Monday, November 23, 2009

Guess who’s praising Govt’s rural job plan? The Maoists

Snigdhendu Bhattacharya, Hindustan Times

Kolkata, November 23, 2009
First Published: 23:52 IST(23/11/2009)
Last Updated: 23:53 IST(23/11/2009)

The government’s pet project, the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS), has a new champion — the Maoists.

“We urge the Centre to audit NREGS projects in the underdeveloped regions of (West) Bengal,” Koteshwar Rao (51), alias Kishenji, politburo member of the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist), told HT from his hideout. “We guarantee protection to any official who may need to visit these regions.”
More than 220 districts — one-third of India’s total districts — are affected by Maoist violence, home ministry figures say. Three of Bengal’s 18 districts are Maoist strongholds. Government statistics say 300 security personnel were killed in Maoist violence this year.

According to Rao, ensuring 100 days of employment annually for villagers is the right step towards improving their condition. “What’s the point in new schemes when funds for earlier schemes are lying unused?” he asked. “Proper implementation of NREGS projects will do a world of good to the rural poor.”

In 2008-09, only 3.2 per cent rural households completed 100 days of employment in Maoist-hit districts, Rita Sharma, secretary in the rural development ministry, said on October 27.

“It is imperative to intensify efforts to ensure rural households receive their due entitlement,” read Sharma’s letter addressed, among others, to the West Bengal chief secretary.

“Bengal is one of the worst performers,” said Rao. “They have crores of rupees of NREGS funds lying idle.”

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