M A I N   N E W S

Naxal Menace
The buck stops with you, PC tells Buddha
Rules out military action against Maoists
Tribune News Service and PTI

Kolkata, April 4
Putting the onus on the West Bengal government to deal effectively with the Naxal menace, Home Minister P Chidambaram today said he has told Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee that the bucks stops with him and that talks can be held with the Left-wing extremists if they abjure violence.

“I told him (Bhattacharjee) the buck stops with you and he must ensure that the buck stops with the SP or the officer in-charge,” the minister told reporters here on his meeting with Bhattacharjee, who holds the Home (Police) portfolio, at Writers’ Building in Kolkata last night.

The Home Minister also ruled out the deployment of the Army to combat the Maoists at Lalgarh, Jangalmahal and other places in West Bengal.

He said the state government would have to work jointly with all political parties in resolving the Maoists problem.

Terming Naxals as “cowards” who are hiding in the forests, he slammed them for using a tribal group as a front organisation.

“Naxals are cowards. Why are they hiding in forests? We have invited them for talks (but) after they abjure violence. If they really want development, if they really want to solve problems of the people, they are welcome to talk,” said Chidambaram.

He added the anti-Naxal drive was a long-drawn affair in West Bengal and other states, including Orissa and Jharkhand and it could take two to three years to defeat the extremists. “There are no instant answers,” he said.

Chidambaram, who was on two-day visit to West Bengal, asserted that the anti-Maoist operations would continue.

“Will withdrawing the joint forces help? It is a long-drawn process and will take two to three years to complete,” the Home Minister said.

At the same time, he said the villagers have the reason to be agitated since there was lack of facilities relating to education, healthcare, rations and power.

The Home Minister admitted very little has been done so far for the poor farmers at Midnapore, Purulia, Bankura and Birbhum, inviting the Maoists to “operate” there. Now the state government’s duty would be to undertake massive development programmes in those underdeveloped areas to force the Maoists to vacate the place.

Security had been beefed for the Chidambaram’s visit to Lalgarh, 135 kms from Kolkata, and surrounding areas with gun-toting para-military force personnel visible on rooftops.

Nearly 3,500 policemen have been PC to Buddha: The buck stops with you deployed in the area, which was wrested from the Maoists by the joint forces on June 20 last year.

Shops remained closed and a few that did open were immediately ordered to down shutters by security forces.

The 45 km Midnapore-Lalgarh road, particularly at Khadutola, once a stronghold of the Maoists, was guarded by para-military personnel in the midst of the bandh called by PCPA.

On the eve of his visit at Lalgarh, there were bomb blasts and landmine explosions reported from certain places. The People’s Committee against Police Action (PCPA) had begun a 48-hour bandh.





For A Change
Maoists love NREGA in Jharkhand
Job programmes under the scheme, meant for poor, not being blocked by Red rebels
Man Mohan
Our Roving Editor

Who says the Naxals do not like government-sponsored development programmes? Check this out in red rebel-infested tribal belt in Jharkhand. They love the Central government’s schemes under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA). The NREGA is the Union government’s flagship poverty alleviation scheme. It aims to increase agriculture productivity in the rural areas.

Surprisingly, job programmes under this scheme are not being blocked by the Naxalites, a study has claimed. A widely held belief is that good government work cannot be carried out in the Naxal-affected areas. “This belief is an excuse for inaction and hiding corruption,” a former ultra told this correspondent in Dhanbad. For the Naxals, it is a win-win situation. The NREGA programmes are providing jobs to the poorest tribals. Most of them are red movement’s sympathisers. The contractors are also paying a hefty ‘levy’ (protection money) to the Naxals to carry out works.

The Council for Social Development (CSD), a study group of social workers and social scientists, has claimed, “as a combined result of the NREGA and the Naxalites’ pressure, contractors are paying higher wages to manual workers in the areas hit by left-wing extremism.” The Naxalites have been blocking road and bridge construction but not other permissible works under the NREGA, the CSD has claimed. The study was jointly sponsored by the Rural Development Ministry and the United Nations Development Programme in tribal-dominated and the Naxal-affected areas of Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Orissa and Andhra Pradesh.

The study was organised after Congress leader Rahul Gandhi had in a meeting of the Rural Development Ministry in October last year inquired whether any feedback was available on the impact of the NREGA in the Naxal-affected belts. Gandhi had visited Jharkhand in mid-October. The Centre has released over Rs. 75,000 crore in the past four years to the state governments for the NREGA programme, under which, at least, 100 days employment is guaranteed to every rural household.

At many places, villagers said the Naxals were not opposing the works which benefit them. “They generally oppose road and bridge work because they feel it will help the police movement.” But in some areas they have been trying hard to get the Naxals agree to permit construction of bridges.

There are many who believe that the NREGA has become another area for harassment. Prof Jean Dreze, member of the Central Employment Guarantee Council, has described Jharkhand as “one of the worst-performing states as far as the NREGA is concerned.” He cited two main reasons for this: massive corruption in the system and people’s ignorance of their rights. And, as he says, the two go together.

In Jharkhand, factors affecting the NREGA are a repressive state machinery that looks on any one questioning the implementation of the NREGA with suspicion. “It is easy to brand individuals and organisations as the Naxalites or the associates. Then anything can be done to him,” said a school teacher.



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