In Maoist land development is always a work in progress
Maoists blow up roads, scare workers away and kill officials who don't fall in line. They intend to block development, and they do. Government rules drawn up in faraway Raipur and Delhi are meant to facilitate development but in the Red Corridor, they end up slowing down projects with an uncanny efficiency.
From Narayanpur to Bijapur hundreds of kilometres away, district officials blame the one-size-fits-all rule-book for slowing down implementation of projects.
This is one reason, they say, why most projects under the Union rural development ministry’s rural roads programme were in progress, not completed.
"It is not that districts don't have money… This district must have about R800 crore including a R 200 crore road project… But the rules prevent your from spending the money efficiently," said one district official.
According to home minister P Chidambaram, naxal-affected districts were able to spend only two-third of their allocated budgets last year.
Dantewada collector Prasana R explains why.
Bastar region doesn't have big contractors who are eligible to bid for the tenders. Generally, the contractors are from outside Chhattisgarh who sub-contract it to the local contractors. "Because of which, work does not take place and the quality of work also suffers," he said.
A district official in Narayanpur said the successful bid is often sub-contracted a few times down. What reaches the last contractor who executes the project is a pittance.
In South Bastar’s Bijapur district, people complained of having to live with long power cuts though Chhattisgarh has surplus power.
"There is a transmission line that passes through forested areas, that is damaged by the Maoists every other week. The district needs another line, running along the national highway which can be secured. It would help raise agricultural production and incomes but the rules do not allow because on paper, we already have a transmission line," a local official said, pointing to several instances where localities had power on paper, not for any practical purposes due to absence of transformers.
Besides, why on earth would a Raipur-based contractor take the risk to travel 400 km into their territory to come to a place such as Bijapur to set up, say a transformer for R 22 lakh, when he can get the same price for installing it in Raipur.
"If you want him to take the risk, you have to pay him more. You don't, so he doesn't come. It is as simple as that," he said.
Another officer in Dantewada said the same principle applied to allowances for employees. In undivided Madhya Pradesh, employees received a 45% allowance on their salary to serve in the state's backyard, Bastar.
But this allowance was scrapped after Chhattisgarh was formed. It isn’t that he doesn't get any allowance. “I do get a few hundred rupees every month for working in a tribal area,” he said, wondering why he shouldn't try to get back to the cities — Raipur or Bilaspur — if he could. “The only reason I — and not someone else —landed here is because others pulled strings, I didn't.”