Monday, August 27, 2007

Mao would have been stunned by Naxal movement`

Q&A/ Chhattisgarh chief minister Raman Singh

R Krishna Das / New Delhi August 26, 2007

Do you think the Naxal cloud has cast its shadow on the development and economic growth of Chhattisgarh?

Over the last three-and-a-half years, Chhattisgarh has seen a new phase of developmental activities in the state. The state is high on the growth trajectory and has attracted investment of Rs 1,10,000 crore. The investment is not just on paper. Companies have started giving shape to the proposals and have signed MoUs with the government. Not just in the power sector, private players have shown interest in the steel and aluminium sectors also. Cement plants in the state are in expansion mode.

The state will soon become power surplus and, by Diwali, we will stop power cuts in the entire state. Private companies have inked pacts for producing 30,000 Mw of power. We expect at least 80 per cent of this to be translated into action — of which the state will have the right to purchase 7.5 per cent on favourable terms. The attractive industrial policy of Chhattisgarh is swaying the investors.

But the government has failed to acquire land for the Tata Steel plant and the IFFCO power plant.

The state government will directly communicate with the villagers and convince them about the projects and the prosperity these will bring. The Communist parties are playing a double role over industrialisation and provoking the villagers into holding protests. In West Bengal, they are inviting the Tatas and other industries, while in Chhattisgarh their leaders are spearheading villagers' campaign to oppose the steel plant in Bastar. Even the state government is wary of Naxal leaders’ involvement in villagers’ protest, like in Nandigram. Direct interaction by the government will help in ending the deadlock.

In Bastar, the hotbed of Naxal movement, development works worth more than Rs 400 crore are stuck.

The situation in Bastar is different. When the country’s premier road construction agency — the Border Roads Organisation (BRO) — failed to complete its project, how do you expect the state government, with hardly any resources, to construct roads in the insurgency-prone area? The BRO is specially equipped to construct roads in difficult terrains. It was assigned road works on a national highway and not an interior road. Unfortunately, it could not complete even 25 per cent of the work.

The state can construct roads which will pave the way for development. Funds are not a problem. But it needs a proper action plan and the Centre’s assistance. The Union government should prepare a five-year action plan for road construction in all the Naxal-infested pockets of different states and deploy special force to provide security cover to the persons involved in the project. This would facilitate completion of projects. It is true that the development works will gather pace once peace is established in the region.

How do you see the Naxal problem in the present context?

Had Mao or Charu Majumdar been alive today, they too would have been stunned by the changing nature of the Naxal movement, which is now confined to extortion and unleashing atrocities on the poor tribals for whom the rebels claimed to be waging a war against the government. The poor in the interior areas are deprived of the benefits of the public distribution system, basic health and other facilities. This has propelled them to revolt against the rebels and launch a peaceful movement that has become popular as Salwa Judum.

There are reports that the Salwa Judum campaign has got diluted over the last couple of months?

It is not so. Generally, rallies and meetings cannot be organised during monsoon. It is a spontaneous movement of the people and it will continue.

How long can the government go on feeding thousands of tribals staying in different relief camps?

Till they stay in the relief camps. (About 53,000 villagers are staying in 22 relief camps set up by the government to house the people who have abandoned their habitats following Naxal fear). The government is arranging training programmes for their self-employment.

There is a perception that the tribals have been pushed to the camps so that it is easier for industry to acquire their lands on behalf of multinational companies?

This is a misconception. The villages or the pockets from where the tribals have fled do not have any mineral deposits. It is not so easy to acquire the land of tribals under the established laws. Moreover, no multinational or any industrial house will want to put up a plant tucked away unobtrusively in a corner. No one wants to even invest in Bastar and it is the government that has convinced a few.

How are you going to find a solution to the Naxal problem?

We have been concentrating on curing the symptoms and not the root cause of the problem. The issue is not confined to any particular state and hence, the Centre needs to take the initiative to design a joint action plan.

The Naxal problem cannot be solved in instalments and a comprehensive long-term strategy is required to deal with the situation. The Dantewada region, the worst Naxal infested pocket, is endowed with world-class iron ore. But unfortunately, the tribal youth still remain paupers as the NMDC (National Mineral Development Corporation) is exporting iron ore to China and Japan. If there is some value addition before exporting the iron ore, local youth can get employment and this will distance them from the rebels.

Did the Chhattisgarh government fail at its level to create a strategy in dealing with the Naxal problem?

The road to the solution of Naxal problem is difficult. But it is not that there is no solution to the problem. We succeed sometimes, we fail sometimes. The state government has hired advisors. Their suggestions may or may not be result-oriented, but the government has to explore all possibilities.

The Naxal problem has emerged as the biggest threat to democracy as rebels want to rule through the barrel of the gun. As I had said stated, the problem is not confined to Chhattisgarh alone. Many other adjoining states are also under its grip. If Chhattisgarh launches operation, the rebels slip into neighbouring states. That is why we are stressing on joint operations. Had it been an affair of Chhattisgarh alone, we would have crushed the Naxal movement by now.

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