Salwa Judum was raised by the police, says Vyricharla Kishore Chandra Deo

Prasad Nichenametla

India, May 31 -- As the union minister for Panchayati Raj and also tribal affairs, Vyricharla Kishore Chandra Deo has the two-fold task of strengthening the local government bodies and empowering of the tribals - two aspects critical to developing remote forest areas of the country, a large part of which is under influence of the Maoists. In an interview to Prasad Nichenametla, Deo tells where the problem lies and what the solution should be.

The allocations for programmes like NREGA, housing, roads have gone up substantially in recent years and we also have schemes like the Backward Regions Grants Fund and the Integrated Action Plan, exclusively for the Maoist affected districts. Leave out development; even basic amenities still evade the people of these areas. Where is the government going wrong?

Backwardness in these areas is a cumulative effect of decades of State apathy. And the uneducated, unaware tribals were absorbing this injustice in silence. After trying their tolerance for long we, rather late in the day, provided development schemes and legislations like the Forest Rights Act but unfortunately the State governments are not active in delivering the benefits to the interiors.

Added to this deprivation is the resource exploitation through mining activities like in Niyamagiri in Odisha where forestland considered sacred by tribals was allocated to Vedanta. The mining projects against will of the tribals is making them restive and spawning a bigger agitation. These are the grounds on which the Maoists build their influence and are now wielding power over large swathes of the central Indian forest belt.

What is the need of the hour? How can we see peace finds its way into the areas of Left Wing Extremism?

Inclusive approach is what instils confidence among the tribals that there is a government for their welfare. Even in IAP, it is not the gram sabhas but the district collector, Superindent of Police and the District Forest Officer who decide the development works.

Where is the people's participation here?

What could be expected when the State itself is undermining the Constitutional provisions allowing mining in Schedule 5 areas. And in states like Andhra Pradesh, Odisha it is the State run mining companies that are exploiting the tribal-forest areas. There is a rot running deep with a nexus between corporates, politicians, Maoists, bureaucrats and the Police officers which should be thoroughly probed.

Inclusive development is one angle, but what about security aspects? Are we adopting the right strategies in dealing with the Maoist challenge?

A good intelligence network and a fool proof security situation would have avoided incidents like attacks on the Congress convoy last week or any such casualty in Maoist areas. But instead in Chattisgarh, Salwa Judum was raised by the police with the state's support to counter the Maoists, and it was again the innocent tribals who were killed in the crossfire. The conflict turned these communities refugees on their own land, deprived of all livelihood.

If Salwa Judum was any good, then why did the Supreme Court disband it?

Development is the ultimate answer and forces should only aid these activities like securing a road construction project. We cannot send the army to these areas as if every forest dweller is a Maoist to be decimated.

Published by HT Syndication with permission from Hindustan Times.