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It Happened In Dharmapenta

What a Chhattisgarh village can teach on how to wrest ground from Maoists.

Written by R.K. Vij | Updated: August 4, 2015 3:17:11 am

Taking a cue from the Centre’s national policy and action plan to tackle left-wing extremism (LWE), Chhattisgarh has proved that if certain steps are taken by the security forces and the civil administration, Maoists are bound to lose ground. Many new camps have been established in areas where there has been a security vacuum for years. Despite fierce Maoist resistance, security forces have advanced strategically into these areas. However, the success of the forces hinges more on a positive impact on the people around these camps than the number of Maoist killed. Though the proscribed CPI-Maoist continues to emphasise “protracted armed struggle” to capture political power, governments are focusing on development to make up for the socioeconomic deficit.

Dharmapenta, a tiny 27-household village, is about seven km from the Telangana border. Though there are excellent roads and civic amenities in Telangana, Dharmapenta was devoid of basic facilities. People along the border mostly speak Dorli, a mix of Telugu and Gondi. The presence of the government was restricted to one symbolic primary school, which was blasted by Maoists long ago and converted into a piggery. Villagers had to travel more than 60 km through Telangana to get PDS rations. Even safe drinking water and health facilities were a dream before the Chhattisgarh police set up a security camp near the village in November 2014.

As expected, Maoists strongly resisted the establishment of the camp with continual firing. The police retaliated, but carefully avoided collateral damage to the villagers and immediately constructed a kutcha road connecting the village with the Telangana border. When the nursing staff of the police force offered medical assistance, the villagers were overwhelmed by the gesture. The police dug three tubewells for the villagers to meet their drinking water requirements. Many daily-use items were distributed under the government’s civic action programme. Soon, demands for tubewells started pouring in from bordering villages. But the turnaround came when the villagers started denying Maoists cover to fire at the police forces.

Sensing a change in attitudes, the civil administration decided to implement government schemes without remiss. The district superintendent of police and collector personally took stock of the situation. Indira Awaas funds were sanctioned on the spot and BPL cards were issued to those who didn’t possess them already. A decision was taken to light up the village using solar power. The damaged school would be given a new look and the PDS shop shifted to the village. Construction of a culvert, essential to make the kutcha road motorable during the rains, was sanctioned. The villagers were delighted to see the transformation.

The government’s comprehensive action plan is a wholesome package for development. It includes infrastructure as well as skill development, to ensure employment. There are livelihood colleges in most LWE districts. The prime minister, who visited Dantewada in May, interacted with students of the livelihood college there and hailed the state’s initiative. There is no shortage of funds for the development of tribal areas. Rigid rules that made it difficult for district-level officials to function in sync with local needs have been relaxed. The only hurdle now is the reluctance of implementing agencies to work in such areas. If the present trend of delegating decision-making powers to district-level authorities and the participation of the local population in developmental activities continues, regional imbalances will gradually diminish.

For a long-lasting solution, the Dharmapenta approach should be replicated in other areas to reestablish the government’s writ. Maoists, who take pride in mindless and brutal killings at “jan adalats” to unleash a reign of terror and sustain artificially created “people’s support”, who blast roads to stop security forces from entering their core areas and take advantage of the lack of development, can only be defeated if the comprehensive national policy and action plan is implemented in letter and spirit.

The writer is additional director general of police in Chhattisgarh.

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