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Mainstream Vol. XLVI No 26

The State’s Response

Report of expert group on “development issues to deal with causes of discontent, unrest and extremism

Sunday 15 June 2008


[(The following is one chapter of the Report of the Expert Group on “Development Issues to Deal with the Causes of Discontent, Unrest and Extremism”, set up by the Planning Commission, in May 2006. With D. Bandyopadhyay, the architect of ‘Operation Barga’ of West Bengal in the eighties and former Secretary, Rural Development, Government of India, as the Chairman, the Group consisted of sixteen members. Besides D. Bandyopadhyay, the other members were S.R. Sankaran, Dr B.D. Sharma, Kamala Prasad, Prakash Singh, Ajit Doval, Sukhdeo Thorat, K. Balagopal, Ms Bela Bhatia, Dr E. A. S. Sarma, K.B. Saxena, Saibal Gupta, Dilip Singh Bhuria, Ram Dayal Munda, Dr N. J. Kurian and Santosh Mehrotra. The Group completed its work in April 2008. Apart from Prakash Singh and Ajit Doval who supported the Salwa Judum movement, the remaining fourteen members unequivocally opposed the project. One chapter of the Report, entitled ’People’s Discontent and System Failure’, appeared in Mainstream (June 7, 2008). Another chapter of the Report will be carried in the following issue of this journal. —Editor)]

Historically the first instance of a positive state response was the attempt made from within the First United Front Government of West Bengal in 1967 to handle the first phase of the Naxalite movement, which was christened as ‘spring thunder’ by the People’s Daily of Beijing. Shri Hare Krishna Konar of the CPI-M was the Revenue Minister. He cited Mao Zedong’s fish-in-water theory. Fish were the militants and the disgruntled peasantry constituted the water. So long as there was dissatisfaction among the peasantry, militants could operate freely. Hence, the policy proposed by him to the United Front Government was to wean away the angry peasantry from militancy by a massive programme of vesting of ceiling-surplus land of the big zamindars and landowners. This programme resulted in vesting in the Government of a million acres of good agricultural land belonging to the erstwhile zamindars and jotedars. When the peasantry found that the large areas of land would be distributed amongst them, their loyalty shifted from the Naxalite militants to the normal political process. By and large by 1973 the Naxalite movement disappeared in West Bengal.

In the early 1970s, Bihar witnessed an acute social and agrarian unrest arising out of widespread social discrimination against the Dalits and exploitation of agricultural workers and tenant farmers. It manifested very sharply in the areas inhabited by the Musahars in Muzaffarpur district. Jay Prakash Narayan himself took the initiative to meet this militant movement almost alone, by mobilising Musahars for occupation and cultivation of Bhoodan land and some benami lands of very rich landowners of the area.

When rural unrest spread from West Bengal to areas in undivided Bihar as well as the agency areas of Andhra Pradesh, the Central Government responded to it by producing a document on the causes of agrarian discontent, highlighting the failure of implementation of land reform laws and the Minimum Wages Act. In 1971, the then Prime Minister, Mrs Indira Gandhi, convened a meeting of the Chief Ministers to address the problem of growing agrarian unrest in different parts of India. In this meeting, the then Home Minister, Mr Y. B. Chavan, made that famous statement that the Government of India would not allow the Green Revolution to become a Red Revolution. Under the guidance of Indira Gandhi, the Government of India issued a series of guidelines for the implementation of land reforms laws and plugging the loopholes in the existing laws. Among the measures suggested were imposition of family ceiling, thereby substantially reducing the ceiling on individual holding, some relief to the tenants where tenancy is recognised, further implementation of the Minimum Wages Act for the agricultural workers, and the like. Such measures, however imperfectly implemented, did have some good impact. Rural unrest waned for a while.

From the early 1970s to the middle 1980s, the Central Government and the Planning Commission recognised the basic principles enunciated in the Preamble of the Constitution and the major points under the Directive Principles of State Policy. The Plan documents used to reiterate the commitment to reduction in inequality of income and wealth among and within different sections of the community. With the paradigm shift of the economic policy from 1991 all these values of egalitarianism, equity, control of exploitation, social and economic and political justice lost their earlier priority.

The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA)’s Annual Report for the year 2006-07 mentions the spread of the Naxal movement across 12 States of the Union. The profile of violence during the last few years has been as follows:

The Prime Minister has described the Naxalite movement as the single biggest threat to the internal security of the country.

Head 2003 2004 2005 2006
No. of Incidents 1597 1533 1608 1509
No. of Civilians killed 410 466 524 521
No. of Policemen killed 105 100 153 157
No. of Naxalites killed 216 87 225 272

Government of India’s Policy

THE salient features of the Government policy to deal with the Naxal problem, as outlined in the MHA’s Status Paper brought out in May 2006, are summarised below:

(i) deal sternly with the Naxalites indulging in violence;

(ii) address the problem simultaneously on political, security and development fronts in a holistic manner;

(iii) ensure inter-State coordination in dealing with the problem;

(iv) accord priority to faster socio-economic development in the Naxal affected or prone areas;

(v) supplement the efforts and resources of the affected States on both security and development fronts;

(vi) promote local resistance groups against the Naxalites;

(vii) use mass media to highlight the futility of Naxal violence and the loss of life and property caused by it;

(viii) have a proper surrender and rehabilitation for the Naxalites; and

(ix) affected States will not have any peace dialogue with the Naxal groups unless the latter agree to give up violence and arms.

All these constitute the ingredients of internal security which the State should address by appropriate sectoral ameliorative measures. The removal of other insecurities like land insecurity, livelihood insecurity, food insecurity and security against economic and social oppression were not being properly addressed. These issues have to be responded to fairly and justly.

Like the earlier West Bengal experience, Andhra also had an experience in dealing with the problem. N.T. Ramarao described the Naxalites as deshbhaktalu (patriot) and annalu (elder brother). But this attitude often oscillated from Naxalites being called patriots to the enemy of the state. The response of the States also varied accordingly.

The Naxal problem has to be tackled in a multipronged approach. Some of the ameliorative measures like the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA), 2005, Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006, National Rehabilitation and Resettlement Policy, 2007 have been introduced and mentioned elsewhere in the Report.

Sincere efforts have to be made to ensure that these pieces of legislation would not merely embellish the statute book. These should be effectively implemented to achieve the objectives for which these laws have been enacted. Doubt arose because the draft rules circulated for the Forest Dwellers Rights Act, on June 19, 2007, clarified certain difficult points, for instance, “other traditional rights”, “primarily reside in and dependent on forest or forest land”, “rights to minor forest produce” etc. to remove any ambiguity or ambivalent nuances and for easy implementation for the benefit of the target groups. But they were summarily deleted in the final notification of the Rules published on January 1, 2008. Unless the original clarifications, as contained in the draft Rules of June 19, 2007, are restored fully, the Act would fail to achieve its objective of removing the “historical injustice to forest dwelling Scheduled Tribes and other traditional forest dwellers who are integral to the very survival and sustainability of the forest ecosystem”. Moreover disaffection and dissatisfaction among them would grow, thereby aggravating social dissension and unrest.

The National Rehabilitation and Resettlement Policy, 2007 is a significant step in dealing with discontent, unrest and tension arising out of widespread forcible displacement. There is an urgent need to implement it justly and with empathy to all by the requiring authority/agencies/bodies to remove the trauma suffered by displaced persons. The sad experience of a similar policy announced in 2003 that was never implemented should not be repeated. It is hoped that this progressive policy would be fully implemented.

The National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) is an important element in providing livelihood support and protection to the poorest of the poor. However, the experience so far suggests that in backward and remote districts with poor administration structures the implementation is not at all satisfactory. There has been inadequate focus on systems, mechanisms and capacity in these areas, which need to be strengthened so that the NREGA fulfils its promise to enhance livelihood support. Evidence from the backward and tribal areas of Orissa, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh demonstrates that greater focus on better administrative support is required to extend the reach of these programmes. So far the evidence indicates that militants have not interfered with the implementation of this programme in these areas.

It has to be recognised, however, that no State could agree to a situation of seizure of power through violence when the Constitution provides for change of government through the electoral process. Hence strengthening and reorientation of the law enforcement apparatus is a necessity to ensure justice and peace for the tribal for this and other reasons. The law enforcement machinery in the affected areas would need to be strengthened. Some of the suggested measures could be:

(i) Additional police stations/outposts in the affected areas;

(ii) Filling up the police vacancies and improving the police-people ratio;
(iii) Sophisticated weapons for the police;

(iv) Personnel to be given training including in matters relating to Fundamental Right of the citizen and Human Rights;

(v) Incentive allowance for staff posted in the affected areas;

(vi) Leadership of a high order for the forces deployed; and

(vii) Specific ban on extra-judicial killings and “encounter” killings.

Along with these measures both development administration and magistrates require to be strengthened for providing good governance in these areas.

There are remote areas in the country where there is hardly any governance. Abujmarh in Narainpur district of Chhattisgarh is one such area. Abujhmarh literally means ‘Unknown Highlands’. The area has a tribal population of 27,000 inhabiting some 260 far-flung villages over a sprawling area of 4000 sq. kms. The tribals here are primarily the Maria; they are the most backward tribals between the rivers Ganga and Godavari. Abujhmarh has a difficult terrain which remains cut off from the rest of the civilised world for about six months a year. The Expert Group was appalled to be told that the area has not been surveyed to date and that it has hardly any revenue or police presence on a regular basis. No wonder, the Naxals have made it one of their strongholds. Even in areas which are not so much in the interior, the absence of adequate public intervention, especially in education, health and employment, has allowed the non-state actors to push their agenda among the people.

Transparency in the functioning of the Government is an essential requirement of good governance. The initiative taken by the Government in enacting the Right to Information Act of 2005 will go a long way in promoting transparency, provided the factors that impede its enforcement are removed, especially insofar as its use by the weaker sections is concerned. The procedures presently in place of a person seeking information under the Act are time- consuming and expensive. Unless the constraints in the implementation for the Act are identified and reviewed, the benefits of the Act will not reach the disadvantaged sections. The Government in consultation with the appropriate communities and the civil society should arrange convenient mechanisms for reaching out to the weaker sections and helping them in taking full advantage of the RTI.

However, the Naxalite movement has to be recognised as a political movement with a strong base largely among the landless and poor peasantry and adivasis. Its emergence and growth need to be contexualised in the social conditions and experience of the people who form a part of it. The huge gap between state policy and performance is a feature of these conditions. Though its professed long term ideology is capturing state power by force, in its day-to-day manifestation it is to be looked upon by their support as basically a fight for social justice, equality, protection and local development. The two have to be seen together without overplaying the former. Its geographical spread is rooted in the failure to remove the conditions which give rise to it.

Since the goals of the movement are political, it has to be addressed politically. Negotiation is the only political instrument of such a response in a democracy. An ameliorative approach with emphasis on a negotiated solution helps to generate greater confidence of the alienated people in governance. This approach is used the world over to tackle insurgencies democratically. It will cause the least possible injury to the people caught in the conflict. Special fund allocations are justified by a huge lag in development and inequality in the distribution of resources and benefits. Though belated, it would rectify a historical wrong.

In May 2004, yet another opportunity for talks arose, with the coming into power of the Congress Party which had made a promise in their election manifesto of having talks with the Naxalite parties, treating the issue as socio-economic. With the help of the Committee of Concerned Citizens, modalities were arrived at, including ground rules for ceasefire, and a tentative agenda. The ban on the CPI-ML (People’s War) and its allied organisations was also lifted in order to facilitate the talks. A team of agreed mediators was also agreed upon.

The peace talks between the CPI-ML (People’s War) [which with the merger of the Maoist Communist Centre came to be known as the CPI (Maoist)], and CPI-ML (Janashakti) on the one side, and the State Government on the other took place for four days from October 15 to October 18, 2004. While the Naxalite parties were represented by their State leadership, the State Government was represented by the Home Minister along with some other Ministers and leaders. Out of the eleven items of the agenda, two items, that is, creation of a democratic atmosphere and, more important, the land issues were discussed in detail.

While the first round of discussions ended with the hope of further rounds of talks, the subsequent atmosphere of violence and mutual distrust led to the announcement of withdrawal from talks by the CPI (Maoist) and CPI-ML (Janashakti) parties on January 17, 2005. Nor did the Government show any serious interest in the continuance of ceasefire or talks after the completion of the first round. A historic opportunity to ‘heal the wounds’ was thus lost.

The Government’s Status Paper on the Naxal Problem appropriately mentions a holistic approach and lays emphasis on accelerated socio-economic development of the backward areas. However, clause 4 (v) of the Status Paper states that “there will be no peace dialogue by the affected States with the Naxal groups unless the latter agree to give up violence and arms”. This is incomprehensible and is inconsistent with the Government’s stand vis-à-vis other militant groups in the country.

The Government has been conducting peace talks with the Naga rebels of the NSCN-IM faction for the last nearly ten years, even though the rebels have not only not surrendered their weapons but continue to build up their arsenal. What is worse, the NSCN-IM have taken advantage of the peaceful conditions to consolidate their hold and establish what could be called almost a parallel government. In relation to the ULFA also, the Government is prepared to have a dialogue without insisting on the insurgents surrendering their weapons. In J&K, the Government has more than once conveyed its willingness to hold talks with any group which is prepared to come to the negotiating table. Why a different approach to the Naxals? The doors of negotiations should be kept open.

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