The abduction of the 2006 batch Sukma District Collector Alex Paul Menon in Chhattisgarh on April 21 should not come as a surprise, for it forms a part of the now fairly well-established trend of abduction being used as a tactic by the outlawed Maoist outfit to make state governments capitulate and accommodate its demands. The state of Odisha is still dealing with a month-long hostage crisis after the abduction of a ruling Biju Janata Dal MLA Jhina Hikaka by the Maoists and the way the Naveen Patnaik government has succumbed to the extremist pressure by releasing a number of Maoists and sympathizers could well have spurred the Maoists to repeat their adventure in Sukma,just 12 km far from Malkangiri in Odisha.
Menon, who hails from Tamil Nadu, was taken hostage from a remote area Manjhipara on Kerlapal-Gadiraj road at gunpoint on Saturday afternoon , around 500 km south of Raipur, in the first ever abduction of any IAS officer in the mineral-rich state since Maoist insurgency broke out in the late 1980s. The 32-year-old Menon was returning after addressing the villagers in Manjipara to make people aware of the “gram suraj abhiyan; a village contact campaign launched by the Raman Singh government to take governance to the doorsteps of the villagers. The exercise aims at improving basic services in Sukma since it was felt it needed special administrative attention.
Menon was riding a motorcycle when around 15-20 Maoist fired at his convoy. In retaliation the collector’s gunmen Amjad Khan and Kishan Kujur fired at them, and got killed in the process.” There were intelligence inputs that Maoists might strike in a big way during the campaign, sources said. According to the villagers, the rebels opened fire before striking the venue and killed the two security personnel escorting the district collector. The rebels, reportedly in civilian attire attacked Menon’s convoy. Menon is viewed by his peers as an enthusiastic officer who took his job as the district collector of Sukma, considered to be the worst-affected district in the country, as a mission.
It was a neatly planned operation, the Maoists demanded the release of eight of their jailed leaders in Chattisgarh and a halt to ‘Operation Green Hunt’ in exchange for Menon’s freedom. This could well become another well drawn out affair, testing the skills and patience of the state as well as Union government.
Aimdst the April 28th Maoist deadline to act on their demands,Chhattisgarh chief minister Raman Singh has a tough choice to make. The name of Shantipriya alias Malti, a hardcore rebel sentenced to 10 years in prison, is on the list of eight prisoners the Maoists want released in exchange for Alex Paul Menon, the abducted Sukma district collector.Malti was arrested in 2008 from a hostel in Raipur along with another woman named Meena Chaudhary, whose name also features in the list of prisoners. The Union Home Ministry has been left alarmed by the list which features many hardcore rebels. The police, in fact, claim to have tracked her after catching a cache of arms in Raipur and linking them to her. The police consider Malti and Meena so hardcore that they are kept isolated in segregated cells in the Raipur Central Jail.
Chhatisgarh Chief Minister Raman Singh soon after the incident of abduction formed a five member team headed by himself to look into the demands of the Maoists. Besides the CM, the panel includes PWD minister Brijmohan Agrawal, water resources minister Ramvichar Netam, Home Minister Nankiram Kanwar and Tribal Welfare Minister Kedar Kashyap. An all-party meeting was also convened to discuss the crisis. For a number of years, Chhattisgarh was the worst Maoist-affected state in the country, before being upstaged by Jharkhand from that position in 2011. The deaths of 343 civilians and security forces in 625 incidents were reported from the state in 2010. Although the situation appeared to have improved a wee bit in 2011 with 204 deaths in 465 incidents, there is little doubt that the state continues to remain one of the extremist strongholds. The year 2011 reported 84 arms training camps and 96 Jan Adalats (people’s courts) held by the extremists in the state both indicative of the extremist strength and influence in its vast swathes. As has been the trend in the previous years, of the Rs 5,000 crore (Rs 5 billion) intelligence agencies expect the CPI-Maoist to collect as extortion this fiscal year, a major bulk would be accumulated in Chhattisgarh.
TRANSFORMING TRIBALS INTO ENTREPRENEURS
India is suffering from so many internal conflicts and that form major hurdles in development of the states. Seventeen states of India are facing Naxal threat. It has been a critical topic of discussion at important meetings and senior officers of Government of India have many times admitted that Naxalites pose a bigger problem than terrorism to the country. A large number of security personnel have been engaged to tackle this problem. Strategy, money and manpower have failed to control this crisis. Many policy makers, strategic think-tanks and experts believe that the Naxal conflict can only be solved with overall uplift of tribals. The core issue is that the tribes are not getting their basic necessities met with sufficient benefits of development and therefore they enter into serious conflicts with the regimes. There is a dire need to mainstream this population as development partners.
But situation of Tribe in Gujarat are totally different from other states. They are not only getting education but also know how to receive benefits from Government Schemes. Gujarat Government provides tribes with education and jobs. They are given abundant opportunities to establish business independently and earn profits for a better living. The positive approach of forest department and various incentive-driven schemes of the State Government have reaped excellent results in the tribal areas.
In rest of India, self employment and entrepreneurship development in tribal areas are often constrained by (a) insufficient infrastructure, market awareness and funds, (b) lack of attitude to perceive opportunities, to organize resources and set up and run the business successfully.
There are over 5 million tribes or adivasis in the state of Gujarat (15% of the total population). They mainly inhabit the rugged terrain adjoining the Aravalis, the western ridges of the Vindhya and Saputara mountains and the northern slopes of the Sahyadri Ranges. The tribal belt in Gujarat consists of the districts of Dang, Surat, Bharuch, Baroda, Panchmahals, Sabarkantha and Banaskantha.
Entrepreneurship skills of the tribes residing in Vadodara and Dang areas are success models for others to follow. They grow fruits and vegetables and sell them directly in cities and make more profits without engaging middlemen in this transaction. This initiative was taken by the active forest department and various other agencies of the state Government for inspiring them to market fruit and vegetables in small town and cities.
A Chhotaudepur Forest Division, located in Vadodara District of Gujarat, has dry deciduous forests having rich biodiversity of flora and fauna. Mahuda (Madhuca indica), Timru (Diospyros melanoxylon), Charoli (Buchanania lanzan) and Custard Apple- (Annona squamosa) are some of the important non-timber forest products (NTFP) that grow naturally in the forests.
Narrating the challenge of inculcating and developing entrepreneurs amongst the tribes of Gujarat with support from the State Government, Dr. Dinesh Misra, Addl. Principal Chief Conservator of Forest says: “We have established Joint Forest Management Committees (JFMC) under Gujarat Forestry Development Project (GFDP) with a view to improving the productivity and sustainability of the forests and enhancing income generation and employment opportunities for the local tribal communities. GFDP has also established Self-Help Groups (SHGs) which are supporting poor women of the villages through establishing micro-enterprise by financial support from GFDP and its linkages with other Government Departments. The idea is to reduce their dependence on forestry resources by economic development resulting in better forest conservation.”
Five JFMC villages of Chhotaudepur Forest Division tribal men used to come to these villages to buy custard apple at the rate Rs. 4-5 per Kg. The JFMC held meetings and decided to market custard apple collectively. A primary survey to assess the quantity and market was conducted and linkages with fruit markets of Vadodara, Ahmedabad and “Reliance Fresh” were established to sell different qualities at different rates.
Two JFMCs and three SHGs of forest Division collected about 10.3 tons of custard apple and arranged for transport to markets of Vadodara, Ahmedabd and “Reliance Fresh” at Padra. The JFMCs and SHGs got an average rate of Rs. 15.00 per Kg (three times more than selling at village level). These groups got a profit of Rs. 1.46 lakhs (Rs. one lakh more than the previous year sell) in 11 days. This experiment was undertaken as a pilot project which will now be expanded to three clusters of about 30 JFMC villages. Similar marketing experience will be extended to Baria, Godhra and Dahod forest Divisions.
The marketing of custard apple has generated interest and confidence among the JFMC/SHGs members and next year they plan to do it again with systematic planning, says Dr. Misra.
Another success story is from Kevdi village of Dang (South) Forest Division. Kevdi village, located on the boundary of Vansda National Park (Navtad Range), Eco-Development Committee (EDC) has been established under GFDP and this EDC has promoted Self-Help Groups (SHG) namely “GFDP Jai Mataji SHG”. SHG has 11 tribal women and they have collected about Rs. 5000 as their savings. They have prepared a business development plan of growing Ladyfinger (Bhinda), which was approved by Deputy Conservator of Forests, Dang (S) Forest Division. The SHG got a support of Rs. 30,000/- from the GFDP through their EDC. Out of this support from GFDP, 11 women got loan of Rs. 21000 to grow ladyfinger in their farm during summer of 2010. Prior to this, in absence of irrigation facilities, these farms were lying idle in summer season. As EDC provided three diesel pumps and pipelines to these women- which were supplied to EDC as a part of entry point activity under GFDP, -SHG women were encouraged to grow ladyfinger on their small farm land. They worked hard and cultivated the crop and sold it to the vegetable traders. 11 women spent about Rs.63,000 towards agricultural inputs like seeds, fertilizers and irrigation and labor etc. and have grown ladyfinger worth of Rs. 3,94,000 earning a net profit of Rs.3,31,000 in one summer.
Ms. Meenaben Kamleshbhai Hudki, leader of this SHG group says that we had started 11 members mandli (Society) three years back and all tribal women earned Rs.1500 to Rs.2000 every month. Meenaben has completed her education up to 9th standard only but she runs a mandli with the help of her husband successfully in the remote areas of Dang district. Our mandli is registered and have a bank account also, she added.
Thus, vision, hard work, confidence, effective financial management by women and inputs from GFDP has done wonders in the life of these women in a short span of 2-3 months. This has generated self-respect, self-reliance and recognition of women not only in the family or village, but also in the surrounding villages.
Tribal Development Department of Gujarat Government is also supporting vegetable growing activities in south Gujarat under JIVICA project and GFDP has also established linkages with them. This association will bring about a significant economic change in the tribal areas of Gujarat.
Gujarat Chief Minister Shri Narendra Modi who has always been emotionally connected with the tribes, has planned to provide an amount of Rs. 40,000 crore for the next five years under Vanbandhu Kalyan Yojana (VKY) and provision of Rs. 6600 crore has already been made for the first year in next year financial budget. This clearly shows that State Government is keen to uplift tribal community living in forest areas.
VKY aims at providing high-quality social and civil infrastructure and sustainable employment in tribal areas. By convergence of various schemes of different departments, the state government has got great results in the tribal belt from Ambaji in north to Umargam in south. The success of tribal community welfare scheme would prove to be a model for tribal development in rest of the country. In short, Gujarat shows inclusive growth not only in cities but also in interior tribal areas.
By Nilesh Shukla from Ahmedabad
On the other hand, the Raman Singh government has remained steadfastly clear in its approach against the extremists. Between March 5 and 20 this year, security forces conducted the first-ever campaign in ‘Abujh Maad’ the 6,000 square kilometre area straddling Chhattisgarh and Maharashtra considered to be one of the CPI-Maoist bastions since the late 1980s.Paramilitary forces belonging to the Central Reserve Police Force, its counter-Maoist specialised wing, the Combat Battalion for Resolute Action and state police forces carried out a two-week long search and clear operation arresting a handful of Maoists. The Chhattisgarh police chief termed the operation as ‘a bold and courageous decision of the police to storm into the Maoists safest bastion.’
A part of the state government’s endeavour to reach out to the people in Maoist-affected districts is also the ‘Gram Suraj campaign’ an outreach programme of the state government involving ministers and state administration making surprise visits to about 20,000 villages under 9,820 village panchayats of 16 districts and receiving petitions from the villagers on the administration’s responsiveness. Last year, the ‘Gram Suraj campaign’, conducted in May, received 241,000 petitions from the villagers. This pet project of Raman Singh is seen as hugely popular.
Menon’s abduction essentially underlines two critical problems in the country’s counter-Maoist approach. One, the lack of consensus on a national approach in tackling Maoists has allowed individual states to pursue divergent and sometimes incongruous approaches, with dangerous repercussions for other states. It is evident that the capitulation of states like Odisha, Bihar and Jharkhand to Maoist demands earlier in hostage taking scenarios has made this an extremely useful tactic for the Maoists. Secondly, the incident exposes the drawbacks of the counter-Maoist approach that believes in using development as an effective tool to deal with extremism, even when the extremist influence over an area has not been neutralised. Menon is the first collector of Sukma district, carved out of the Dantewada district this year, and was known to be pro-active in undertaking development work in the backward region. His popularity as a dedicated officer could work in his favour.
In 2011, Maoists in Odisha had abducted R Vineel Krishna, the district collector of Malkanagiri. The tribal in the district came out in their collector’s support and organised rallies to ensure his safe release within days.
There are too many similarities in the abductions of collectors Alex Paul Menon and RV Krishna by the Maoists. Krishna, held hostage last year, was the collector of Odisha’s Maoist-affected Malkangiri district which shares its border with Chhattisgarh’s Sukma district, also a known rebel heartland. It was from here that district collector Menon was taken away by the guerrillas at gunpoint on Saturday. Both collectors had visited the remote on motorbikes, underdeveloped tribal areas driven by the desire to know the ground situation and problems faced by the locals. Menon, just a year junior to Krishna in the IAS, apparently failed to notice how his senior was deceived in the same way by the Maoists who came dressed as villagers.
Naxalism in Chhattisgarh stems from the evil vision of having a guerrilla army and using poor local tribal lads as recruits and Dandakaranya (as) a hiding haven, abducted Alex Paul Menon tweeted on March 18, just four days after the Maoists took Italian tourists Bosusco Paola and Claudio Colangelo hostage in Odisha. With two of the three mediators, namely Supreme Court lawyer and key member of Anna team Prashant Bhushan, and All India Adivasi Mahasabha Manish Kunjam refused to negotiate on behalf of the rebels it remains to see how the Raman Singh government responds to the crisis without compromising within the ambit of law.
By Kishore Dash from Chhattisgarh