#Odisha – In Malkangiri, losing the fight for hearts and minds #Tribalrights


May 15, 2013

Niranjan Patnaik

Last month, 65 representatives of panchayati raj institutions in Malkangiri, Odisha, resigned en masse protesting against the apathy of the State government. All Adivasis, their principal demands have been the extension of an irrigation canal, road repair, and the supply of drinking water to villages. They had been making representations to the State Government and meeting officials but to no avail. Even after they resigned, Bhubaneswar has hardly taken note of the grave constitutional and governance crisis this has caused. What would the reaction have been had this happened in say Jammu and Kashmir?

Tackling Naxals

Panchayat raj institutions are integral to our constitutional edifice. No minister or bureaucrat from Bhubaneswar has decided to visit the district to establish an interface with the elected adivasi leaders. What can be more insensitive?

In early 2009, the Central Government decided on a significant initiative to deal with rising Maoist violence. Here, the deployment of Central forces was increased and States given support to add to their capability in coping with Maoist violence. The expectation was that a grid pattern of deployment of Central forces, supported by special forces with deep penetration capability, would facilitate developmental and governance initiatives. Affected districts were provided assistance under the Integrated Action Plan (IAP), which was one more method of gap-funding after the Backward Regions Grant Fund (BRFG). Besides, the districts were given additional funds under various Centrally-sponsored schemes. The strategy has worked wherever State governments have been able to benefit from Central assistance. Where the State administration is disinterested, the Central effort has yielded limited benefits.

Neither money nor security forces individually or together can win the hearts and minds of people, if money remains unspent and all that people see are large numbers of heavily armed personnel. This is precisely what happened to Malkangiri four years later. The State Government has been unable to create capacity or improve governance. Development schemes can hardly be implemented. Ministers and bureaucrats are unwilling to visit the district to personally take charge, review implementation or assuage the frustration of the Adivasis. There is a case for a rethink on our strategy to deal with what the Prime Minister has termed the biggest internal security threat to India.

Underutilised funds

During a recent visit to Malkangiri I met the Adivasi leaders. They were simple and straightforward in talking about the issues that affected them and expressed a great sense of helplessness at having been cheated by the government. They no longer trust it. Ironically, Malkangiri is among the top three Naxal-affected districts of the country with 60 per cent Adivasis and 81 per cent people below poverty line. The district gets generous funds under Central schemes as well as under BRGF and IAP yet fares poorly on all development indicators besides reporting extremely poor utilisation of Central funds. Malkangiri’s misery is being perpetuated by the insensitivity, inaction and neglect of a callous State government. Unfortunately, civil society has little time for the Adivasis. Innocent children are dying of diseases, youth are unemployed, women are vulnerable, farmers do not have access to irrigation and there is an atmosphere of bedlam and unprecedented institutional decay.

Poor infrastructure

Under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, the district has received Rs.35.39 crore till February this year, but only Rs.14.78 crore has been spent. Out of the 3,024 units sanctioned under the Indira Awaas Yojana housing scheme, about 30 houses have been built. Under the IAP, the district has received Rs.85 crore out of which Rs.30 crore remains unspent. Malkangiri has as many as 36 health centres apart from the district headquarters hospital. But they remain non-functional as at least 40 posts of doctors, including specialists, are vacant against the sanctioned strength of 87.

Roads are in bad shape and people have been repeatedly blocking them to voice their anger, but to no avail. Road projects worth Rs.460 crore, of the Public Works Department, and Rs.630 crore under the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana (PMGSY) are yet to take off. Only 35 per cent of the funds under PMGSY have been used. Ironically, the Chief Minister holds the Works portfolio, which is supposed to maintain all major roads and look after the Water Resources department. Political executives from Bhubaneswar hardly ever visit the district. When they do, they never spend a night even at the fortified district headquarters. When Ministers, secretaries and bureaucrats are unwilling to visit the district and senior police officers move around in helicopters provided by the Central Government for security reasons, we cannot blame the district officials for their unwillingness to visit the interiors, particularly after the kidnapping of two Collectors from the Bastar region. The State Government has failed to build a bridge across the Gurupriya river that separates the cut-off areas from the mainland of Malkangiri district. The cut-off areas are essentially the eight gram panchayats of Kudumulugumma block separated from the mainland district by the Balimela reservoir constructed in 1977. The dam project separated some 33,400 people in 151 villages from the Odisha mainland though they are connected on the other side to Visakhapatnam district in Andhra Pradesh.

Rights violations

In 2001, the Collector and Superintendent of Police “ran away” from the district. On the Chief Minister’s request, the Central Government sent four battalions of Central forces as well as a helicopter. Money has also been provided for the modernisation of the police force. The State Government meets the entire expenditure on fighting Naxalites under the Security Related Expenditure (SRE) Scheme of the Central Government. To this, the Central Government has now sanctioned two engineer battalions to attend to road work in areas where contractors are not taking up work. Instead of providing security cover, the security forces have become the only government agency present or visible. There are repeated allegations of human rights violations. This when the purpose of security cover was to implement development work and sort out governance issues.

The Centre has poured in funds and deployed huge numbers of security personnel. But, what does one do if the State administration fails to implement and tackle governance issues? What if Ministers and bureaucrats do not carry out routine reviews and inspections? Since the kidnapping of Collector Vineel Krishna, governance has more or less collapsed. No development has taken place, fuelling the current crisis that has forced elected Adivasi leaders to resign.

The Adivasis are simple people, who have for long tolerated the highhandedness of the administrators and the police. Now, they have been left to face armed Maoists.

To me, this is a grave constitutional crisis and all efforts must be made to restore grass-roots democracy here.

(Niranjan Patnaik is president of the Odisha Pradesh Congress Committee.)

Panchayati raj representatives in the Naxal-affected district have resigned

en masse to protest the apathy to their development needs, but the Odisha government remains unmoved

 

Exchange on Saranda Development Plan between Aman Sethi and Jairam Ramesh


June 5, 2012

[1] http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/article3487034.ece
(Original report filed by Aman Sethi on June 4)

[2] http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/article3494009.ece?homepage=true
(Jairam Ramesh responds to Aman Sethi’s report)

[3] http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/article3494008.ece
(Aman Sethi responds to Jairam Ramesh)

The construction of 24 fortified police bases in the midst of Saranda, an 800-sq. km. patch of forested hills veined with a quarter of India’s iron ore reserves, has sparked concerns among political activists who believe that a development plan intended for tribals in Jharkhand has been hijacked by mining corporations.

In October last year, Union Minister for Rural Development Jairam Ramesh and the State government, launched the Saranda Development Plan (SDP) to implement government schemes in 56 villages after a massive military campaign wrested control of the area from the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist) after nearly a decade of rebel rule.

Yet, interviews with senior administrative officials, villagers and activists in Saranda suggest that development efforts could hinge on 80 km. of a proposed 130-km. road connecting villages situated atop iron deposits in Kiriburu, Karampada and Dhobil to an arterial road at Birsa on the Odisha border. Ministry of Steel documents indicate that steel companies have lobbied for the construction of this particular stretch of road before and after the SDP was announced. News reports claim that the State government has received proposals for mining leases in more than 500 sq. km. of the 800-sq. km. forest.

17 camps get clearance

“The camps will be built along this [Karampada-Bisra] road to provide security for development projects and to prevent the Maoists from re-establishing their presence in the area,” said Arun Kumar Singh, Superintendent of Police, West Singhbhum, in an interview. “While the first camp at Saidal is already operational, we have begun work at our next camp at Ankua.”

Mr. Singh said that the police hoped to construct at least six camps in the next two months before the rains began but declined to provide exact locations for these bases.

“Thus far, 17 camps have received clearance from the Forest Department and land for another three camps is under consideration,” said S.R. Natesha, Divisional Forest Officer for Chaibasa. Mr. Natesha, who is also the Special Executive Officer for the SDP, said three major camps would require 5 hectares of land, the rest have been allotted 2.5 hectares of land each.

Mr. Natesha and Mr. Singh did not comment on the logic behind land allotment. Police sources said the five-hectare camps would function as battalion headquarters while the remaining camps would serve as forward operating bases housing at least a company (approximately 70 fighting men) each. While 17 of these camps shall be manned by the Central Reserve Police Force, Indian Reserve Battalions operating under the Jharkhand Police shall man the rest.

Mining not development

“This road is 110 per cent built for the mines, not the people,” said Sushil Bahrla, a Congress party worker and former director of Birsa, a Jharkhand-based NGO focused on land rights and mining. According to the minutes of the Inter-Ministerial meetings chaired by the Ministry of Steel held in December 2010 and again in February this year, a number of steel investors expressed concern that the Ministry of Environment and Forests was delaying clearances for mining projects in Saranda, particularly in Kiriburu, Karampada and Meghahataburu.

According to minutes of the February 2012 meeting, steel representatives requested forest clearance and lease renewals for Chiria, Barsua and Dhobil mines, and noted “the bad condition of State roads/highways, particularly on the border of the States of Jharkhand and Odisha…”

Government figures state that of the Rs. 248 crore allocated to the SDP, Rs. 104 crore shall come from the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana and will be spent on the 130 km of roads. “We have started the work for 7 km in the first stage,” said Santosh Satpathy, Jharkhand’s Rural Development Secretary. “The work will be completed in two stages. Already we have awarded work to contractors. So the road will soon be completed.”

Saranda plan intended to implement government schemes in 56 villages wrested from Maoists

Reports claim Jharkhand got proposals for mining leases in over 500 sq. km. of Saranda forest

—————-

[2]

I read Aman Sethi’s piece on the Saranda Development Plan (“Nine months on, police camps sole development in Saranda plan”, June 4) with great interest but with greater anguish. Before I deal with his main charge — that private mining interests are behind the SDP — I want to lay out what the SDP is all about. It is the first systematic experiment in combining a security-oriented and development-focussed approach in Maoist-affected areas on a large-scale. In July-August 2011, the CRPF and the State police jointly “liberated” this area of West Singbhum district of Jharkhand from 11 years of Maoist control and domination. One of the very first things I did after becoming Union Rural Development Minister in July 2012 was to initiate discussions with the State government on how best to consolidate on the success achieved by the CPRF and launch development activities in this most backward area. In October 2011, the SDP was prepared by the district
administration covering 56 villages in six gram panchayats of Manoharpur block. The population covered is around 36,000 (7,000 households).

The main elements of the SDP are as follows:

•Building houses for 6,000 households under the Indira Awaas Yojana which have already been sanctioned in December 2011.

•Appointment of 56 Rozgar Mitras from local tribal youth for MGNREGA works for which over 6,000 job cards have already been issued and something like Rs.60 lakh in wages have been disbursed.

•11 roads and one bridge to be constructed under the PMGSY for improving connectivity to all habitations, of which two roads are nearing completion.

•Implementation of the Forest Rights Act, 2006 under which 2,122 claims have been received and 176 titles have already been distributed.

•Distribution of 7,000 solar lanterns, 7,000 transistors and 7,000 bicycles paid for by SAIL which is to be completed by end-July 2012.

•Launch of five mobile health units, again as part of SAIL’s corporate social responsibility programme, of which three are in operation and two more will start by end-July 2012.

•Start of six watershed development projects covering an area of around 36,000 hectares, which were sanctioned in February 2012.

•Improving access to drinking water supply for which 128 hand pumps have already been installed.

I have personally visited Saranda twice in the last few months and in response to a suggestion made by a local human rights activist have set up a broad-based monitoring group to see how the SDP is being implemented. I have been receiving mixed feedback — some local reports are positive but some others have raised questions.

Now, to Mr. Sethi’s main charge — that the main purpose of the SDP is to protect and enhance the interests of private mining companies. As the full picture of the SDP highlighted above will reveal, the daily concerns of deprived tribal communities are the very core of the SDP.

It is true that a number of private mining companies have their eyes on the mineral wealth of Saranda. But I can categorically assert that there was never any thought given to private mining when the SDP was conceived. Indeed, I distinctly recall that when I was Environment and Forests Minister, the issue of mining in the Saranda area had come up repeatedly and I had taken the position that only SAIL should be allowed to mine. On February 9, 2011 I had, in a publicly available speaking order (as indeed were all such decisions of mine in that tenure), clearly laid out the reasons for this special treatment for SAIL and the conditions associated with the forest clearance. Subsequently I am on record as having opposed opening up Saranda to private mining. In Paderu in Andhra Pradesh, I have consistently taken the view that bauxite mining — private and public — should be banned.

Regarding the expanded presence of the security camps in Saranda, I have been guided by the views of the district and State administrations who feel that it is premature to withdraw police personnel completely at this stage. It is true that I have facilitated with my erstwhile ministry clearances for setting up such camps. I make no apologies for it. The presence of the police is essential for enhancing public confidence. One Rozgar Mitra — Srikrishna Mahato — was killed by the Maoists on March 2, 2012. The Maoists and their many “front” organisations obviously do not want the atmosphere of fear and intimidation to be dispelled so that people can lead normal lives. The security camps are necessary so that rural roads that tribal people — not private mining companies — want get constructed and MGNREGA works proceed unimpeded.

(Jairam Ramesh is Union Minister of Rural Development. )

————-

With all due respect to Mr. Jairam Ramesh, I believe the Minister has misconstrued the central thrust of the article. As the lead paragraph makes clear, activists are concerned that “a development plan intended for tribals in Jharkhand has been hijacked by mining interests”.

At no point does the article imply that the Saranda Development Plan itself is a ruse by mining interests, or that Mr. Ramesh has interceded on behalf of said interests. Rather, it quotes activists who feel the SDP is being selectively implemented to suit certain powerful lobbies. As Mr. Ramesh himself has said in the past, a Union Ministry can only provide funds and guidance for projects like the SDP; implementation remains in the hands of the State government and local administration. This is why I chose to travel through Saranda and speak with villagers and local officials rather than rely on indicators like “funds sanctioned” or “projects okayed.”

Mr. Ramesh’s Ministry may be allocating funds on a war footing, but the results are yet to reach beneficiaries. On October 25, 2011, Mr. Ramesh wrote to the Chief Minister of Jharkhand, Arjun Munda, and outlined certain short-term interventions to be completed in six months (such as the distribution of solar lanterns, bicycles and transistor radios, distribution of BPL cards) and medium-term interventions to be completed in two years.

For the purposes of brevity, I offer the following anecdotes from a visit I made seven months after Mr. Ramesh’s letter to Mr. Munda:

— The Special Executive Officer in Charge of the SDP in Chaibasa said he was yet to receive his terms of office and his responsibilities were still being finalised.

— According to a SAIL official, in seven months the local authorities had distributed 200 radio transistors, 200 bicycles and 2,000 solar lamps out of an intended 7,000 of each.

— Not a single integrated development centre had been installed, though a foundation stone had most certainly been laid. Officials said the pre-fabricated structures were on their way.

— No BPL cards had been issued in the villages of Baliba or Thalkobad when I visited, and so neither village was eligible for houses under the Indira Awaas Yojana. While Mr. Ramesh may have sanctioned the construction of 6,000 houses, no official or villager could point me to a scheme beneficiary.

The only project that does seem to be progressing, my article notes, is the construction of 21 police camps. The article quotes the Superintendent of Police of West Singhbhum who says the camps will provide security for development works.

As a counterpoint, I spoke with Congressman Sushil Barla, who claimed that mining corporations have hijacked the SDP.

It must be pointed out that the SDP is primarily a confluence of existing schemes, rather than a special package. If anything, its implementation was supposed to set it apart from business as usual.

Jairam Ramesh launches SADP project in Malkangiri , Orissa


English: U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodha...

English: U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton at the ITC Green Centre in Gurgaon, outside of New Delhi. The ITC Green Centre is the world’s largest “Platinum Rated” green office building. Department photo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 May 29, ibnlive.com

BHUBANESWAR/MALKANGIRI: As a part of the Centre’s initiative to contain the spread of Maoism by taking up developmental projects in the affected areas, Union Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh on Monday visited Malkangiri district ahead of launching the Special Area Development Plan (SADP) project by the ministry in the region.

Ramesh, who reviewed implementation of different developmental projects in Malkangiri district, will also visit Sukma in Chhattisgarh. The SADP will be launched in Malkangiri-Sukma region with at an estimated cost of `300 crore.

Security had been tightened in the entire district as Ramesh stayed overnight in  Malkangiri. He will leave for Sukma on Tuesday morning. His proposed visit to Janbai in the cut off area was cancelled due to security reasons following an exchange of fire between the security forces and Maoists in Kalimela area. The Maoists triggered a landmine blast injuring three Special Operations Group (SOG) personnel.

Malkangiri was in the news last year when Maoists kidnapped the then collector R Vineel Krishna. Krishna, who is now the Private Secretary of the Minister, is accompanying Ramesh. Sukma Collector Alex Paul Menon was also abducted by the Maoists this year.

Ramesh met elected panchayat representatives, SHGs and beneficiaries of different welfare programmes during his visit to the district and harped on the dignity of tribals. Many tribals are languishing in different jails in Odisha for no fault of theirs and they should be released immediately, he said. The Minister expressed dissatisfaction over the implementation of Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana (PMGSY) as only 35 per cent of the funds for the district has been spent.

He was critical of the delay in completion of Gurupriya bridge over the  Janbai river. Left wing extremism (LWE) can be tackled effectively if all the political parties work unitedly, he said. He exhorted the youths to join politics. Nine out of every 100 girls are joining the outlawed CPI(Maoist) due to the failure of the political system, Ramesh reasoned.

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