It is a zone where government officials fear to enter. In the thickly forested interiors of Chhattisgarh's Bastar region, a heavily-mined Maoist hotbed, authorities are finding it extremely tough to implement the Right to Education Act.
Some officials say in private that the government lacks the guts to implement the Act, which makes primary education free and compulsory for every child in the 6-14 age group, in the insurgency-hit pocket in central India.
Of the sprawling 40,000 sq km thickly forested interiors in Bastar, up to 25,000 sq km area is intensively mined by Maoist guerrillas.
The region has witnessed several deadly attacks in recent years, and the latest one was last month when guerrillas carried out their biggest ever attack on policemen in Dantewada district April 6, massacring 76 security personnel, including 75 of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF). On May 17, 31 people were killed in the same district in a powerful landmine blast that hit a civilian bus.
"It is difficult, very difficult to enforce the Act in Bastar interiors. We are hopeful things will improve in the remote areas and we will be able to take the children to school,'' Manoj Kumar Pingua, commissioner of the Bastar region, told IANS.
Bastar region is made up of five districts - Dantewada, Bijapur, Narayanpur, Bastar and Kanker. Police say the government has no presence in an estimated 450-500 villages of the region that has witnessed the killings of 1,750 people in Maoist violence since 2005.
The authorities have even been forced to suspend the census work in 108 villages in Dantewada district, as according to Pingua, "the situation in the forested interior is so alarming that enumerators don't want to step into the landmine zone to collect biometric details of residents".
Authorities say that no school building exists in about 500 villages situated amid thick jungles where officials or security men can't even dream to enter. Even in the areas where security men are pitched against guerrillas, over 100 primary school buildings were bombed by rebels in the past five years after security men took shelter in the buildings for their offensive.
"At present, the government lacks the guts to enforce the Right to Education Act in Bastar because Maoists command a massive forested locality and even in areas close to the national highway and state highways. Security personnel deployed for anti-Maoist operations have been confined to their camps in the backdrop of a string of deadly attacks on them that has created a scare among some 40,000 police," a senior education department official told IANS here, refusing to be identified.
Anil Vibhakar, a Raipur-based expert on the Maoist issue, remarked: "There is no future of the Right to Education Act in the entire Bastar interiors at least for the next decade."
"Where security men are running for cover and civilians are living in the shadow of terror, the talk of enforcing the Education Act is just a waste of time, though it is desperately required to help people get over the generations-old poverty and extreme backwardness," Vibhakar opined.
The Right to Education Act was enforced from April 1.