Integrated development, politics and social empowerment in India and beyond

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Books written by B G Verghese

Books written by B G Verghese

Books written by B G Verghese

Despite the latest killings of CRPF and civilians, the Home Minister once again offered to dialogue on all matters provided the Maoists abjured violence even without laying down arms. He was rudely rebuffed.

Tackling Maoism Another Way

Rehearsing the past does not answer the challenge of the future. Where then do we go from here as the Maoists keep tormenting state and society with people’s war and class annihilation?

By B G Verghese

New Indian Express, Chennai, 23 May, 2010

The discourse on dealing with the Maoist problem has run aground. Dark suspicions and emotion cloud reason. Rehearsing the past does not answer the challenge of the future. Where then do we go from here as the Maoists keep tormenting state and society with people’s war and class annihilation?  One may quibble with words, but rule by fear is terror. The State has much to answer for, but it cannot abdicate. There is surely space for other mediating interventions catering to peoples’ aspirations and anxieties that exists between dialogue, virtually rejected by the Maoists, and the maintenance of law and order, which appears somewhat ill-defined.

Despite the latest killings of CRPF and civilians, the Home Minister once again offered to dialogue on all matters provided the Maoists abjured violence even without laying down arms. He was rudely rebuffed. Maoist preconditions speak of suspension of operations in and withdrawal of security forces from an expanding Naxal arena, and release of incarcerated leaders. Other demands include an end to disinvestment of PSUs, denial of land for POSCO steel in Orissa or anywhere else, subsidized petroleum prices, action on the telecom scam and no dilution of bank holdings. This ideological agenda dictated through the barrel of a gun simply will not work.

On the other hand, maintenance of law and order should be built up bottom upwards with simply trained and armed village self protection units or SPOs (not the Salwa Judum which ran riot in Dantewada), stiffened by the state police, who know the local language and culture, and supported by para-military or other security forces (not the Army or air power, which is different from air support). Without minimal security nothing will progress. The Rammohan Committee’s indictment of the CRPF and the higher direction of internal security calls for serious strategic reflection and review.

Many talk of “root causes” such as prolonged neglect and disregard of land and forest rights. This is not untrue; but tiresome emphasis on socio-economic development in an insecure environment without a clear framework of governance or delivery system will also not work. As in many insurgency-bound situations, peace and development cannot be sequenced but must go hand in hand to create a virtuous spiral.

We do not have to invent a new policy or structural framework. It is there in the Fifth Schedule of the Constitution, reinforced by the Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996, (PESA) and the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006. These represent a constitution within the constitution for Tribal India and a solemn social contract that the Indian State has blatantly flouted over 60 years without remonstrance from any quarter.

The Fifth Schedule makes the Governor the overseer of tribal rights and interests. Aided by a tribal advisory council, he is enjoined to make an annual report to the President with recommendations regarding development, tranquility and governance in these areas. The President is required to place this report before Parliament and to issue such directions as may be necessary to concerned states regarding future action. Governors lack any independent machinery for this task, of which most seem unaware, and send delayed reports routinely prepared by the local tribal affairs department which are then ignored by the Union government and Parliament year after year. Possibly no single directive has gone out to any state in 60 years. Even today, in all the angry, emotional and largely empty debate that goes on, the Fifth Schedule has never once been mentioned. Ignorance and indifference rule the roost.

The delivery system barely exists. Fifth Schedule areas are punishment postings, understaffed, largely unsupervised and left to the whims and pickings of lowly foresters, contractors and rent seekers. Nothing similar to the single-line system that prevailed in the Northeast and other border regions with erstwhile Indian Frontier Administrative Service officers having domain knowledge, language skills and empathy has ever been contemplated for these areas. Ad hoc, band aid solutions will not do.

Access to many of these jungle fastnesses is not easy in the absence of connectivity and security. Roads, culverts, bridges, police outposts, transmission towers, railway tracks, buses and other infrastructure  have been destroyed, development activity targeted and villagers, including children, press ganged to do the Maoists’ bidding. An elaborate system of levies and extortion is in place. Large scale area domination may be difficult all at once. But it should be possible to combine local security, development and growing intelligence with good governance, moving from the periphery to multiple cores that are gradually linked in turn.

There has been scornful criticism of development priorities especially with regard to large dams, mines, power stations, mineral based industries and related infrastructure. No modern nation can survive on a simple village economy without a more sophisticated industrial and service superstructure. Natural resources must and will be exploited and some land will inevitably be acquired. Transitions can be traumatic and must be suitably cushioned without surrendering to Luddites and eco-fundamentalists.
A humane development path is more than crude touch-me-notism. There is nothing incongruent in promoting rapid development, vital for poverty alleviation, job creation and income generation, in parallel with improved farming, irrigation, upgraded crafts, value-added minor forest product processing, and small and tiny industries based on local energy sources and micro-credit combined, of course with education, health and other social development.

These require appropriate infrastructure, technological inputs and management and marketing skills. Where are these to come from? The State must certainly play a leading role through new development and administrative cadres. NGOs could lend valuable support. A further potentially transforming element can be the much-maligned large steel, power, aluminium, mining and other corporates operating not as real or imagined robber barons out to plunder the natural wealth that abounds in Fifth Schedule areas, but under forward-looking regulatory frameworks. These are being progressively laid down in conformity with Fifth Schedule norms, PESA, the Samatha judgement (S.C. 1997, in an Andhra mining case), other court orders and new mining lease and royalty policies. There is an emerging paradigm for compensation, R&R and stakeholder participation in windfall profits and future downstream benefits including a percentage annuity from corporate profits for community development.

PESA and the Samatha judgement provided for alienation of tribal lands and of mining leases under strict conditions and with the informed consent of gram sabhas. Regarding mineral exploitation, the Supreme Court held that the competing rights of the tribal community and the State “required to be adjusted without defeating the rights of either” in the interest of national development. It has explicitly reiterated this view more recently.

Other things being equal, if Tata, POSCO, Vendanta or NMDC plans to invest Rs 20,000-50,000 crore in a greenfield mega project, the company should under the new rubric of corporate social responsibility be willing and able to undertake suitable socio-economic development programmes on behalf of community stakeholders. This would in extension of ensuring requisite power, water supply, communications, medicare and transport facilities to enable its own project to fructify. It would entail going beyond R&R, to secure larger radius around the plant as an adjunct to the mother investment licensed in partnership with the community and the state. To the corporate, time is money and a satisfied community a sterling asset. The State and community would through this route gain more funding, dispersed security, administrative, management and development muscle with popular participation than anything so far witnessed in these forgotten, wilderness areas. The spin-offs and multiplier effect would secure not just territory but hearts and minds in a new development paradigm of equal opportunity and inclusive growth with the welfare of tribals, dalits and other currently disadvantaged populations as a core concern.

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