ACTIVISTS of Bhumkaal Sangathan, an organisation spearheading an anti-Naxal movement in Gadchiroli, Tuesday took the gauntlet right into the Naxal heartland by organising a “pro-development” rally at Nelgonda village in the sensitive Bhamragarh tehsil of Gadchiroli district.
About a dozen-odd activists led by the organisation’s co-convener Arvind Sovni made a forceful demand for laying roads and bridges in the remote parts of the district criss-crossed by many big perennial rivers and nullahs to facilitate contact and communication of tribals with the outside world.
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Speaking on the occasion, activist Shyam Pandhripande called upon the tribals to stand up for the projects of development to fetch the benefits they have long been deprived of. “Nobody can stop development in democracy when people unitedly come forward. The Naxals should drop their opposition to projects like bridges and roads since it would continue to keep the local Madia people devoid of any contact with the outside world,” Pandhripande said.
The rally was also attended by K Madhukar Rao, one of the original authors of Salwa Judum movement in Chhattisgarh. Rao said, “If Dandakaranya is 100 years behind the rest of the world today, it is only because of Naxals. The tribals need to understand that their development won’t be possible as long as Naxals are there. The sooner do they realise this, the better it is for the cause of their development.”
Rao is one of the last-surviving Salwa Judum leaders, who came out unscathed from many attempts on his life.
Arvind Sovni narrated the plight of tribals in the absence of connecting roads and bridges. He read out a long list of bridges needed on the various rivers and streams flowing through the area.
Asked if he had any proposed bridges on mind, which are not happening due to Naxal opposition, Sovni told The Indian Express, “Not really. We are stressing generally on the need for many such roads and bridges.”
Further asked what then was the point in organising the rally, Sovni said, “It was basically to make the local people realise what they deserved but were being deprived of by the Naxals and to inspire them into standing up against Naxals to demand such development projects.”
Sovni pointed out that Naxal opposition is known to have stalled many such projects in Gadchiroli and has even claimed lives of those who championed the cause. “Bhamragarh Congress president Malu Kopa Bogami was killed by Naxals precisely for this reason. They had exploded a wooden bridge he had built in the interiors of Lahiri to facilitate connectivity of remote villages with Bhamragarh. The Naxals had also killed PWD engineer Sankaran who had dared build a bridge in Etapalli tehsil.”
Bhumkaal Sangathan, however, had opposed the iron-ore mining projects in Etapalli tehsil of the district. Asked if and why he considered mining as “anti-people” and not development, Sovni said, “We are opposing it because it is being done in a non-transparent manner with the local stakeholder population not being taken into confidence.”
Sovni and his fellow activists had organised a shodhyatra (search procession) in the interiors of Gadchiroli about a couple of years ago to gauge the people’s pulse on the issues of development.