A few good men dare to tread in red corridor

Thirty-year-old KN Panigrahi's eyes light up as he talks about plans to cultivate mushrooms here, one of India's poorest districts where the government does not even reach one-third of its people.

"We have already tied up with schools and the nearby CRPF camps to ensure there is a ready market as production increases," Panigrahi, Bijapur's assistant programme officer said as he finished a quick visit to a small mushroom farm, four feet by ten feet thatched hut, that he believes would transform hundreds of lives.

"You see, I come from a family of traders and have an MBA from Pune… and believe it is important to create a market even before you produce something," Panigrahi added, finally talking about himself and the journey from Pune to a non-descript district that only makes news when either naxals or security personnel are killed.

"It is not the best life…but this is the best job I could have had …changing lives of people," he said.

For a region where the fear of naxals and malaria ensured every second government post had no takers and those were posted were busy trying to get a better posting, Panigrahi is an exception.

But he is not the only one.

It is because of highly-motivated people like them that the government has what ever little presence, a government official in Raipur said.

Agreed Bijapur collector Rajat Kumar, pointing to the district hospital's surgeon who travels to villages — often on motorcycle where there is no metalled road — when he hears of outbreak of a disease. "It isn't his job description. But he does."

Till last year, the entire district had just four government doctors, all of them either holding executive positions or absent from duty. It has now got half a dozen on contract under the National Rural Health Mission.

Prasana R, neighbouring Dantewada district's young collector, conceded that finding people with high level of commitment was a problem.

"I have the facilities…No naxalite has stopped me… but they are stopped, sometimes beaten too. But they still continue with the limited facilities that the government provides them," he said, remembering how a sub-divisional officer, Sanjoy Kanojia, readily agreed to go on a field visit to Usur block – a highly naxal-affected area - after having been assaulted by naxals once. "Anyone else would not stepped out of office," he said.

In Narayanpur district, Chandresh Nurety, a programme officer in the district's naxal-hit Orcha block, spoke about his visits on his bike to supervise implementation of the rural employment guarantee plan. An electronics engineer from Gwalior, Nurety was getting his bike repaired near Abujmarh forest. "I had come on an inspection… the bike developed a problem."


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