Sreelatha Menon: Mirror on the wall

11 06 2008

EAR TO THE GROUND

Sreelatha Menon / New Delhi May 18, 2008, 2:24 IST

A Planning Commission report points at lack of empowerment of local communities as the main reason for the fast spread of the Naxal movement.

The UPA government will be known for many achievements, notably the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, the Right to Information Act, and if all goes well, the Women’s Reservation Act as well.
But the finest may yet come if the recommendations of an expert group of the Planning Commission on development challenges in extremist-affected areas are translated into action.
The report is honest and harsh about the mistakes governments have made over the last 60 years that have led to Naxalism thriving in so many districts of the country. It asks governments to undo the damage and do everything, including talking to Naxalites, “to rectify a historic wrong.”
The report says lack of empowerment of panchayats is one of the key causes for lack of development in rural areas with the Provision for Extension of Panchayat Act (PESA) only partially implemented in tribal areas.
It raises the issue of states’ unwillingness to part with their power and functions to share them with panchayats. The fact that the writ of the state does not run in as many as 125 districts in extremism-affected areas makes it clear that the state bureaucracy has abjectly failed in delivering good governance in these areas. Hence, empowerment of panchayats would practically be the only way for effective governance of these areas.
It also looks at the huge underbelly of deprivation below the crest of 9 per cent growth rate. Even the government’s attempt to bridge this has resulted in more divides.
“We have two worlds of education, two worlds of health, two worlds of transport and two worlds of housing..,”it says.
It also points at the many conflicts that are going on in mining zones even as new steel companies are exploring ground to do business without any intention of including communities as stakeholders.
It says “even those who know very little about the Naxalite movement know that its central slogan has been ‘land to the tiller’ and that attempts to put the poor in possession of land have defined much of their activity.”
In this context, the report questions the wisdom of having special economic zones (SEZs), saying “the notion of an SEZ, irrespective of whether it is established on multi-cropped land or not, is an assault on livelihood”. It again points at intrusion into the vital life vein of tribal and rural communities viz their common property resources, which contribute significantly to the rural economy and provide sustenance to local communities in rural areas.
It says privatisation is carried out through extension of the boundaries of private farms, forcible grabbing, and distributive policies of the government, and hints that all these are making it a cakewalk for Naxalites.
Nandini Sundar, a teacher and scholar who has written vastly on Naxal issues, says it is one of the finest reports and looks at the matter exactly as it should. She welcomes the suggestion that the government should talk to Naxalites. If it can succeed in Nepal, why not with the Maoists in India, she asks.

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