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Forget Delhi's big plans, even basic aid isn't allowed in

New Delhi's Integrated Action Plan (IAP) that seeks to bridge the development deficit may not benefit the impoverished tribals of Bastar, who need it most.

delhi Updated: Jan 25, 2011 23:39 IST
Aloke Tikku

New Delhi's Integrated Action Plan (IAP) that seeks to bridge the development deficit may not benefit the impoverished tribals of Bastar, who need it most.

And this has got nothing to do with the raging debate between the plan panel and home ministry over who decides where the money must be spent: a collector-headed panel or panchayati bodies and civil society.

"This is a specious debate... the kind you have when policy makers lose touch with ground realities," said a forest officer.

Nearly one-third of the population in the 40,000-sq-km Bastar region divided into five districts - Dantewada, Bijapur, Kanker, Bastar and Narayanpur - live in areas where the government does not have a footprint.

This is the Naxal headquarters that they guard zealously. It helped the rebels that the region has always been someone's backyard, first undivided Maharashtra, then MP and briefly, Chhattisgarh, said Suresh Mahapatra, editor of Bastar Impact.

Under the IAP cleared by the Centre in November, 60 backward districts - 48 of them naxal-affected - would be given Rs 25 crore each to spend before March 31, and R30 crore for the next financial year.

The Centre dismissed suggestions that the authorities did not want to go into the interiors.

Several district officials told HT they were not able to carry out any meaningful work in the naxal core areas.

"Except for facilities they need, such as healthcare, hand pumps and ration, they do not allow anything. They are very strict about it."

In Bijapur, government officials can't, and don't provide any significant facility in
about 40 of the 157 panchayat areas.

"I feel ashamed when I say this but even the IAP will not touch their lives directly... it is difficult to send officials inside. There is a fear psychosis," district collector Rajat Kumar, 29, said.

It is not that Kumar works only out of his air-conditioned room.

A month ago, Kumar and chief executive officer of the Bijapur Zila Panchayat KC Devasenapathi travelled over 200 km on practically non-existent roads to the district's southernmost village, Pamed.

The provocation for the trip seems to have been reports by Mahapatra's paper on the poor living conditions of the tribals.

Kumar was the first collector to set his foot in Pamed, a village on the Chhattisgarh-AP border that has been under Maoist grip for decades. But the visit was an exception.

The people of Pamed didn't ask for big developmental projects. They didn't even dare ask Kumar to get the 22-km stretch, connecting them to the world, repaired. The naxals wouldn't have allowed it. So Kumar agreed to get the panchayat a tractor that could charge people a nominal amount to ferry them.

Kumar probably didn't want to push his luck. The panchayat's secretary Karam Kameshwar was killed by naxals. One account is that his over-enthusiasm proved to be his undoing.