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Terror is moth-eating India

delhi Updated: Jul 10, 2007 20:02 IST
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Here is India's spiralling crisis of governance: one in six Indians is living under insurgency, their lives shaped by militants, violence and fear.

As armed groups spread their influence across the country's sprawling triangle of rebellion – from Kashmir to Manipur to Andhra Pradesh -- more than 170 million people in militancy-affected areas live with almost no access to functioning schools or decent roads or other development work, even as that discontent feeds into insurgencies. And yet, as a Hindustan Times investigation reveals, more than Rs 2,700 crores in development funds meant for extremist-affected districts were not spent in the past financial year.

This is the story so far: taxpayer millions were allocated to states to build schools and homes and roads and provide jobs – measures that could ease the seething discontent there. But states facing unrest didnot fully spend that money and the central government did little to monitor its implementation.

Here is what was spent last year by Manipur, Nagaland, Meghalaya and Mizoram on many central schemes to help the poor: Rs zero.

In a faraway village in Jharkhand, ladies' tailor Dinesh Mahato knows what that means, standing at the ruin of a primary health centre in Singhpura village where Naxalites often walk in. The health centre was inaugurated 15 years ago. No doctor has visited it since even for a day, he said.

"Sometimes I wonder whether we are even part of this country. We are so disconnected," said Mahato, a college graduate who could not find a job. "I tried so hard, then I realised there is no ladies' tailor here. So I became one ... The Naxalites are right, at least they understand our problems."

Certainly, thousands of crores were spent in these troubled areas – Rs 5,858 crores last year – but as HT found in travels across seven states and hundreds of kilometres, there are barely any basic amenities from drinking water to electricity and functional schools in disturbance-hit areas.

Where money is used, there is big money to be made from private companies and government funds.

"On the conservative side, the Naxalites are raising up to Rs 60 crores a year from Jharkhand in levies – from the sectors of iron ore, coal, forest goods, transportation, MP and MLA funds, and development work. They have a very well-knit network," said Gouri Shankar Rath, the additional director-general of police in Jharkhand.

"Whatever money the Underground is getting, is out of money provided by the central government," said Yumnam Joykumar, the police chief of Manipur.

In all, some 152 districts in 12 states -- more than one-fourth of all the 600-plus districts in India -- are now officially described as "extremism-affected", according to Ministry of Rural Development records accessed by HT. Intelligence officials say scores of other districts are not listed although they are coming under the insurgents' shadow.

And there is little accountability when it comes to that blank cheque known as Security-Related Expenditure.

One of the worst examples is Kashmir. Money meant for security was spent there on developing lawns, renovating kitchens and toilets, digging a bore well, buying tents, tyres, furniture, lawn mowers, police uniforms, building police homes – and, in prisons, feeding prisoners, paying electricity bills and buying water coolers, according to the Comptroller and Auditor-General (CAG).

Still, the Ministry of Home Affairs said: "No irregularity in the spending (of) money has been brought to the notice of the central government by the CAG."

In Jharkhand, huge generators were installed at 450 police stations but no sheds, diesel or mechanics were provided – so the hulk sits like a rusting trophy in every police station.

About 1,250 central government-backed schemes are being implemented in different insurgency-hit areas through 39 ministries or departments.

But the crisis is nowhere as deep as in Manipur, the site of India's most complex web of insurgency. The government has little control, and a dozen-odd insurgent groups from different tribes and ethnic groups run the affairs directly or indirectly, taking "taxes" from almost all businesses, traders and government employees in the state. The state's top officials privately admit that the Underground also decides who will get government contracts.

Across the Naxalite-affected states, the rebels are widely known to take commissions from businesses and contractors implementing government projects.

But the central government says it has received no complaints of corruption.

"There is no written complaint received in the Ministry of Home Affairs in respect of central sector schemes not being implemented in any part of the country due to Naxal threats," the ministry said in a written response.

"There is no written information from any corner also in respect of Naxals siphoning off developmental money or charging commissions," it said. "It is believed that Naxals are raising money through levy, taxes, cess, extortion, etc."

And the rural development ministry declared: "There is no district in the country where rural development programmes are not monitored."

But many – including senior officials – do not agree.

"So much money is coming in from the government of India but our capacity to spend – and spend well – is still not very good," acknowledged Khurshid Ahmad Ganai, principal secretary of the general administration department in Jammu and Kashmir.

J&K received Rs 119.5 crores from the central government last year to provide the poor with homes, employment and food-for-work. The government spent only Rs 58 crores.

Hundreds of kilometres to the south, Andhra Pradesh received Rs 1,660 crores for the same projects last year. It spent only Rs 802 crores. Across other states, similar examples abound.

It is an enduring mystery for citizens.

Standing in Bemina village on the fringes of Srinagar, Ali Mohammed Butt, 75, said: "We often wonder, (Prime Minister) Manmohan Singh sent such big funds to our state. Did the earth eat it up or did the sky swallow the money?"

Tomorrow: Insurgency as an excuse for misgovernance

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