Sreelatha Menon: A homecoming in Bastar

21 07 2008
Sreelatha Menon: A homecoming in Bastar
Sreelatha Menon / New Delhi July 20, 2008, 0:26 IST

The collector of Dantewada has agreed to give 10 quintals of paddy seed to restart farming in Nendra. Nendra is a village in Konta block in Dantewada district in Chhattisgarh which has been lying deserted for the last three years after multiple attacks by the government-backed anti-Naxal militia, the Salwa Judum, and the police. The collector’s gesture was in reciprocation of a rehabilitation effort by an NGO called Vanvasi Chetna Ashram to facilitate homecoming for the villagers who were living either in jungles fearing reprisals from the Salwa Judum and the police, or in neighbouring villages of Andhra Pradesh. Some of them are in camps set up by the state government.

The effort started this month, with 11 members of the ashram turning into a human shield and escorting the fugitive tribals to their village and staying with them.

There has been little support from the police. There were firings on the villagers. The first incident made them run for their lives to their familiar hideouts in the jungles.

Two boys, Madkam Bheem and Vetti Pojja, both about 16 years old, were caught this week while returning from the markets in the villages of Andhra Pradesh and are currently in Dantewada jail.

The police fired in the village a second time this week. But this time, the villagers did not flee and the police returned without harming anyone.

Himanshu Kumar, who has been running the ashram for the last 16 years in the Bastar area, says more villages are seeking their human shields to revive life in the abandoned hamlets.

People who have fled from about 25 villages are meeting in Nendra to extend the human shield initiative to their villages.

The human shield members, who took with them 15 quintals of paddy and a lot of clothes for the 100 families returning to Nendra, are currently helping the people cultivate their abandoned fields.

The collector’s gesture was to support this effort.

The Supreme Court ruled recently that the government of Chhattisgarh was acting in an illegal and unconstitutional way in arming civilians to fight the Naxalites. A report of the Planning Commission seconded this and said that Salwa Judum was a terrible mistake and had no place in a democratic and free country.

The Planning Commission report on Salwa Judum and Naxalites was presented yesterday before the home ministry’s task force.

What will take the powers-to-be to change their mind and understand that people have to live in their homes and cannot be held fugitives in their own country?

The human shield initiative is, meanwhile, preparing to leave for another deserted village, Vechapad, in Bhairamgadh block in Bastar’s Bijapur district. Himanshu Kumar says he has informed the police but they are asking them to wait saying an operation was going on there.

What is the guarantee that people returning from the Salwa Judum camps, usually identified with the atrocities attributed to the Salwa Judum, would be let off by the Naxalites and the people hiding in the jungles?

Himanshu Kumar says he has been speaking to the villagers outside the camps and they say there is no danger from them. He says Naxalites are also promising that they will not make reprisal attacks on the villagers and the SPOs if they come home.

At a time the government is introspecting about the Salwa Judum and does not know what to do with the Naxalites, the worst thing it can do is to sever ties with the civil society. It can begin by looking at activists like Himanshu Kumar and Binayak Sen as just that rather than conspirators against it, and instead use jails and police against criminals rather than activists.

NAVHIND TIMES

Roots of the Problem

EDITORIAL

During last one month the Maoists have killed nearly 60 security personnel belonging to the Greyhound force, constituted specially to counter Naxalite actions in various states. They trapped a boat carrying 40 jawans of the Greyhound who were on their mission to Orissa from Andhra Pradesh and killed them. A few days ago they killed 20 jawans in Orissa’s Malkangiri district in a mine blast. Even the Mine Protected Vehicle in which the cops were moving failed to protect them. Significantly this vehicle costing Rs 55 lakh was developed to suit the needs of paramilitary forces operating in Naxalite areas. Unfortunately this vehicle could not withstand the Naxalite attack. In fact the attack did not come suddenly. The general secretary of the CPI (Maoist), Mr M Lakshmana Rao alias Ganapathy had warned that they would intensify their actions against the state machinery, as destruction of the enemy forces was on their immediate agenda. In fact the Maoist targeting the enemy is not confined to Orissa or Andhra Pradesh, but it is happening also in Kiul in the eastern parts of Bihar. They have been blowing rail tracks and killing security forces and also innocent people. Though the government has been promising to take on the Naxalites so far it has not resulted in any significant reduction, except for deployment of some well-trained police personnel. Significantly on the eve of the meeting of chief ministers of Naxalite-affected states in Hyderabad last September, the Prime Minister had suggested to the states to evolve a concrete socio-economic action programme to counter the Naxalite challenge. But so far the central government or the concerned states have not chalked out any such programme and instead continue to follow the old path of meeting force with force. Look at the modus operandi of the Naxalites. They have selected the backward areas of eastern and central India and indoctrinated poor people. The resurgence of Naxalism in these areas owes to the callous administration of the state governments in these regions. The government ought to realize that it cannot counter Naxalites with force. It must reach out to the poor of the regions and give them real empowerment. It must realize that India is home not only to middle classes, but also to 70 per cent of people who are poor.

10 worst actions (attacks ) by NAXALISTES

The recent daring Naxal attack in Nayagarh, raised questions on the effectiveness of government’s intelligence system and the strength of police force to face the Maoist menace. States like Orissa, Bihar, Jharkhand, Chhatisgarh, Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal are worst-affected by an unprecedented spur in Naxal activities.

People’s struggle has unfortunately transformed into a power struggle. We have listed the 10 deadliest naxal or Maoist attacks in India in the past five years. They are listed in a chronological order. Here you go:

1) Attack on N. Chandrababu Naidu (Oct, 2003)

The TDP chief and then Chief Minister N. Chandrababu Naidu had a narrow escape, when one of the Naxalites, failed to intimate his team about Mr. Naidu’s exact movement. A few seconds delay in triggering the claymore mines, saved Naidu’s life. Naidu, his colleague, B. Gopalakrishna Reddy, legislators R. Rajasekhara Reddy and Chadalavada Krishna Murthy, and security personnel were injured in the attack. Naidu was on his way to Tirupati on October 01, 2003, when the attack was carried out by a special team of Maoists at the foothills of Tirumala.

2) Naxal Attack in Koraput (2004)

In a daring attack, over 1000 Maoists attacked Orissa’s district headquarter town of Koraput and looted 2000 sophisticated guns and other weapons worth Rs 50 crore. There was a panic in the town, as the Naxalites continued their operation for 6 hours. They looted the district armory, five police stations, Koraput jail, SP’s office and the OSAP battalion. One sentry and two CRPF jawans were killed and 11 others injured in the attack. Over 500 Maoists were involved in the operation.

3) Jehanabad Jail-break (2005)

On November 13, 2005, over 1,000 Maoists laid virtual siege to Jehanabad town on the night of November 13, 2005 and freed over 375 prisoners including 130 Naxalites. The Naxal operation continued for seven hours and security personnel could do nothing to prevent this. They killed several Ranvir Sena men and police personnel. The Maoists looted 185 rifles and 2,000 rounds of ammunition.

4) Naxal attack in R Udayagiri, 40 Prisoners freed (Feb, 2006)

On March 24, 2006, Maoists lashed with arms and ammunition, attacked the Orissa State Armed Police camp at R Udayagiri in Gajapati district of Orissa, killing three policemen. The looted arms and freed around 40 prisoners. There were more than 500 Maoists involved in the attack.

5) Chhatisgarh Naxal Attack (2006)

At least 25 people were killed and 80 others injured, when over 800 armed Naxalites attacked a village in Dantewada district of Chhatisgarh on July 17, 2006. Some of the villages were hacked to death with sharp weapons, while few were charred to death. The attack took place at Errabore relief camp where more than 4000 people had taken shelter. The Naxalites also kidnapped more than 20 people, while 200 others fled from the spot.

6) Naxalites kill JMM MP Sunil Mahato (2007)

Armed Naxalites shot dead JMM MP (Lok Sabha) Sunil Kumar Mahato, his bodyguards and a party colleague while they were watching a football match at Bakuria village near Jamshedpur in Jharkhand. The incident took place on March 05, 2007.

7) Naxalites attack Police Outpost, kill 55 Security Pesonnel (2007)

The Naxalites attacked a police outpost in Chhatisgarh’s Rani Bodli village in Chhatisgarh, killing 55 police personnel. 24 of the deceased belonged to state police, while 31 others were Special Police Officers (SPOs). It was an irony that the security personnel were unable to even defend themselves – forget about the counter-attack. Most of the policemen were asleep when over 500 Naxalites carried out the attack. They used sophisticated weapons, lobbed grenades and bombs on them.

8) Naxal attack in Dantewada, 303 Prisoners freed (2007)

The Naxalites attacked the Dantewada jail and freed 303 priosners. Over 100 of them were Naxalites. They also snatched weapons of prison guards. The incident occurred on December 16, 2007. It was a major blow for the state government. It was reported that most of them fled to the jungles of Orissa. Although 25 prisoners, were recaptured, none of them were Naxalites.

9) Naxalites kill Babulal Marandi’s son (2007)

Former Jharkhand CM Babulal Marandi’s son Anup and 17 others were killed in a Naxal attack at Chilkhadia village in Giridih district of Jharkhand. The Naxals opened indiscriminate fire and exploded bombs when a cultural program was being held. Marandi’s brother Nunulal, who was also present at the function, escaped unhurt.

10) Nayagarh Naxal Attack (2008)

The Naxal attack in Nayagarh on the night of February 15, 2008, was called as the mother of all Naxal attacks. Hundreds of Maoists came in buses and trucks, and laid seize of the district headquarter town of Nayagarh in Orissa. Nayagarh is only 90 minutes away from the state capital, Bhubaneswar and no Naxal activities were reported in that area in the past.

A large group of Naxalites attacked the police stations in Nayagarh, Dashpalla and Nuagaon. They killed 14 policemen and one civilian. They also torched the Police Training School. The Maoists looted a huge number of arms and ammunition (worth crores of rupees) from the armoury.

The Orissa government launched the biggest anti-Naxal operation in the country to track down the Naxals. Over 700 state police personnel, CRPF personnel, SOG Commandos, Special Greyhound Force from Andhra Pradesh and IAF Helicopters launched massive offensive on the Naxals by encirling them at Gasma mountain. However, the Naxalites either managed to flee or mixed with the local people, making the task of the security personnel more difficult.

A CRPF Assistant Commandant (one of the co-founders of SOG) and two other security personnel were killed, while over 20 Maoists were reportedly killed. Over 50 percent of the looted arms and ammunition were recovered from the forest. The Orissa government has extended the operation to different parts of the state and it’s still going on.

Chronology of Naxal attacks in recent years
September 7, 2007 Former Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N Janardhan Reddy and his wife N Rajyalakshmi, escaped unhurt while three Congress workers were killed in a Maoist attack in Nellore district in Andhra Pradesh.
July 10, 2007 Naxalites attacked a police team with light machine guns and mortar bombs in a dense forest area of Chhattisgarh, killing at least 24 security personnel.
July 1, 2007 Nine persons, including five policemen, were killed and as many were wounded as CPI-Maoist rebels carried out simultaneous attacks on a police station and an outpost in Sasaram in Bihar’s Rohtas district and fled with arms and ammunition.
April 28, 2007 Five security personnel were killed in a landmine blast triggered by Maoist rebels in Michgaon village of Kanker district, about 175 km south of Raipur in Chattisgarh
Mar 16, 2007 Maoists attacked a police post in the remote jungles of in Rani Bodli in Chattisgarh with gunfire, hand grenades and gasoline bombs, killing at least 49 people
March 5, 2007 Naxalites shot dead Jharkhand Mukti Morcha’s Lok Sabha MP Sunil Kumar Mahato. Two of his bodyguards and a party colleague were also killed in the attack when they were witnessing a football match organised to mark Holi at a village in Jamshedpur in Jharkhand
July 17, 2006 At least 25 people were killed and 80 injured, 32 of them seriously, while about 250 people were missing following an attack by some 800 armed Naxalites in Dantewada district of Chattisgarh
February 9, 2006 Eight Central Industrial Security Force personnel were killed and eight others injured when Naxalites raided a godown of the National Mineral Development Corporation (NMDC) and took away explosives from a village near Bailadila in Jagdalpur in Chattisgarh
1 March 2005 In a major attack, Naxalites shot dead eight villagers and blew up a forest rest house, injuring a CRPF constable in Andhra Pradesh
November 13, 2005 Hundreds of activists of the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist) attacked the police lines in south Bihar’s Jehanabad district

(With inputs from PTI and IANS)

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Sreelatha Menon: A homecoming in Bastar

21 07 2008
Sreelatha Menon: A homecoming in Bastar
Sreelatha Menon / New Delhi July 20, 2008, 0:26 IST

The collector of Dantewada has agreed to give 10 quintals of paddy seed to restart farming in Nendra. Nendra is a village in Konta block in Dantewada district in Chhattisgarh which has been lying deserted for the last three years after multiple attacks by the government-backed anti-Naxal militia, the Salwa Judum, and the police. The collector’s gesture was in reciprocation of a rehabilitation effort by an NGO called Vanvasi Chetna Ashram to facilitate homecoming for the villagers who were living either in jungles fearing reprisals from the Salwa Judum and the police, or in neighbouring villages of Andhra Pradesh. Some of them are in camps set up by the state government.

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The effort started this month, with 11 members of the ashram turning into a human shield and escorting the fugitive tribals to their village and staying with them.

There has been little support from the police. There were firings on the villagers. The first incident made them run for their lives to their familiar hideouts in the jungles.

Two boys, Madkam Bheem and Vetti Pojja, both about 16 years old, were caught this week while returning from the markets in the villages of Andhra Pradesh and are currently in Dantewada jail.

The police fired in the village a second time this week. But this time, the villagers did not flee and the police returned without harming anyone.

Himanshu Kumar, who has been running the ashram for the last 16 years in the Bastar area, says more villages are seeking their human shields to revive life in the abandoned hamlets.

People who have fled from about 25 villages are meeting in Nendra to extend the human shield initiative to their villages.

The human shield members, who took with them 15 quintals of paddy and a lot of clothes for the 100 families returning to Nendra, are currently helping the people cultivate their abandoned fields.

The collector’s gesture was to support this effort.

The Supreme Court ruled recently that the government of Chhattisgarh was acting in an illegal and unconstitutional way in arming civilians to fight the Naxalites. A report of the Planning Commission seconded this and said that Salwa Judum was a terrible mistake and had no place in a democratic and free country.

The Planning Commission report on Salwa Judum and Naxalites was presented yesterday before the home ministry’s task force.

What will take the powers-to-be to change their mind and understand that people have to live in their homes and cannot be held fugitives in their own country?

The human shield initiative is, meanwhile, preparing to leave for another deserted village, Vechapad, in Bhairamgadh block in Bastar’s Bijapur district. Himanshu Kumar says he has informed the police but they are asking them to wait saying an operation was going on there.

What is the guarantee that people returning from the Salwa Judum camps, usually identified with the atrocities attributed to the Salwa Judum, would be let off by the Naxalites and the people hiding in the jungles?

Himanshu Kumar says he has been speaking to the villagers outside the camps and they say there is no danger from them. He says Naxalites are also promising that they will not make reprisal attacks on the villagers and the SPOs if they come home.

At a time the government is introspecting about the Salwa Judum and does not know what to do with the Naxalites, the worst thing it can do is to sever ties with the civil society. It can begin by looking at activists like Himanshu Kumar and Binayak Sen as just that rather than conspirators against it, and instead use jails and police against criminals rather than activists.





New left still maintains the old heroes

7 07 2008

Wednesday June 18 2008 09:25 IST
Francois Gautier
From: Newindpress.com

WHEN we were young, our heroes were Mao Zedong, Che Guevara, or even Pol Pot. Of course, in time, we learnt about the crimes of Mao, who killed millions of his own people — Pol Pot, of course was even more of a monster. Stalin was not much better.

Thus, in most of the world, communism is practically dead. One cannot call China anymore a communist country —indeed, there may not be a more ruthless capitalistic nation today — and even Cuba is inching towards free trade. In India though, not only is communism not dead, it is flourishing ! You find communist governments in West Bengal, partly in Kerala or Tripura and the present Congress government owes its survival to the communists.

In a way, it is positive. You see a youth like Nandan, filmmaker Mani Ratnam’s son, who was a “Red Volunteer” at a recent CPI-M meet in Chennai. Or you come across an ardent communist like Dr Binayak Sen, now in jail. Communists often live a simple life and are committed. Witness the youthful leader Sitaram Yetchury.

Unfortunately, there is also a darker side : Indian communists have totally aligned themselves with Lenin and Mao, to the point that not only they are antispiritual, particularly targeting Hindus, but often anti-Indian. They will never criticise China and even take sides with the Chinese in case of tensions between Delhi and Beijing.

There is an even more dangerous angle: when communism takes on an armed face. In India it is naxalism. The naxal movement, basically a Maoist-inspired armed struggle, began as a violent peasant uprising against the landlords at Naxalbari village in West Bengal on May 25, 1967. It is true that naxalism may have risen out a wounded sense of injustice, seeing how there are still unforgivable disparities in certain parts of India which have suffered for centuries from caste discrimination, exploitation by landlords and the lethargy of the administrative and political system.

However, the naxals are clear about their objectives. They freely quote from Mao: “Its (Maoism’s) purpose is to destroy an existing society and its institutions and to replace them with a completely new structure.” Indeed, if one looks closely at naxalism today, one sees murder, rape, kidnap, extortion, money laundering and human rights violations.

Today, 16 of the 35 States and Union Territories have Maoists operating. This affects 192 of India’s 604 districts. In the last twelve months, naxalism has redoubled its efforts to break up Indian society. On March 15, 2007, Maoist rebels massacred 16 officers of the Chhattisgarh Armed Force, 39 Special Police Officers and injured 12 others at Rani Bodli village. On Oct 27, armed naxals massacred 17 people including a former Jharkhand chief minister’s son in Chilkhari village of the state’s Giridih district. On Dec 16, in a daring jailbreak, 110 naxalites escaped from Chhattisgarh’s Dantewada Jail. There are many other examples.

Sometimes, the press says that the menace is on the wane. Nothing could be further from the truth. The naxalites have a budget of Rs 60 crores for their armed struggle during 2007-09. This is raised abroad by NGO in countries like Norway, where there is some sympathy for them. Furthermore, emboldened by the Maoists in Nepal who have not only conquered the countryside, but come to government, Naxalites in India have recently released a stunning declaration:

* We pledge: To coordinate the people’s war with the ongoing armed struggles of the various oppressed nationalities in Kashmir, Assam, Nagaland, Manipur and other parts of the Northeast.

* To build a united front of all secular forces and persecuted religious minorities such as Muslims, Christians and Sikhs.

* To build a secret party apparatus impregnable to the enemy’s attacks.

* To build open and secret mass organisations among the workers, peasants, youth, students, women and other sections of the people.

* To build the people’s militia in all villages in the guerrilla zones as the base force of the PGA (People’s Guerrilla Army). Also build armed self-defence units in other areas of class struggle as well as in the urban areas.

The Government of India has tried everything to contain the naxalites: negotiation, counter-insurgency, arming the tribals, but with little result. Sri Sri Ravi Shankar of the Art of Living Foundation has started a dialogue with the naxalites to show that the gun is not only solution.

His teachings and initiatives have transformed many villages in the naxalite-dominated areas of Andhra Pradesh and Bihar. During his visits to Bihar, more than 100,000 youths from warring factions such as Ranvir Sena, People’s War Group and Maoist Communist Centre vowed to spread the message of non-violence.

He also recently initiated a much needed peace and reconciliation conference in Oslo, Norway, on April 11, which focused on the internal armed conflicts of South Asia, particularly naxalism, and discussed possible solutions and means to solve them. Norway’s special envoy, Jon Hanssen-Bauer, Members of European Parliament Erika Mann, Nirj Deva and Aud Kvalbein, Deputy Mayor of Oslo were some of the prominent European speakers in the conference.

Finally we can only conclude by quoting Ajit Doval, Former Director, Intelligence Bureau : “Taking the trends of the last five years, we can build a model of the security scenario for the year 2010. Over 260 districts, nearly half of India, would be naxal-affected where the government’s writ hardly runs.”

Is the naxal dream of a Red Belt, from Nepal to Andhra Pradesh, become a reality? We hope not. For the ancient Indian way of life, the Dharma, offers other solutions.

The writer is the Editor-in-Chief of La Revue de l’Inde. He lives in India.





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





In India, death to global business: Naxal threat

11 06 2008

Manjeet Kripalani,

BusinessWeek (from rediff.com)

On the night of Apr 24, a group of 300 men and women, armed with bows and arrows and sickles and led by gun-wielding commanders, emerged swiftly and silently from the dense forest in India’s Chhattisgarh state. The guerrillas descended on an iron ore processing plant owned by Essar Steel [Get Quote], one of India’s biggest companies. There the attackers torched the heavy machinery on the site, plus 53 buses and trucks. Press reports say they also left a note: Stop shipping local resources out of the state – or else.

The assault on the Essar facility was the work of Naxalites – Maoist insurgents who seek the violent overthrow of the state and who despise India’s landowning and business classes. The Naxalites have been slowly but steadily spreading through the countryside for decades.

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Few outside India have heard of these rebels, named after the Bengal village of Naxalbari, where their movement started in 1967. Not many Indians have thought much about the Naxalites, either. The Naxalites mostly operate in the remote forests of eastern and central India, still a comfortable remove from the bustle of Mumbai and the thriving outsourcing centres of Gurgaon, New Delhi, and Bangalore.

Yet the Naxalites may be the sleeper threat to India’s economic power, potentially more damaging to Indian companies, foreign investors, and the state than pollution, crumbling infrastructure, or political gridlock.

Just when India needs to ramp up its industrial machine to lock in growth – and just when foreign companies are joining the party – the Naxalites are clashing with the mining and steel companies essential to India’s long-term success. The threat doesn’t stop there.

The Naxalites may move next on India’s cities, where outsourcing, finance, and retailing are thriving. Insurgents who embed themselves in the slums of Mumbai don’t have to overrun a call centre to cast a pall over the India story. “People in the cities think India is strong and Naxalism will fizzle out,” says Bibhu Routray, the top Naxal expert at New Delhi’s Institute for Conflict Management. “Yet considering what has happened in Nepal” – where Maoists have just taken over the government – “it could happen here as well. States, capitals, districts could all be taken over.”

Officials at the highest levels of government are starting to acknowledge the scale of the Naxal problem. In May a special report from the Planning Commission, a government think tank, detailed the extent of the danger and the “collective failure” in social and economic policy that caused it.

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The report comes five months after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh shocked the country with a candid admission: “The Naxal groups…are targeting all aspects of economic activity…(including) vital infrastructure so as to cripple transport and logistical capabilities and slow down any development. (We) cannot rest in peace until we have eliminated this virus.”

Why such rhetoric now about a movement that has coexisted with the rest of India for more than 40 years? One reason is the widening reach of the Naxalites. Today they operate in 30 per cent of India, up from 9 per cent in 2002. Almost 1,400 Indians were killed in Naxal violence in 2007, according to the Asian Center for Human Rights.

Collision course
The other reason for sounding the alarm stems from the increasingly close proximity between the corporate world and the forest domain of the Naxalites. India’s emergence as a hot growth market depended at first on the tech outsourcing boom in Bangalore and elsewhere.
Now the world is discovering the skill and productivity of India’s manufacturers as well. Meanwhile India’s affluent urban consumers have started buying autos, appliances, and homes, and they’re demanding improvements in the country’s roads, bridges, and railroads.

To stoke Indian manufacturing and satisfy consumers, the country needs cement, steel, and electric power in record amounts. In steel alone, India almost has to double capacity from 60 million tons a year now to 110 million tons. “We need a suitable social and economic environment to meet this national challenge,” says Essar Steel chief Jatinder Mehra.

Instead there’s a collision with the Naxalites. India has lots of unmined iron ore and coal – the essential ingredients of steel and electric power. Anxious to revive their moribund economies, the poor but resource-rich states of eastern India have given mining and land rights to Indian and multinational companies. Yet these deposits lie mostly in territory where the Naxals operate.

China is India’s ‘only possible threat’

Chhattisgarh, a state in eastern India across from Mumbai and a hotbed of Naxalite activity, has 23 per cent of India’s iron ore deposits and abundant coal. It has signed memoranda of understanding and other agreements worth billions with Tata Steel [Get Quote] and ArcelorMittal, De Beers Consolidated Mines, BHP Billiton, and Rio Tinto. Other states have cut similar deals. And US companies like Caterpillar want to sell equipment to the mining companies now digging in eastern India.

The appearance of mining crews, construction workers, and truckers in the forest has seriously alarmed the tribals who have lived in these regions from time immemorial. The tribals are a minority – about 85 million strong – who descend from India’s original inhabitants and are largely nature worshippers.

They are desperately poor, but unlike the poverty of the urban masses in Mumbai or Kolkata, their suffering has remained largely hidden to outsiders and most Indians, caught up as they are in the country’s incredible growth. The Naxalites, however, know the tribals well and have recruited from their ranks for decades.

Judging from their past experience with development, the tribals have a right to be afraid of the mining and building that threaten to change their lands. “Tribals in India, like all indigenous people, are already the most displaced people in the country, having made way for major dams and other projects,” says Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia chief researcher for Human Rights Watch, which is compiling a report on the Naxal movement. The tribals are supposed to be justly compensated for any land used by the companies, but the states’ record in this area is patchy at best.

The biggest threat
This creates an opening for the Naxalites. “If there is a land acquisition issue over a project, the Naxals come in and say, ‘We will fight on your behalf,'” says Anami Roy, the director general of police for Maharashtra, the western state that has Mumbai as its capital. Upon his appointment to the post in March, Roy declared Naxalism to be the biggest threat to the state’s peace.
For those who see things differently from the Naxalites, the results can be terrifying. In January in Chhattisgarh, a village chieftain, suspected of being a police informer, was kidnapped, mutilated, and killed with a sickle – an example to any of the villagers who dared to oppose the Naxals.

Company executives talk sotto voce about how dangerous it is for a villager to support business projects. “No villager has the courage to stand up to the Naxalites,” says one manager who is often in the region. The possibility of violence has contributed to the slow progress of many mining projects.

Nik Senapati, country head of Rio Tinto, which has outstanding permits for prospecting in eastern India, knows the threat. “It’s possible to work here,” he says. “But we avoid parts where there are Naxals. We won’t risk our people.”

The Naxalites often don’t hesitate to kill or intimidate their foes, no matter how powerful they are. Former Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu, who is credited with turning the state capital of Hyderabad into a tech center, narrowly avoided death at their hands.

Targeting cities
But the Naxalites can offer their followers clear benefits. Lakshmi Jalma Khodape, 32, alias Renuka, a petite tribal from Iheri, Maharashtra, was just 15 when she joined up. “I had no education,” she recalls. “My father was a guard in the forest department. The Naxals taught me how to read and write.” Eventually disgusted by the Naxals’ violence, Lakshmi surrendered to the state police and now lives under their protection.

Undeniably, the Naxals are viewed as Robin Hoods for many of their efforts. “The tribals have benefited economically thanks to the Naxals,” says human rights lawyer K Balagopal, who has defended captured Naxalites in court cases.

In Maharashtra, tribals pick tender tendu leaves, which are rolled to make a cigarette called a “bidi.” Contractors used to pay them the equivalent of a penny for picking 1,000 leaves from the surrounding forest. The contractors would then take the leaves to the factory owners and sell them for a huge markup. But the Naxals intervened, threatening the contractors and demanding better wages. Since 2002 the contractors have increased the price to about $4 per 1,000 leaves.
According to the Institute for Conflict Management, the Naxalites are now planning to penetrate India’s major cities. Ajai Sahni, executive director of the Institute, says they are looking to encircle urban centers, find sympathy among students and the unemployed, and create armed, “secret, self-defense squads” that will execute orders. Their targets are the two main industrialised belts that run along the east and west coasts.

That’s an ambitious plan, but the Institute estimates there are already 12,000 armed Naxalites, plus 13,000 “sympathisers and workers.” This is no ragtag army. It is an organised force, trained in guerrilla warfare. At the top, it is led by a central command staffed by members of the educated classes. The government also fears the Naxalites have many clandestine supporters among the urban left. The police have recently been rounding up suspected allies in the cities.

Ready recruits
The Naxalites are already operating on the edge of industrialised Maharashtra state, about 600 miles from Mumbai. The litany of complaints from village women in Maharashtra’s Gadchiroli district is endless and is one reason the Naxalites find ready recruits here.

The teachers don’t come to teach in the government school, and when they do, say local parents, they drink and gamble on the premises. In one village, the sixth-graders don’t know how to read and write despite the fact that the state pays teachers 20 per cent extra for volunteering to work in Naxal-infested areas.

In the civil hospital in Gadchiroli, poor villagers have to purchase all the equipment for treatment themselves, from scalpels to swabs. (The hospital says it’s well stocked.) “This is what happens in nontribal villages,” says Dr Rani Bang, a Johns Hopkins School of Medicine physician who runs a popular tribal hospital in the nearby forest. “You can imagine how bad it is for tribals.”

Despite the need to ease the tribals’ poverty and blunt the appeal of the Naxalites, New Delhi still treats the insurgency largely as a law-and-order problem. States like Chhattisgarh, whose ill-trained police force is overwhelmed, have unleashed vigilantes on the Naxalites and the tribals and given the force arms and special protection under the law.

The vigilantes, called Salwa Judum (“Peace Mission”), have made homeless an estimated 52,000 tribals, who have fled to poorly run, disease-infested government camps. Allegations of rape and unprovoked killings have dogged the Salwa Judum. Efforts to reach Salwa Judum were unsuccessful, but the state government has vigorously defended the group.

The problem is so severe that, in March, a public interest lawsuit was filed in India’s Supreme Court by noted historian Ramachandra Guha, who demanded an investigation into Salwa Judum’s activities. The court granted the request in April. Guha himself is not sanguine about the state’s ability to address the Naxal issue.

“The problem is serious, it is growing, our police force is soft,” he says. “Thousands of lives will be lost over the next 15 years.”





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.