In a village called Jugaad, in Udanti-Sitanadi Tiger Reserve lying across Chhattisgarh and some parts of Orissa, the largely illiterate tribals know what many politically aware residents of Chhattisgarh don’t. Chief Minister Raman Singh’s biggest claim to fame, the Rs 1 kg rice scheme, is a “programme of the Centre”, they say.
“All belongs to the Centre, they (BJP) lie and appropriate it,” a villager says, pointing at the economics behind it. The Centre buys rice at some Rs 25 per kg, gives subsidy of Rs 22, sells it to Chhattisgarh and other states at Rs 3 per kg. “Raman Singh adds only Rs 2. So, who takes care of the poor?”
Jugaad is not the only village raving about the rice scheme. Adjoining the buffer zone of the reserve, some 50 km from Jugaad, other villages too join the chorus on the rice economy. “The world will change, but those who vote for the hand won’t; the rice does not belong to Raman Singh, but the Centre,” say Wansi Bai, Santara Bai and Padmai Bai, all elderly Dalit women of Amlipadar village.
The “haath-chaap” villages and the reserve fall in Gariyaband district, carved out of Raipur district only in January 2012. Singh made it a new district as the state capital was under threat of being tagged Maoist-hit.
Maoists have only increased in number in Gariyaband since then, but the delimitation has also meant that Gariyaband was last year included in the Centre’s Integrated Action Plan. Under the plan, a Maoist-hit district directly gets Rs 30 crore for development.
Jugaad recently got a police station and a CRPF camp. The forces, instead of setting up base in a school or government building which is the norm, are putting up at the tiger reserve office. “They (forces) came, said at first their stay will be temporary, have now made a permanent base. We have been evicted,” says Hanuman Singh Rajput, forest guard.
The reserve’s entry gate was a massive structure carrying the painting of Chhattisgarh’s state animal, the bison. It is now covered with barbed wire and the reserve office is a bunker.
Rajput now works out of a crumbling hut a few metres away. “We had a big office earlier. No officer stays here now, only the guard. Can you please ask someone to at least construct a room for the guard,” he says, exasperated.
The villages, including Jugaad, will soon be shifted out of the the core area of the reserve. While Rajput is sure of this eventuality, he doubts the police-CRPF camp would move out too.
Yet the villagers continue to heap praise on the Centre. Just a few kilometres from Jugaad sits a board that says, “This village is being electrified by the Rajiv Gandhi Grameen Vidyutikaran Yojana run by the Centre.” Slightly away, NREGA work is on. “Who gives us power? Jobs? The Centre,” says Levano Dhurva, a tribal.
The district falls under Mahasamund Lok Sabha seat, which votes on April 17. The contest is between Congress’s Ajit Jogi and sitting BJP MP Chandu Sahu. Many, however, do not even know the name of Jogi and assert their vote for “haath chhaap”.