“Andar se permission mil gayi hai (We have the permission from inside),” the government official declared with a wry smile, standing outside the under-construction boarding school in Kurushnar village at the foothills of the densely forested Abujmarh.
The permission that he speaks about is not from the government – or the Central Reserve Police Force that has a camp barely a kilometre away – but the armed guerrillas who operate from the expansive 4,000 sq km forest.
And there lies the irony.
The government is trying to dent the Maoist dominance by winning over people through developmental projects. It has launched a new plan to fastrack development in 60 backward districts in the naxal belt. The Integrated Action Plan entitles them to Rs 25 crore this year – Rs 30 crore next year – to make a difference to the lives of the poor villagers and tribals.
But the implementation of the ambitious project is at the mercy of the guerrillas where they have a presence.
In large parts of Narayanpur district, they have the last word.
The government commissions projects here. But only the ones that meet with the Maoist approval can be executed.
The approval for Kurushnar hostel school came with two riders: the building would not have a concrete ceiling or a high boundary wall.
“They want to be able to see what is going on inside. The temporary roof ensures security forces do not convert it to a camp later,” explained a Narayanpur district official.
So the school has settled for an asbestos roof; good enough only to shelter the 50-odd poor children from the rains. But the gaps between the walls and the asbestos sheets do not protect them from the chilly winds.
MS Paraste, collector of the adjoining Bastar district, suggested it was not unusual to tweak specifications of such constructions to meet local conditions. “One has to do it),” he said.
Maoists have destroyed over 200 school buildings and panchayat buildings in Chhattisgarh over the last decade.
Police officers say Naxals bring down these structures as they want to perpetuate the poor living conditions that provide fertile ground for their expansion and sustenance.
District officials do not dismiss this argument. But they insist it was important to remember how school buildings and the road network helped security forces move into the out-of-bounds Bastar.
The jawans needed something to protect themselves from the Maoists. The state government moved the central forces in. And the children out; often to other schools.
Or, as happened in Kurushnar, the children were moved into temporary shelters. “We shifted a few days back… though it is still incomplete,” said teacher Gaguru Ram Dugga pointing to the four rooms that often double up as classrooms during the day and a hostel by night.