MOI suspects Naxalite presence in Kuwait

30 06 2008

KUWAIT: A recent security report issued by the Ministry of Interior has warned against Naxalite groups’ attempts to infiltrate Asian laborers into GCC countries like Kuwait, reported Al-Rai. The report described the group as the most menacing in all of the Indian subcontinent. According to the report, the group has been identified as the one that works among poor farmers and workers, supplying them with arms to wage a war against their respective governments.

Further, the report warned that the group has decided to leave India for the GCC states, since they consider the Middle East as their second enemy — capitalists who achieve progress by importing cheap Asian labor and treat them inhumanly. Moreover, the report argued that there was evidence that the group managed to penetrate many GCC states including Kuwait. It says that this is indicated by the relatively more organized labor strikes and demonstrations, that have been organized lately — for example, the
Afghani workers attack on their country’s embassy in Kuwait.

The report called for ‘rationalizing’ the entry of Asian workers, especially Bangladeshis, since many were involved in criminal acts. They should be hired only as cleaners and shepherds, the report suggested. A close watch should be kept on Naxalite activities in Kuwait. This will help prevent undesirable penetration of Asian communities into Kuwait,, the report stated.


 In a security report, the ministry said the group decided to enter Gulf countries, which are their enemy No 2 after India, due to high capitalism and alleged inhuman treatment meted out to Asian menial laborers in the region. The ministry suspects that the recent protests by menial laborers in different parts of the Gulf could have been part of Naxal activities, “as the protestors even attacked embassies of their countries.”

The ministry said some of the protestors were Bangladeshi expatriates who protested when their companies failed to pay their wages and added that this sector of people were involved in the highest number of violent crimes in the country. These menial workers mostly work at cleaning companies or as shepherds and farmers. The ministry stressed that securitymen will double their surveillance and inspections at locations frequented by menial laborers. “The huge increase in marginal Bangladeshi expatriates has caused many troubles to citizens and many developed countries like US and UK too are suffering due to unwanted laborers in their countries,” it noted.

A large number of these marginal menial laborers are staying in the country illegally and mostly meet in Abdullah Port, Sabhan Industrial Area, Amghara Scrap and Jleeb Al-Shuyoukh areas. The ministry expressed concern that these people may form groups and gangs and can spread crime and fear in the country and “some of these groups communicate with international organizations and give misleading information in an attempt to demand their rights.” 
Corruption and failure to stop residence permit trading are the major causes of this problem, stated the ministry in the report.





MOI suspects Naxalite presence in Kuwait

30 06 2008

KUWAIT: A recent security report issued by the Ministry of Interior has warned against Naxalite groups’ attempts to infiltrate Asian laborers into GCC countries like Kuwait, reported Al-Rai. The report described the group as the most menacing in all of the Indian subcontinent. According to the report, the group has been identified as the one that works among poor farmers and workers, supplying them with arms to wage a war against their respective governments.

Further, the report warned that the group has decided to leave India for the GCC states, since they consider the Middle East as their second enemy — capitalists who achieve progress by importing cheap Asian labor and treat them inhumanly. Moreover, the report argued that there was evidence that the group managed to penetrate many GCC states including Kuwait. It says that this is indicated by the relatively more organized labor strikes and demonstrations, that have been organized lately — for example, the
Afghani workers attack on their country’s embassy in Kuwait.

The report called for ‘rationalizing’ the entry of Asian workers, especially Bangladeshis, since many were involved in criminal acts. They should be hired only as cleaners and shepherds, the report suggested. A close watch should be kept on Naxalite activities in Kuwait. This will help prevent undesirable penetration of Asian communities into Kuwait,, the report stated.


In a security report, the ministry said the group decided to enter Gulf countries, which are their enemy No 2 after India, due to high capitalism and alleged inhuman treatment meted out to Asian menial laborers in the region. The ministry suspects that the recent protests by menial laborers in different parts of the Gulf could have been part of Naxal activities, “as the protestors even attacked embassies of their countries.”

The ministry said some of the protestors were Bangladeshi expatriates who protested when their companies failed to pay their wages and added that this sector of people were involved in the highest number of violent crimes in the country. These menial workers mostly work at cleaning companies or as shepherds and farmers. The ministry stressed that securitymen will double their surveillance and inspections at locations frequented by menial laborers. “The huge increase in marginal Bangladeshi expatriates has caused many troubles to citizens and many developed countries like US and UK too are suffering due to unwanted laborers in their countries,” it noted.

A large number of these marginal menial laborers are staying in the country illegally and mostly meet in Abdullah Port, Sabhan Industrial Area, Amghara Scrap and Jleeb Al-Shuyoukh areas. The ministry expressed concern that these people may form groups and gangs and can spread crime and fear in the country and “some of these groups communicate with international organizations and give misleading information in an attempt to demand their rights.”
Corruption and failure to stop residence permit trading are the major causes of this problem, stated the ministry in the report.





Indian Maoists destroy mobile towers, snap lines

30 06 2008

PATNA, India, June 27 (Reuters) – India’s Maoist insurgents destroyed two mobile towers and have shut down six others in the country’s east, blaming the network for revealing their movements to the police, officials said.
Rebels, fearing mobiles are being used by informers, have banned the use of mobile phones in villages under their control in India after hundreds of suspected insurgents were arrested this year.
Police said armed rebels set two towers of Bharti Airtel Ltd on fire on Thursday in Bihar state, snapping communication lines in the region.
“The Maoists are angry since the police were able to locate their movements through the mobile network, leading to many arrests,” said Ajay Kumar Sinha, a senior police officer from Gaya district, where the incident took place.
The rebels called local media to claim responsibility.
A spokeswoman for Bharti Airtel said they were looking into the issue.
The rebels say they are fighting for the rights of the poor and landless. They regularly kill policemen and attack government establishments in eastern and central India.
They usually operate in a large swathe of India stretching from the east to some southern states, mostly in the countryside. (Writing by Bappa Majumdar; Editing by Alistair Scrutton) (For the latest Reuters news on India see: in.reuters.com, for blogs see blogs.reuters.com/in/.)





Indian Maoists destroy mobile towers, snap lines

30 06 2008

PATNA, India, June 27 (Reuters) – India’s Maoist insurgents destroyed two mobile towers and have shut down six others in the country’s east, blaming the network for revealing their movements to the police, officials said.
Rebels, fearing mobiles are being used by informers, have banned the use of mobile phones in villages under their control in India after hundreds of suspected insurgents were arrested this year.
Police said armed rebels set two towers of Bharti Airtel Ltd on fire on Thursday in Bihar state, snapping communication lines in the region.
“The Maoists are angry since the police were able to locate their movements through the mobile network, leading to many arrests,” said Ajay Kumar Sinha, a senior police officer from Gaya district, where the incident took place.
The rebels called local media to claim responsibility.
A spokeswoman for Bharti Airtel said they were looking into the issue.
The rebels say they are fighting for the rights of the poor and landless. They regularly kill policemen and attack government establishments in eastern and central India.
They usually operate in a large swathe of India stretching from the east to some southern states, mostly in the countryside. (Writing by Bappa Majumdar; Editing by Alistair Scrutton) (For the latest Reuters news on India see: in.reuters.com, for blogs see blogs.reuters.com/in/.)





Green reasons for red rage

30 06 2008

By Richard Mahapatra

from: infochange environment

An expert group of the Planning Commission establishes a strong correlation between social unrest and the spread of Naxalism and poverty, landlessness and inequitable management of natural resources

An expert group on development challenges in extremist-affected areas (read: Naxalite-affected districts) set up by the Planning Commission of India in May 2006 has submitted its report to the Commission. The still-to-be-publicised report attributes the spread of Naxalite violence — which the prime minister has called the “biggest internal security threat India has ever had to face” — to centralised forest management, abandonment of land reforms and the disempowerment of panchayats in tribal areas. It calls for radical changes in India’s natural resource management regime.

The 18-member expert group held extensive discussions and reviewed development programmes and socio-economic status in Naxalite-affected areas. D Bandopadhyay, Executive Chairman of the Council for Social Development, Kolkata, chaired the expert group. Interestingly, of the 18 members only one represented the Planning Commission. Members included B D Sharma, noted human rights activist, and Bela Bhatia, Fellow, Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, Delhi.

Terming discrimination against scheduled castes and scheduled tribes “structural violence in society”, the expert group recommends changes in the development model in Naxalite-affected districts. “While not condoning the radical violence (of Naxalite groups), an honest response to it must, therefore, begin by ameliorating the structural violence in society,” the report says.

“Encouragement of vigilante groups such as Salwa Judum and herding of hapless tribals into makeshift camps with dismal living conditions, removed from their habitat and deprived of livelihood as a strategy to counter the influence of the radical Left is not desirable. It delegitimises politics, dehumanises people, degenerates those engaged in their ‘security’, and above all represents abdication of the State itself. It should be undone immediately,” the report continues. “It should be replaced by a strategy which positions an empowered taskforce of specially picked responsive officials to execute all protection and development programmes for their benefit and redress people’s grievances,” the report adds.

The expert group’s report is currently with the Planning Commission. Officials are giving it the final touches before sending it to the prime minister’s office.

Just a few months ago another Planning Commission group — the working group on land relations, set up to contribute to the preparation of the Eleventh Five-Year Plan — also termed Naxalite violence a symptom of brewing socio-economic turmoil in India’s poorest areas. “They (Naxalites) are proving to the hilt the doctrine of Mao Zedong of ‘fish in water’, where fish are militants and water is the mass of disgruntled and dissatisfied peasantry and landless agricultural workers,” the report says.

The geography of poverty

Naxalite activities have spread to 16 of 28 Indian states. According to the Union home ministry, Naxalite groups have an influence in at least 165 districts out of India’s 600-plus districts. The red corridor stretches to 92,000 square kilometres, from the Nepalese border to India’s southwest coast. It is estimated that 180 million people in the country are impacted by Naxalite insurgency. That is, every sixth Indian citizen lives in the Naxalite shadow.

Since 2003, more than 2,500 people have been killed in Naxalite violence while 7,000 incidents of violence involving Naxalites have been reported. In the last four years, more and more civilians are being killed in the violence; most of them belong either to the scheduled tribes or scheduled castes. Naxalite violence and the number of casualties are the highest in Chhattisgarh. While it has declined in Andhra Pradesh, it is on the rise in Orissa. The increase in Naxalite violence in Chhattisgarh is attributed to Naxalites targeting the Salwa Judum campaign to counter the movement.

The 165 Naxalite-affected districts are among the country’s 200 poorest and most backward districts, as ranked by the Planning Commission of India. The irony of this is not lost: if you superimpose a map of India’s forests, its minerals, its watersheds, and its poorest people (specifically tribal people), you will get a map of the spread of India’s Naxalite movement. According to a research paper from the Prem Bhatia Memorial Trust, New Delhi, Naxalites control close to 19% of India’s ‘good’ forests. This is because Naxalite-affected districts account for around 40% of India’s forest areas. India’s major mineral producing districts are also its poorest and most underdeveloped districts. Forty per cent of mineral-rich districts are Naxalite-affected, says a report by the Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment (CSE).

Reasons for the rage

The expert group compared 20 severely Naxalite-affected districts in five states — Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Orissa — with 20 non-affected districts in the same states to establish a correlation between certain human development indicators and their links to social unrest. It found 10 important factors that apparently trigger the spread of Naxalism. These include a greater share of forest cover, greater share of agricultural labour in the workforce, and low per capita foodgrain production (see table below).

Identified factors which distinguish between affected and forward districts

 

Orissa
Jharkhand
Chhattisgarh
Bihar
Andhra Pradesh

 

Affected
Districts
Forward
Districts
Affected
Districts
Forward
Districts
Affected
Districts
Forward
Districts
Affected
Districts
Forward
Districts
Affected
Districts
Forward
Districts
Share of 
SC/ST 
(%)*
65 23 45 30 69 36 19 18 26 22
Literacy rate
(%)*
44 76 40 51 50 68 46 48 56 68
Infant 
Mortality
rate (%)
(1999)
123 73 n/a n/a 76 57 n/a n/a 34 28
Urbanisation
(%)*
17 23 10 37 7 29 12 8.6 24 27
Forest 
Coverage
(%)**
39 15 38 16 53 28 8 1 17 14
Agricultural 
Labourers 
(%)*
35 25 29 20 26 34 52 46 40 51
Per capita 
Foodgrain 
production
(Kg)*
151 95 n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a 121 293
Road length
per 100 
sq.kms@
n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a 44 70
Rural HH with
no Bank a/c
(%)*
81 80 77 74 83 82 83 80 69 72
Rural HH 
without 
specified 
assets (%)*
63 37 46 36 47 31 53 50 56 41

* : Figure based 2001 census.
**: Figure based on FSI 2003.
@ : Figure based on 1996-97

Alienation from land

Bringing land reforms back onto the national agenda is the expert group’s most important recommendation. “Efforts at implementation of ceiling laws stopped about two to three decades ago. A serious effort must be made to continuously implement the land ceiling laws, so that the ceiling-surplus land obtained is made available for distribution,” the report says. Most Naxalite-affected districts have a high percentage of landless people and marginal farmers.

The country’s land reforms initiative was, in fact, a response to growing tenant unrest, and also the Naxalbari uprising. India’s land reform laws took shape in the early-1960s and 1970s, with governments affording their implementation top priority. In 1972, when then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi met with chief ministers to discuss the growing Naxalite problem she brought land reforms back onto the national agenda. Then home minister Y B Chavan said: “We will not allow the green revolution to turn into a red revolution.”

During the 1980s and 1990s, however, the issue of land reforms went off the policymakers’ radar. Interestingly, this coincides with the opening up of India’s economy and liberalisation in the industrial sector. Most studies indicate that inequalities have increased rather than decreased. The number of landless labourers has gone up and the top 10% monopolise more land now than in 1951. It’s no wonder that Naxalism spread the most during this period: 120 districts out of 165 reported a Naxal presence during this period.

Over 170 million are estimated to be landless labourers in India; another 250 million own less than a fifth of a hectare.

The working group on land relations appointed by the Planning Commission called land reforms in India a “forgotten agenda”. “The policymakers are finding existing land reforms that were enacted on the basis of central guidelines of the early-’70s not only unwanted roadblocks but also obnoxious to the free play of capital in the land market,” said the group.

Land acquisition for industry and other development projects is another issue that has fuelled support for the Naxalites, says the expert group. It not only blames mindless land acquisition by the government for industry and other development works but also rejects the latest Land Acquisition (Amendment) Bill, 2007 as being “not effective” enough to hinder land alienation. The proposed Act is under consideration by Parliament. “Public purpose as defined in the Land Acquisition Act should be revised further and restricted to projects taken up for national security and public welfare implemented directly by the government. Public purpose should not be stretched to acquisition for companies and registered societies,” observes the expert group.

Naxalite-affected districts host close to 80% of people displaced by so-called development projects. It is no wonder that out of 250 people’s protests against land acquisition or eviction from forests, 200 took place in Naxalite-affected districts.

Of late, battles between Naxalites and the police have become more intense. This is because there has been an unprecedented increase in land acquisition in Naxalite-affected districts for the scores of industries coming up. Estimates show that Naxalite-affected districts, due to their mineral and water resources, are attracting foreign direct investments worth US$ 112 billion. For this kind of investment, governments have to acquire an estimated 50,000 ha of land. This is apart from the forestland that has to be diverted.

“It is critical for the government to recognise that dissent or expression of dissatisfaction is a positive feature of democracy, that unrest is often the only thing that actually puts pressure on the government to make things work and for the government to live up to its own promises. However the right to protest, even peacefully, is often not recognised by the authorities, and even non-violent agitations are met with severe repression,” says the report in a scathing criticism of government policy.

From margin to mainstream

Blaming the government for the sorry state of the country’s scheduled caste, scheduled tribe and other marginalised populations, the expert group recommends the re-organisation of programmes and policies concerning these groups. It finds that they have been formulated in isolation, thereby minimising their impact. It recommends widespread consultations between the parties concerned, and the launch of joint initiatives for concerted and compulsory action on the joint recommendations; this should become mandatory for all chief ministers.

The expert group identifies four instruments — the Provisions of the Panchayats (Extension to the Scheduled Areas) Act 1996, the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act 2005, the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest-Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act 2006, and the National Rehabilitation and Resettlement Policy 2007 (for which a Bill has been put before Parliament) — to help build a “protective shield” for marginalised groups. It argues that effective implementation of these Acts will curb the feeling of alienation among scheduled castes, scheduled tribes and other marginalised groups, thereby keeping them away from Naxalite influence.

The following are the key recommendations of the expert group:

  • All debt liabilities of weaker sections should be liquidated, in cases (i) wherein the debtor has paid an amount equivalent to the original principal amount, and (ii) wherein the intended benefit for which the loan was advanced has not accrued to the borrowers.
  • Forest produce should be provided a protective market by fixing a minimum support price for various commodities, upgrading traditional haats, and setting up modern storage facilities to avoid post-harvest losses. At the same time, the public distribution system should be specially designed for the specific needs of forest-dwellers.
  • Clarifications in the draft rules, circulated for the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest-Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act 2006, on June 19, 2007, for certain difficult points like “other traditional rights,”  “primarily reside in and dependent on forest or forest land,” “rights to minor forest produce,” etc, which were summarily deleted in the final notification of the rules published on January 1, 2008, should be fully restored to remove ambiguity and make implementation easy.    
  • All petty cases registered under forest-related legislation against tribals and other poor persons should be withdrawn.
  • Land tribunals or fast-track courts, under Article 323-B of the Constitution, should be set up for expeditious disposal of ceiling cases. Old cases should be unearthed and fresh inquiries conducted. Since landowners get a lot of time to manipulate and create false documents, no cut-off date for the re-opening of old cases should be prescribed.
  • The definition of land should be amplified to include government, public, forest, panchayat land and community property resources (CPRs), so that loss of use rights can be compensated.
  • Acquisition of agricultural land for non-agricultural purposes should be kept to the minimum through a land use policy with statutory backing. Social impact assessments should be strictly carried out in all cases to ensure that the impact of the project on the affected families is assessed in a holistic and transparent manner and ameliorative measures built into the rehabilitation plan.
  • The Planning Commission should consider devising a programme for the restoration of common property resources to provide sustenance to poorer communities.
  • The government should saturate rain-fed and dry farming areas with participatory watershed development projects to help conserve soil and water and develop natural resources, with suitable changes in cropping patterns under common guidelines issued by the ministries of agriculture and rural development for national watershed development projects for rain-fed areas.

(Richard Mahapatra is based in New Delhi and writes on environment and development. In 2006 he was awarded an Infochangeindia Research Fellowship for reportage on the impact of climate change in Orissa)

InfoChange News & Features, May 200





Green reasons for red rage

30 06 2008

By Richard Mahapatra

from: infochange environment

An expert group of the Planning Commission establishes a strong correlation between social unrest and the spread of Naxalism and poverty, landlessness and inequitable management of natural resources

An expert group on development challenges in extremist-affected areas (read: Naxalite-affected districts) set up by the Planning Commission of India in May 2006 has submitted its report to the Commission. The still-to-be-publicised report attributes the spread of Naxalite violence — which the prime minister has called the “biggest internal security threat India has ever had to face” — to centralised forest management, abandonment of land reforms and the disempowerment of panchayats in tribal areas. It calls for radical changes in India’s natural resource management regime.

The 18-member expert group held extensive discussions and reviewed development programmes and socio-economic status in Naxalite-affected areas. D Bandopadhyay, Executive Chairman of the Council for Social Development, Kolkata, chaired the expert group. Interestingly, of the 18 members only one represented the Planning Commission. Members included B D Sharma, noted human rights activist, and Bela Bhatia, Fellow, Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, Delhi.

Terming discrimination against scheduled castes and scheduled tribes “structural violence in society”, the expert group recommends changes in the development model in Naxalite-affected districts. “While not condoning the radical violence (of Naxalite groups), an honest response to it must, therefore, begin by ameliorating the structural violence in society,” the report says.

“Encouragement of vigilante groups such as Salwa Judum and herding of hapless tribals into makeshift camps with dismal living conditions, removed from their habitat and deprived of livelihood as a strategy to counter the influence of the radical Left is not desirable. It delegitimises politics, dehumanises people, degenerates those engaged in their ‘security’, and above all represents abdication of the State itself. It should be undone immediately,” the report continues. “It should be replaced by a strategy which positions an empowered taskforce of specially picked responsive officials to execute all protection and development programmes for their benefit and redress people’s grievances,” the report adds.

The expert group’s report is currently with the Planning Commission. Officials are giving it the final touches before sending it to the prime minister’s office.

Just a few months ago another Planning Commission group — the working group on land relations, set up to contribute to the preparation of the Eleventh Five-Year Plan — also termed Naxalite violence a symptom of brewing socio-economic turmoil in India’s poorest areas. “They (Naxalites) are proving to the hilt the doctrine of Mao Zedong of ‘fish in water’, where fish are militants and water is the mass of disgruntled and dissatisfied peasantry and landless agricultural workers,” the report says.

The geography of poverty

Naxalite activities have spread to 16 of 28 Indian states. According to the Union home ministry, Naxalite groups have an influence in at least 165 districts out of India’s 600-plus districts. The red corridor stretches to 92,000 square kilometres, from the Nepalese border to India’s southwest coast. It is estimated that 180 million people in the country are impacted by Naxalite insurgency. That is, every sixth Indian citizen lives in the Naxalite shadow.

Since 2003, more than 2,500 people have been killed in Naxalite violence while 7,000 incidents of violence involving Naxalites have been reported. In the last four years, more and more civilians are being killed in the violence; most of them belong either to the scheduled tribes or scheduled castes. Naxalite violence and the number of casualties are the highest in Chhattisgarh. While it has declined in Andhra Pradesh, it is on the rise in Orissa. The increase in Naxalite violence in Chhattisgarh is attributed to Naxalites targeting the Salwa Judum campaign to counter the movement.

The 165 Naxalite-affected districts are among the country’s 200 poorest and most backward districts, as ranked by the Planning Commission of India. The irony of this is not lost: if you superimpose a map of India’s forests, its minerals, its watersheds, and its poorest people (specifically tribal people), you will get a map of the spread of India’s Naxalite movement. According to a research paper from the Prem Bhatia Memorial Trust, New Delhi, Naxalites control close to 19% of India’s ‘good’ forests. This is because Naxalite-affected districts account for around 40% of India’s forest areas. India’s major mineral producing districts are also its poorest and most underdeveloped districts. Forty per cent of mineral-rich districts are Naxalite-affected, says a report by the Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment (CSE).

Reasons for the rage

The expert group compared 20 severely Naxalite-affected districts in five states — Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Orissa — with 20 non-affected districts in the same states to establish a correlation between certain human development indicators and their links to social unrest. It found 10 important factors that apparently trigger the spread of Naxalism. These include a greater share of forest cover, greater share of agricultural labour in the workforce, and low per capita foodgrain production (see table below).

Identified factors which distinguish between affected and forward districts

Orissa
Jharkhand
Chhattisgarh
Bihar
Andhra Pradesh

Affected
Districts
Forward
Districts
Affected
Districts
Forward
Districts
Affected
Districts
Forward
Districts
Affected
Districts
Forward
Districts
Affected
Districts
Forward
Districts
Share of
SC/ST
(%)*
65 23 45 30 69 36 19 18 26 22
Literacy rate
(%)*
44 76 40 51 50 68 46 48 56 68
Infant
Mortality
rate (%)
(1999)
123 73 n/a n/a 76 57 n/a n/a 34 28
Urbanisation
(%)*
17 23 10 37 7 29 12 8.6 24 27
Forest
Coverage
(%)**
39 15 38 16 53 28 8 1 17 14
Agricultural
Labourers
(%)*
35 25 29 20 26 34 52 46 40 51
Per capita
Foodgrain
production
(Kg)*
151 95 n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a 121 293
Road length
per 100
sq.kms@
n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a 44 70
Rural HH with
no Bank a/c
(%)*
81 80 77 74 83 82 83 80 69 72
Rural HH
without
specified
assets (%)*
63 37 46 36 47 31 53 50 56 41

* : Figure based 2001 census.
**: Figure based on FSI 2003.
@ : Figure based on 1996-97

Alienation from land

Bringing land reforms back onto the national agenda is the expert group’s most important recommendation. “Efforts at implementation of ceiling laws stopped about two to three decades ago. A serious effort must be made to continuously implement the land ceiling laws, so that the ceiling-surplus land obtained is made available for distribution,” the report says. Most Naxalite-affected districts have a high percentage of landless people and marginal farmers.

The country’s land reforms initiative was, in fact, a response to growing tenant unrest, and also the Naxalbari uprising. India’s land reform laws took shape in the early-1960s and 1970s, with governments affording their implementation top priority. In 1972, when then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi met with chief ministers to discuss the growing Naxalite problem she brought land reforms back onto the national agenda. Then home minister Y B Chavan said: “We will not allow the green revolution to turn into a red revolution.”

During the 1980s and 1990s, however, the issue of land reforms went off the policymakers’ radar. Interestingly, this coincides with the opening up of India’s economy and liberalisation in the industrial sector. Most studies indicate that inequalities have increased rather than decreased. The number of landless labourers has gone up and the top 10% monopolise more land now than in 1951. It’s no wonder that Naxalism spread the most during this period: 120 districts out of 165 reported a Naxal presence during this period.

Over 170 million are estimated to be landless labourers in India; another 250 million own less than a fifth of a hectare.

The working group on land relations appointed by the Planning Commission called land reforms in India a “forgotten agenda”. “The policymakers are finding existing land reforms that were enacted on the basis of central guidelines of the early-’70s not only unwanted roadblocks but also obnoxious to the free play of capital in the land market,” said the group.

Land acquisition for industry and other development projects is another issue that has fuelled support for the Naxalites, says the expert group. It not only blames mindless land acquisition by the government for industry and other development works but also rejects the latest Land Acquisition (Amendment) Bill, 2007 as being “not effective” enough to hinder land alienation. The proposed Act is under consideration by Parliament. “Public purpose as defined in the Land Acquisition Act should be revised further and restricted to projects taken up for national security and public welfare implemented directly by the government. Public purpose should not be stretched to acquisition for companies and registered societies,” observes the expert group.

Naxalite-affected districts host close to 80% of people displaced by so-called development projects. It is no wonder that out of 250 people’s protests against land acquisition or eviction from forests, 200 took place in Naxalite-affected districts.

Of late, battles between Naxalites and the police have become more intense. This is because there has been an unprecedented increase in land acquisition in Naxalite-affected districts for the scores of industries coming up. Estimates show that Naxalite-affected districts, due to their mineral and water resources, are attracting foreign direct investments worth US$ 112 billion. For this kind of investment, governments have to acquire an estimated 50,000 ha of land. This is apart from the forestland that has to be diverted.

“It is critical for the government to recognise that dissent or expression of dissatisfaction is a positive feature of democracy, that unrest is often the only thing that actually puts pressure on the government to make things work and for the government to live up to its own promises. However the right to protest, even peacefully, is often not recognised by the authorities, and even non-violent agitations are met with severe repression,” says the report in a scathing criticism of government policy.

From margin to mainstream

Blaming the government for the sorry state of the country’s scheduled caste, scheduled tribe and other marginalised populations, the expert group recommends the re-organisation of programmes and policies concerning these groups. It finds that they have been formulated in isolation, thereby minimising their impact. It recommends widespread consultations between the parties concerned, and the launch of joint initiatives for concerted and compulsory action on the joint recommendations; this should become mandatory for all chief ministers.

The expert group identifies four instruments — the Provisions of the Panchayats (Extension to the Scheduled Areas) Act 1996, the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act 2005, the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest-Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act 2006, and the National Rehabilitation and Resettlement Policy 2007 (for which a Bill has been put before Parliament) — to help build a “protective shield” for marginalised groups. It argues that effective implementation of these Acts will curb the feeling of alienation among scheduled castes, scheduled tribes and other marginalised groups, thereby keeping them away from Naxalite influence.

The following are the key recommendations of the expert group:

  • All debt liabilities of weaker sections should be liquidated, in cases (i) wherein the debtor has paid an amount equivalent to the original principal amount, and (ii) wherein the intended benefit for which the loan was advanced has not accrued to the borrowers.
  • Forest produce should be provided a protective market by fixing a minimum support price for various commodities, upgrading traditional haats, and setting up modern storage facilities to avoid post-harvest losses. At the same time, the public distribution system should be specially designed for the specific needs of forest-dwellers.
  • Clarifications in the draft rules, circulated for the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest-Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act 2006, on June 19, 2007, for certain difficult points like “other traditional rights,”  “primarily reside in and dependent on forest or forest land,” “rights to minor forest produce,” etc, which were summarily deleted in the final notification of the rules published on January 1, 2008, should be fully restored to remove ambiguity and make implementation easy.
  • All petty cases registered under forest-related legislation against tribals and other poor persons should be withdrawn.
  • Land tribunals or fast-track courts, under Article 323-B of the Constitution, should be set up for expeditious disposal of ceiling cases. Old cases should be unearthed and fresh inquiries conducted. Since landowners get a lot of time to manipulate and create false documents, no cut-off date for the re-opening of old cases should be prescribed.
  • The definition of land should be amplified to include government, public, forest, panchayat land and community property resources (CPRs), so that loss of use rights can be compensated.
  • Acquisition of agricultural land for non-agricultural purposes should be kept to the minimum through a land use policy with statutory backing. Social impact assessments should be strictly carried out in all cases to ensure that the impact of the project on the affected families is assessed in a holistic and transparent manner and ameliorative measures built into the rehabilitation plan.
  • The Planning Commission should consider devising a programme for the restoration of common property resources to provide sustenance to poorer communities.
  • The government should saturate rain-fed and dry farming areas with participatory watershed development projects to help conserve soil and water and develop natural resources, with suitable changes in cropping patterns under common guidelines issued by the ministries of agriculture and rural development for national watershed development projects for rain-fed areas.

(Richard Mahapatra is based in New Delhi and writes on environment and development. In 2006 he was awarded an Infochangeindia Research Fellowship for reportage on the impact of climate change in Orissa)

InfoChange News & Features, May 200





Meeting the Naxal challenge

30 06 2008

Praful Bidwai

Has the Indian government established at least a degree of control over Naxalite activity? And has it got any wiser about how to contain Naxal-related violence after almost four decades of trying?

Going by the first meeting of the Standing Committee of chief ministers of Naxalite-affected states on September 19, and the October 5 conference of directors general of police, the answer isn’t clear. The CMs’ meeting happened barely a month after Andhra Pradesh reimposed a ban on a range of Naxalite groups followed by Chhattisgarh.

In both cases, the proscription followed violent incidents. In Chhattisgarh, the Naxals demonstrated their military prowess by blowing up a mine-proof vehicle carrying 24 Central Reserve Police Force personnel with a mine. This sent the vehicle flying 35 feet up in the air till it landed 90 feet away. In Andhra, they killed a Congress MLA on Independence Day.

PM assures help in tackling Naxalites

This deplorable violence formed the backdrop to the tough talk heard at the Standing Committee, itself encouraged by Union Home Minister Shivraj Patil’s recent statements advocating the use of violence against Naxals.

Not many recalled the background to the violence, which was preceded by police brutality not just against Naxals, but ordinary villagers merely suspected to be their informers.

Even so, a consensus was reached on a ‘two-pronged’ approach: of ‘firmly tackling the security threat, and simultaneously implementing programmes for socio-economic development of vulnerable areas.’ Patil urged the CMs to ‘act compassionately but in a determined manner; use force but properly and discreetly.’

The states agreed to appoint ‘nodal officers’ for coordination. A handsome Rs 2,000 crores (Rs 20 billion) was allocated annually to anti-Naxal ‘police modernisation.’ The Centre gave the go-ahead to the use of sophisticated weaponry like helicopters and armoured vehicles in anti-Naxal operations. In addition, Rs 2 crores per Naxal-affected district was granted to “accelerate socio-economic development.”

This works out to a much smaller Rs 280 crores. The two “prongs,” then, are unequal in length. Indeed, the conclusion that many CMs and policemen have drawn from the Delhi deliberations is that they must step up the use of force. Thus, Andhra Director-General of police Swaranjit Sen, known for his machismo, hubris and trigger-happiness, and for his threats to sue journalists who interview the CPI-Maoist says he’ll use helicopters to “bring Naxalites out of forests,” and transport men and material for anti-extremist operations.

Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand are considering the “Afghanistan Solution” — building a network of highways through forests to connect remote villages and create a “security corridor.” (It’s another matter that this hasn’t worked in Afghanistan. Besides, destroying forests and disrupting village life would aggravate the Naxal problem.) Even more dramatically, Bihar is planning to use satellite imagery to track Naxal activities.

Who are the Naxalites?

Such fancy high-tech schemes are fundamentally misconceived. They miss the point about the Naxalites’ strengths and weaknesses. Satellite pictures might have helped if the Naxals had permanent camps or held large-scale gatherings. But they don’t operate that way. Typically, they mix with villagers following Mao’s dictum about guerrillas and people being like fish and water. Helicopter gunships would be effective in mowing down whole hamlets — as the US, for instance, did in Vietnam, or is doing in Colombia.

But that involves indiscriminate violence, which in turn can only foment Naxal counter-violence.

The key to the problem lies in breaking this cycle of violence-and-counter-violence, not in raising it on to a higher military-technological plane. This happens when the state tries to tilt the power balance decisively in its favour through tough measures, starting with a ban and using increasingly lethal force to “instil the fear of God in the enemy”, as some policemen put it. But force can rarely deter counter-force. If states gain access to high-tech weapons, so can non-state actors, although they are much less dependent on arms than governments.

Past experience suggests that bans usually don’t achieve their purpose. They cannot significantly expand the government’s powers to deal with violence. Plenty of powers are available under existing laws, which cover a wide range of violent acts, and abetting, assisting or promoting them. Laws like the Public Security Act, used in many states, are draconian. They criminalise even acts of sympathy for Naxals, including giving them medical care. They punish people who might take Naxalites’ help in settling land or monetary disputes, which the law courts take years to resolve. This Naxal role has been praised even by police officers.

Bans can be counter-productive too. Take the People’s War Group, which merged a year ago with the Maoist Communist Centre to form the CPI-Maoist. It was proscribed in Andhra way back in 1992. Barring a short interval in 1996, it remained banned until July 2004. Through these 12 years, the group’s activities and influence grew not just in Andhra, but in adjacent states like Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra, Orissa, and most recently, even Karnataka, which now has some 600 Naxal activists.

The government’s knee-jerk response to Naxalism is always to treat it as a law-and-order or “security” problem. Yet, Naxalism — the movement named after an armed uprising of 1967 in Naxalbari village in West Bengal’s Darjeeling district — is different from other militant movements which typically remain confined to single states and to single issues.

Indeed, over 38 years, Naxalism has grown steadily, spawning 30-odd groups. Its core-areas first spread from the forests of West Bengal, Andhra and Bihar to their plains, as well as to Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh — and to contiguous states.

According to the Delhi-based Institute for Conflict Management, Naxalite presence expanded from 55 districts in nine states in 2003 to 156 districts in 13 states in 2004, and to 170 districts in 15 states this past February. In their strongholds — about 55 districts in 12 states — the Naxalites run a parallel government. The Centre’s own figures are similar.

Karl and the Kalashnikov

The reasons for the Naxals’ success are fairly straightforward. Naxals flourish where there are huge disparities in assets and incomes, and where injustice and violence by the privileged are rampant. Prakash Singh, former Border Security Force chief, and author of a book on Naxalism, holds: ‘The Naxal movement is irrepressible because it draws sustenance from the grievances of the people which have not be addressed by the government� Regarding land reforms, even the Tenth Plan document admits, “the record of most states in implementing the existing laws is dismal”.’

Mr Singh is no ‘softie.’ In India, only 1.3 per cent of agricultural land has been redistributed through tenancy reform and land ceilings — compared to 43 per cent in China, 37 in Taiwan, 33 in Japan [Images], and 32 per cent in South Korea.

Former Bihar chief secretary Kamala Prasad has a more comprehensive explanation for Naxalism’s success. He attributes it to numerous failures of the state. It began as a revolt of the landless poor who were defrauded of their rights and could find no justice. “There was gathering disillusionment among the youth about the quality of our democracy. Inherent also was a forewarning on the core issues of securing responsive, accountable and genuinely representative government. The adherents were still carried by the belief that the government would respect the force of their commitment,” says Prasad.

He describes Naxalism through metaphors: the failure of law and order, ambiguity of social policy, failings of democratic processes, failure of the party system, and deficits of governance.

The Naxalite problem recently got aggravated because of the Indian state’s withdrawal from public services, leading to their near-collapse, and the growing illegitimacy of governance in many regions, coupled with massive corruption. This has led to failing states in many parts of India. Agrarian distress, growing unemployment, and depredations of the forester-contractor mafia, have intensified popular discontent. As has unequal globalisation.

The United Progressive Alliance showed some comprehension of this. Its Common Minimum Programme said that Naxalism isn’t a mere law-and-order problem; the social and economic grievances underlying it must be addressed. To do so, the government must redefine the balance between the two “prongs” of its dual-tract approach by emphasising redressal of peoples’ grievances against inequalities and deprivation over law-and-order.

More, it must add a strategic third prong: giving the Naxals a democratic space for self-expression and encouraging them to come overground.

This approach worked in Andhra in the late 1980s. Chief Minister Y S Rajasekhar Reddy raised hopes of its revival when he lifted the ban on the PWG-CPI-Maoist last year and held talks with them. The party got a roaring public reception on its way from the forests to Hyderabad. But the government didn’t act honestly. It cheated the Naxals by tracking their forest hideouts in their absence and obtaining intelligence through coercion. And it refused to negotiate their reasonable demands about recovering public lands illegally grabbed by powerful interests. The talks failed. The government accused the Naxals of ‘regrouping’ and launched a major offensive. This brought on counter-attacks.

There’s a lesson here. If the government is serious about controlling Naxal violence, it must address its structural causes and not resort to gimmicks like Salwa Judum (peace campaign) in Chhattisgarh. It must of course protect citizens’ lives, but in lawful, Constitutional, humane ways. It must promote justice and equality. Or Naxalism will continue to spread.

Praful Bidwai