maoists’ base is steadily dwindling in the State with orchestrated crackdown on the red rebels. As many as 17 Maoists of outlawed outfits were killed in encounters with security forces in 2020. While 16 armed naxal cadres were gunned down by security forces comprising Border Security Force (BSF) and State police force, one Left Wing Extremist cadre was killed by an irate mob comprising locals in Malkangiri district last year, said a senior police official.

This year, an active cadre of the outlawed outfit was also shot dead in an encounter in Swabhiman Anchal of Malkangiri district.

In 2020, 34 Maoists were nabbed during the combing operations and were put behind the bar. A total of 21 Naxal cadres shunned the path of violence and surrendered before the State police. Those who surrendered were extended the government assistance in accordance with rehabilitation policy applicable for the Maoists who joined the mainstream, added the official.