Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Economic offensive

http://www.frontline.in/stories/20100507270902300.htm

VENKITESH RAMAKRISHNAN &
AJOY ASHIRWAD MAHAPRASHASTHA

The Chhattisgarh government’s proposal to launch a development campaign in Bastar sparks a debate.

AKHILESH KUMAR

Personnel of the security forces interact with members of Salwa Judum, a vigilante group raised to fight naxalites. A file photograph. A large number of villagers who suffered at the hands of this group are yet to be rehabilitated despite a government promise to his effect.

ONE week after the mass killing of paramilitary personnel in Dantewada district in Chhattisgarh, Raman Singh, the State’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Chief Minister, announced that his government proposed to implement a special infrastructure development plan worth Rs.2,000 crore in the Bastar region. He said the investment, which would be made over three years, would result in the construction of roads, bridges, schools and hospitals in the five districts of the region – Narayanpur, Kanker, Bastar, Bijapur and Dantewada, spread over 40,000 square kilometres.

This should come as no surprise in view of the “special economic initiatives” announced earlier for regions with Maoist activity. States such as Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and even relatively less-affected Uttar Pradesh and Karnataka have received special development aid for areas with Maoist presence, and this has been followed by proclamations about “intensive development programmes”.

In fact, even when the Union Home Ministry launched its offensive against the Maoists some six months ago, there was talk about special development initiatives. Union Home Secretary G.K. Pillai stated then that the plan was to combine the paramilitary offensive with large-scale development measures in the form of providing schools, health services, police stations and roads. There were also instructions from the Centre that the State and local governments should ensure focussed implementation of schemes such as the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) and the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana and proper functioning of the public distribution system (PDS). The plan was to launch the development initiatives within 30 days of the security forces dominating a particular area.

However, social and human rights organisations and some serving and retired government officials say that many of these programmes are just grand proclamations. Even in places where some works are taken up, priorities are suspect because often they do not cater to the targeted tribal and poor populations. Instead, the schemes promote corporate interests, they say. In fact, the Chhattisgarh government has failed to fulfil the promise it made to the Supreme Court nearly three years ago about rehabilitating the victims of Salwa Judum (the so-called citizens’ militia raised to take on Maoists) atrocities. The government had indeed admitted that atrocities had been committed on the villagers and acceded to a list of demands pertaining to their rehabilitation. The State Home Department had also given an undertaking that rehabilitation steps would be taken. This has not been complied with to date.

The record of many other States is even worse. According to former Uttar Pradesh Director General of Police (DGP) V.K.B. Nair, much of the allocations for special development plans in areas influenced by Maoists in the State ends up being used for the “entertainment of senior officials of the administration and the security establishment”. Social activists in States such as Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh point to the diversion or non-utilisation of the special funds.

Talking to Frontline, Latehar-based social activist Bhukan pointed out that there were announcements about sanctioning of Rs.450 crore to Jharkhand under the Backward Districts Initiative (BDI) in 2009, but there was no clarity as to how the money had been spent. Bhukan added that surveys conducted by several organisations in different areas of Jharkhand had shown that the MGNREGS had not helped bring down Left extremist activity. The implementation of the programme remains hugely deficient in many parts of the State, essentially in terms of payment of wages.

In Chhattisgarh, development schemes such as the MGNREGS have not taken off well in regions with heavy Maoist presence, whereas they function relatively well elsewhere. Clearly, this shows that the intensive development plan has failed. A report on the status of the MGNREGS in Dantewada district was prepared by Jean Dreze, a prominent economist and right to food activist, and Dr Bela Bhatia, a social science researcher in the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, New Delhi, in late 2008.

In the report, which was primarily based on a study conducted in Behramgarh block, Dreze says: “In this atmosphere (conflict zone), it is very difficult for development programmes and public services to thrive. To illustrate, the schooling system is in a shambles. Occupation of school buildings by security forces is common – we noticed several cases within a few kilometres of the block headquarters in Behramgarh. In response to this, many schools have been blown up by naxalites, to pre-empt their occupation…. The implementation of NREGA in Dantewada has been severely affected by this conflict situation. In areas under naxalite control, the programme is non-functional. Even in other areas, it is quite difficult to enforce the provisions of the Act. On the other hand, NREGA can also be seen as a positive opportunity to create a new rapport between the state and the people in these areas, based on constructive work.”

He expressed dismay over the fact that though the scheme had existed for three years, the villagers had not even heard of it. He noted that there was massive hoarding of job cards at the district level. This when the district was flush with funds for the scheme. Banks and post offices to pay the workers and necessary staff to run the programme were missing, he noticed.

Asha Shukla, formerly a journalist with Navbharat Times, who travelled extensively in all the five naxalite-dominated areas last year, told Frontline that the situation had not improved since 2008. While sustainable livelihood schemes such as the NREGS and the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) were in a state of complete failure, the State government project of giving away bicycles to girls who had passed Class 8 was a success, she said. In the absence of roads, the cycles were immensely useful, she said. “In Narayanpur [another district with naxalite activity], school bhavans were marred and health services disrupted by the conflict. Even primary health centres at the block level were run by compounders and nurses, and there were no doctors. In some villages which are built along the highways, the State government has implemented the NREGA, but there is a massive delay in making the payments. The clause in the NREGA that payments should be made within 15 days is violated at regular intervals,” she said.

In all these districts, concretising of roads and electrification of villages are in full swing. However, critics say this kind of development will have hardly any impact on the tribal people as their main worries concern “jal, jungle and jameen” (water, forest resources and land). They feel that the development of roads is a disguised attempt to facilitate the entry of multinational companies with whom the State government has signed memorandums of understanding. (Tatas and Essar Steel have signed MoUs to mine bauxite and iron ore in the region.)

The most immediate need of the Adivasis here is proper implementation of the Forest Rights Act, of which there is no sign. Manish Kunjam of the Communist Party of India said, “There was a show of giving pattas initially when the Act was introduced, but even that is no more seen. While the Act requires the government to resettle the Adivasis on the lands that they had acquired till 2005, the district administration distributed pattas only to those who had been cultivating their lands before 1980. To really address the issues of the tribes here, one must be sensitive to their lifestyles without imposing the urban notion of development on them.”

Reena Kangale, the District Magistrate of Dantewada, however, said, “These are false charges. Construction of roads and electrification are a part of the Planning Commission scheme to develop naxalism-affected villages.” While she agreed that the Adivasis needed to make a sustainable living out of forest lands, she said that half of the initiatives were hampered by the inaccessibility to naxalite-dominated villages. “Only clearing the villages of naxalites can pave the way for development. Right now 108 villages in 23 panchayats of Dantewada are completely inaccessible,” she said.

AKHILESH KUMAR

At Parchanpal village in Bastar district, where people are deprived of basic amenities. The most important concerns of Bastar’s tribal people are water, forest resources, and land rights.

On the positive side, the District Magistrate noted that the State government had fixed a support price for tendu leaves. Collecting tendu leaves is the chief occupation of the tribal people here for a month. (Tendu patta cultivation in the region had seen thorough exploitation of the tribal people by local businessmen. The Maoists resisted this and got a strong foothold among the Adivasis as a result of this in the 1980s.)

Apparently, the government has managed to implement the PDS throughout the State, and the system seems to be working well even in the Bastar region, though not as efficiently as in other parts. Samir Garg, an adviser to the Supreme Court Commissioner and a right to food activist, told Frontline: “The State government has managed to do three things. First, they computerised the whole PDS in less than one year. Second, they are procuring rations locally and as a result they have double the amount of rations that they need for the PDS. They sell the rest to the Food Corporation of India. Third, and the most important, they have ousted all private contractors from the system and taken the whole system in their own hands and tightened points where corruption can take place.”

Apart from these, the State government sells rice at Rs.2 a kilo to below poverty line (BPL) families and at Re.1 a kilo to extremely poor families.

Vishwa Ranjan, the Director General of Police, said, “The Central Plan of ‘clear, hold and build’ is operative only in north-west Kanker and south-west Rajnandgaon [peripheries of naxalite territories], where large battalions of the police would control the periphery so that the naxalites retreat and then the state would develop the region in military presence.”

He added that it was too early to determine whether such an operation was fruitful as the forces were deployed in Kanker and Rajnandgaon only in January.

It is clear that the development initiative as conceptualised by the Union government is a different ball game when it is taken to the conflict zones. The focus of many of the initiatives also need to change – from building roads and electrifying villages to addressing the real issues of Adivasis.

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