18 May 2011

Rally Against N-Plant At Jaitapur: Harassment All The Way

The three-day yatra organised by different civil society groups, saw the participation of about 100 people, but at the same time was marred by detentions, harassment and arrests of the yatris by the state authorities. The yatra which started from Tarapur, the site of India's first nuclear reactors, was to reach Jaitapur eventually in Ratnagiri district, where India's largest nuclear project is being planned.

The yatra did not just see people and groups from Maharashtra, but saw people from across the country participating. The yatra saw social activists such as Vaishali Patil of Konkan Vinashkari Prakalp Virodhi Samiti, Banwarilal Sharma, HM Desarda, environmentalists, former Navy Chief Admiral L. Ramdas, former Supreme Court and Bombay High Court Judges P.B. Sawant and B.G. Kolse-Patil, academicians and students, all coming together to express solidarity with the people in Jaitapur who have been fighting against the project for five years.
There were five of us, from Haripur, who went in solidarity with people in Jaitapur. Haripur is also reeling under pressure, with the government giving a go ahead to build a nuclear power plant, which would affect lakhs of people and cause huge-scale displacement.
There was a lot of enthusiasm among the yatris, but at the same time, future was uncertain with the recent firing and death of a protestor in Jaitapur, a day earlier.
Day One, 23 April, Saturday- The rally began in Tarapur, under the heavy deployment of police personnel. The rally was addressed by speakers ranging from activists, retired judges and scientists. As the yatra began, the police decided to break up the yatra and detain all of us in Boisar near Tarapur for eight hours without stating the reason. 135 activists were detained for the whole day, and we were let off only at night. Not just that, they bullied the drivers of the two hired buses carrying the yatris into abandoning the trip.
When the police said they would have to detain us till any communication from Mantralaya, we sat on a hunger strike to protest what they called “unjust detention.”
Knowing the fact that we will be detained again, we decided to move in small groups and reach Pen in Raigad district.
Day Two, 24 April, Sunday-All of us reached Pen after a lot of harassment. Interrupting a rally in the morning there, the police detained us again for violating prohibitory orders imposed on Saturday night. Some were arrested and all of us detained for the whole day – under Section 68 of the Bombay Police Act. The repression from the administration thus continued unabated, in the likelihood of a ‘law and order problem’.

Day Three, 25 April, Monday- In a final crackdown on the yatra, the police arrested 13 activists on the last day of the three-day campaign. They were arrested from Shivaji Chowk after they had garlanded Shivaji's statue. They were booked under Section 37 (3) of the Bombay Police Act (prohibiting assembly or procession). All of us were detained and all were booked under bailable offences. The yatra never reached Jaitapur because of persistent detentions of demonstrators at every step. 10 persons, mostly Gandhians decided to go ahead and go to Jaitapur.

Even though the yatra could not complete its entire leg, what it did achieve was to bring people across states and professions together and demand, ‘nuclear energy is unacceptable’. For all of us from Haripur, we take back a lot from this journey. Talking about our struggle with other yatris, most others believed that the Haripur struggle is one of the strongest movements against nuclear energy in the country. Support from other groups renewed our strength to continue our struggle and make it even stronger.

14 May 2011

West Bengal Elections: Change Vindicates Our Stand

Paschim Banga Khet Majoor Samity (PBKMS) welcomes the election results in West Bengal, which have given a decisive defeat to the Left Front after 34 years of uninterrupted rule by them. We congratulate the TMC- Congress combine on this victory. This victory vindicates the stand that PBKMS has been taking for many years now, that the Left Front has become an instrument of oppression of the people of Bengal, and that it has failed miserably to play the historic pro-working people role that the Left must always play.

While the media may project this as a single individual, Mamata Banerjee defeating Buddhadeb Bhattacharya and the Left Front, we know that behind this defeat is the disgust of many people in innumerable small towns and villages with their local CPI(M) dada (party boss)  and his dadagiri (bossism). The Singur and Nandigram struggles have given the common men and women the courage to protest against this bossism, and that has resulted in their resistance to the everyday bullying and terror of the CPI(M), as well as this electoral defeat. 

The CPI (M) had become an arrogant, intolerant party which had only the capacity to line the pockets of its own coterie and had lost the ability to listen to (let alone dialogue with) the working people of this state. There are high expectations from the TMC and one looks forward to their fulfilling this. We look forward, first, to a halt to inter-party violent clashes in our state. We look forward to the TMC establishing true democracy in the place of party- autocracy.  We look forward to the TMC fulfilling the aspirations of the working people in this state for secure livelihoods, better wages, cheap food and for safe working conditions. We look forward to their reversing a Government that was controlled by syndicates or cartels of contractor and industrialists and that was held at ransom by irresponsible Government officials into a Government that responds to people’s needs. We look forward to their dealing sternly with corruption and nepotism in their own ranks, without relying only on the incorruptible image and popularity of their main leader.

We also look forward to the CPI(M) and its smaller partners  playing the role of a responsible opposition, standing by people who are in struggles and raising their issues in the Assembly. It is a historic opportunity for the CPI(M) to cleanse itself internally of corruption and contractor lobbies. Unfortunately, the CPI(M) and its Left Front  partners have become used to being “arrangers” and middlemen between the Government and their own coteries. They have become the proponents of the paiye deba rajniti – the politics of arranging benefits for a few faithful followers. They now have the opportunity to genuinely become a part of working class movements – a role they have totally neglected since their Government was in power.

We look forward to an active Bengal which will continue to voice its disapproval of anti-people steps taken by its Government and we look forward to a Government that will respond with dialogue, instead of subterfuge and bullets to its people’s demands. We look forward to democracy and a better life for the workers of our state – whether through struggle or dialogue.

Mijanur Rehaman , Anuradha Talwar , Swapan Ganguly  and all other members of the State Committee
Date: 13 May 2011

11 May 2011

The Nandigram Archive

Click on the links to visit articles and reports prepared by the PBKMS on Nandigram.

Some case studies on people's response to the idea of land acquisition along with Panchayat-wise figures on land use in the affected area
Article by Swapan Ganguly
Nandigram on the verge of civil war
An appeal issued by PBKMS for support of the Nandigram people after its General Secretary visited Nandigram after the murder of 7 people on 7 January 2007
7 January 2007
A report on people's uprising in Nandigram
Chronology of events in the early days of the Nandigram struggle prepared by PBKMS from newspaper reports. This report was prepared as input for the Ctizen's Fact Finding team that visited Nandigram at the end of January 2007 and that was led by Sumit Sarkar
17 January 2007
A first hand report, with photographs, by a PBKMS team that visited Nandigram between 22 and 24 January 2007 during the early days of the struggle
22-24 January 2007
Report of a citizen's committee led by Sumit Sarkar, who visited Nandigram from 26 to 28 January 2007
26-27 January 2007
Report prepared by APDR and PBKMS after their investigative visit on March 15th and 16th to Nandigram. This report was submitted to Kolkata High Court and was one of the first substantive reports on the March 14 carnage
15-16 March 2007
A preliminary report and appeal issued by PBKMS on 17th March 2007  immediately after the March 14th carnage in Nandigram
17 March 2007
Prepared by PBKMS to counter the propaganda being put forward by the CPI(M) on the Nandigram massacre
21 March 2007
Report of a people's tribunal on Nandigram organised by an all-India citizen's committee
26-28 May 2007 
Report of a door-to-door survey done in the villages by a committee of activists from different NGOs and people's organisations known as Sameekshak Samannaya
April to June 2007
Resolution Adopted in the All India Convention on Nandigram and SEZs, held on 2-3 June, 2007 at the Netaji Subhash Institute in Kolkata
 2-3 June 2007
Report prepared after visits from November 8-15 2007 by a group of social activists, including PBKMS President, to Nandigram after the attempt by the CPI(M) to "recapture" the area through its Operation Sunrise
8-15 November 2007
Report of a visit in April 2008  by several activists including the president of PBKMS to Nandigram in the run up to the 2008 Panchayat elections
April 2008
Letter that PBKMS and the Association for Protection of Democratic Rights sent to the Chief Secretary of the West Bengal government demanding compensation for those injured, raped/sexually molested in the Nandigram incident on 14 March 2007 
14 March 2011

Informal Sector Organising In West Bengal: Points For Discussion

We have seen in these elections a marked increase in the focus on the issues of unorganised workers. It is not as if all political parties are clamouring that they are going to stand up for the rights of unorganised sector once they are elected, but issues that concern us have not been as marginal as they used to be in earlier elections. For example, the word khet majoor or agricultural worker was largely subsumed under the categories of sharecroppers, marginal and small farmers earlier. Now, there seems to be a greater acknowledgement that there is such a group and that their interests are not identical to the needs of other marginal sections in the farming sector. On the whole, political party manifestos also – both Left and Right- have much more focus on the needs and demands of the informal sector.

There has also before the elections been an attempt by various forces to form fronts and to focus on the rights of this huge sector of workers.  Three separate initiatives have emerged – the oldest has been Asanghathit Kshetra Sangrami Shramik Manch (which was formed by unorganised sector worker unions on 31January 2010 and which has mainly focused on the issue of wages in the unorganised sector). Shramik Adhikar Yatra was formed more recently at the beginning of this year to focus public attention on the movements and demands of working people who are outside the party fold. A third attempt has been made by Durbar Mahila Samanvay Samity, an association of sex workers, to focus particularly on the rights of women workers in the unorganised sector. The last has not named its front as yet and has decided instead to initiate a unity attempt between the three, which in itself is a welcome move.  So, for the time being, while the participants in all three overlap to some extent, they continue with their separate identities, though there is an attempt to unite them.

The unorganised sector is characterised by a mountain of problems for workers, with little effective legislation, tremendous oppression and exploitation. These are combined with the lack of organising in the unorganised sector and the fragmented nature of whatever organising is taking place. Attempts at coming together and consolidation of the organising are therefore to be welcomed, especially if we want to change the electoral rhetoric of political parties into real gains. However it is also clear through discussions with the participants in the three fronts, and through an observation of what is happening there as well as looking at their documents, there are certain issues that need urgent discussion and resolution if we want to go any further in this attempt at organising a platform of informal sector workers. These issues are:

Issues:  The effort so far has been to bring a wide range of people together. Thus, there are workers such as sex workers whose first struggle is the very acknowledgement that they are workers.  Similarly, there are women who are involved in unpaid work within the family and whose labour is not recognised as work at all. One of the documents mentions cultural workers, but the nature of their labour remains undefined. At the other extreme are construction workers and biri workers for whom some laws exist and who have to struggle to make these real and effective. Some of the documents mention workers of closed industries, where the issues involved become very different. There is also a range of workers who are self employed and for whom the demands are for stopping police harassment, for capital and other support for their businesses. The relationship of all these workers with natural resources is also different where, for forest workers or fisherfolk or agricultural workers, the manner in which forest, water and land are used is paramount, which may not be true for, say, the hawker in the city, for whom a more important issue is perhaps shelter.   In addition, issues of caste and ethnic discrimination have also been brought up. With the huge presence of women, issues of gender discrimination would definitely be important.

So what ultimately is it that all of us have in common and what are the issues on which we can struggle together? One of the documents mentions three issues, which could form the basis for united action i.e. recognition as a worker, a decent living minimum wage for all, and social security measures. The Ashanghatit Kshetra Sangrami Shramik Mancha had chosen minimum wage as an issue for united action.

From our own experience, we can say that even with a more limited coming together at the state level on the issue of minimum wage, it has been very difficult to translate even a theoretical unity into unity of action at the grassroots level. The question of the issues on which we come together therefore remains very important.

NGOs and People’s Organisations: Platforms that deal with workers rights must be led by workers’ themselves, if they are to truly represent the interests of workers.  Some workers in the informal sector have formed themselves into trade unions which are registered and are democratic bodies. On the other hand a number of more informal formations that go under the broad category of people’s organisations also exist in the informal sector. One must ensure a structure that allows for their representation and one must also ensure that these are genuinely people’s organisations and represent their interests democratically. In the absence of self-organising in the informal sector, a number of NGOs have also played the important role of initiating, promoting and supporting organising in the informal sector. However, NGOs are not people’s organisations or trade unions and this differentiation is very important if we want the platform to be led by workers and to represent workers. A structure which is trying to bring together workers in the informal sector must therefore ensure roles for all such formations as direct participants in the forum or as supporters, in the case of NGOs, but without losing sight of the fact that control must lie in the hands of the   workers themselves.

Donors:  Organising in the informal sector has always suffered from a problem of resources. Many people have resorted to the short cut of taking funds from a donor, rather than relying on funds that have been raised from the workers themselves. As a union that was promoted by an NGO and that has received various kinds of support from NGOs, and that has had to struggle very hard to ensure that we do not become donor controlled, the Khet Majoor Samity has direct experience of the ways in which such relationships and funds can damage a movement, especially when such donors participate directly or indirectly in the platform itself. Donors can often be insensitive enough to even dictate programme formats, timings etc to the workers’ organisations. Even with donors who are not so insensitive, the presence of large funds can distort the platform’s programme, where the availability of funds rather than the initiative of workers determines the activity. The problem becomes most acute when a platform that is used to receiving funds has its funds stopped. This leads to collapse of the platform, and this a ploy that has often been used by donors to control activity i.e. get a platform to depend on money and then withdraw, leading to collapse. There is also the problem of credibility, where the presence, overt or hidden, of donors in a platform or in support of it makes people sceptical and suspicious about the politics of such work, making it difficult to build larger alliances.
Strategy: The last issue is one of strategy. What is the platform for: discussions, seminars, meetings, workshops? Or also for action on the streets?  Militancy must be one of the essential elements of any platform that wants to espouse the rights of unorganised sector workers. In the face of a resistant and vested state, advocacy alone will not work, nor will legal action alone. Militant action (albeit peaceful action) has to be an intrinsic part of the activity of such a platform both to pressure the state as well as to break the culture of silence and passivity that envelopes workers in the informal sector,. Hence issues of strategy also need to be discussed and resolved.

On Anna Hazare's Fast

By Anuradha Talwar
I have three strange measuring rods by which I measure the impact of any political happening in the country. 

The first is a phone conversation that I have almost every morning with my mother, who is a 75-year-old middle class lady. Whether it is the Maoist problem or our relations with Pakistan or price rise, as a woman who avidly reads all the important English newspapers in Delhi every morning, she has a strong opinion about the most important problems that face the country. Her responses give me a good idea about what the English-speaking middle class is thinking. This is confirmed by a quick surfing through all the English news channels in the evening, when talk shows tend to concentrate generally on the issue that seems to worry my mother the most that day. If these two indicators match each other, one knows what the middle class is concerned about.

And then there are the Bengali papers- seemingly talking of a different world, with their coverage of the viscous exchanges between Mamata and Buddha.  They write about happenings in Delhi as if that was another country - unless these happenings in Delhi actually visibly impact what is happening in West Bengal. This gives an idea of what the people of Bengal are thinking about.
Last but not least are the concerns of our members, which are much more difficult to generalise on because they tend to be localised and therefore very diverse. These come up in the phone calls they make to us or in their discussions during our meetings.

It is very seldom that all three measuring rods telling me the same thing - the Nandigram massacre was one such incident where each echoed the others in expressing disgust. Fortunately or otherwise, India’s win of the World Cup was another issue on which all three were effusive.

Anna Hazare’s fast for the Jan Lokpal Bill was an issue on which the three measuring rods did not match. My mother was effusive and enthusiastic about the near revolution she felt was happening at the Jantar Mantar. The English Language channels were equally voluble. The Bengali channels touched on the issue passingly and remained focused on Mamata’s Long March and Biman/Guatam/ Buddha’s comments. Surprisingly, neither party in Bengal spoke about corruption in the state in a very loud voice - the CPI(M) and Left obviously because they followed the adage of people in glass houses not throwing stones, the Congress because they were at the receiving end at Delhi and the TMC for some reason known only to itself (perhaps they were afraid of being upstaged by an old man who was not even in politics) - though one of their Ministers at Delhi did throw  a bombshell by offering to resign and join Anna Hazare’s fast, after saying there was corruption even in his party.   

Thus, despite all the hullabaloo in Delhi even in the midst of the state assembly elections, corruption has not become an election issue. Things are too polarised and supporters of both groups seem to feel that talking of corruption would make the polarisation disappear with both groups being painted black.

As far as our members in villages were concerned, they carry on with their demands for wages and work under NREGA, their rations from the PDS, their missing old age pension, their demand for inclusion in the BPL list, their fight against illicit liquor, oblivious of this old man who fasted in Delhi, as if Anna Hazare had nothing to do with their day-to-day struggles.

There thus remains a worrying disjoint between what is happening in Delhi and the concerns of our village members. The Delhi-walas seem concerned about the 2 G scam, the Commonwealth Games and the Adarsh Housing scam. My khet majoor comrade, Mumtaz Bibi, is worried that her daughter is marriageable age but still does not have a ration card, because she has not been able to bribe the right official or does not belong to the right political party.  Narayan Mahato, on the other hand, worries that the measurement in the NREGS work is giving him a wage of only Rs.72 per day, while the supervisor in collusion with the Panchayat staff and local party pockets the rest of his Rs.130 wage.  Small issues when you compare them to the lakhs of crores in the 2G scam, but these are bread and butter issues, issues of sheer survival for the large majority of our people, especially when raising one’s voice even on such a small issue leads to harassment and even false criminal charges.

There is also the experience of the past 5-6 years when we have seen (after UPA 1) a plethora of progressive legislation, and the ability of the system to turn them into non-performers. NREGA 2006, Right to Information Act, Forest Dwellers’ Act, Unorganised Sector Workers Welfare Act, Prevention of Domestic Violence Against Women – all of these were well-intentioned pieces of legislation with civil society efforts of varying degree put into drafting them and steering them through. None of them have lived up to the expectations they generated, many turning into damp squibs, unable to stem the rot in a system where the ones who are at the receiving end in society continue to get a raw deal despite these Acts.

In all these legislation, it was the build up of a movement that led to such an Act that was very beneficial for people’s movements as a whole. It led to mobilisation, awareness, militancy, removal of fear, voicing of protest and a pressure on the system that sometimes resulted in the system providing justice people. One can only wish that the activity at Jantar Mantar had lasted for a longer period of time to result in the involvement of grass root people in it and its spread to even remote rural areas.

For corruption to end, one needs corruption to become an issue that impacts elections  (which it is not doing at the moment in West Bengal), for the disjunction between the Delhi Jantar Mantar crowd and the khet majoor in Sunderbans to end and for a long-term movement rather than an instant legislation. Let us hope the future holds promise on all three counts.

03 May 2011

'Undeclared Civil War-Like Situation, Starvation In Dantewada'

[Report of Special Commissioner to the Supreme Court, Harsh Mander, on his visit to village Morpalli in Dantewada, Bastar, Chattisgarh on April 6, 2011]                                                   
In the Writ Petition (C) No.196 of 2011, PUCL Vs. Union of India, the petitioner PUCL on 29th March 2011 petitioned the Supreme Court that they feared that conditions of acute hunger and starvation were rampant in Morpalli, Timapuram and Tarmetla villages of Dantewada district of Chhattisgarh. These conditions arose, according to the petitioners, because on 11 March 2011, about 200 local armed militia (the so-called Koya commandos) and 150 Special Forces (the anti-Naxalite CoBRA force of the CRPF) allegedly burnt all the houses, grain reserves and moveable properties at these villages. They referred to media reports that both the district administration and civil society groups, including one led by Swami Agnivesh, were blocked subsequently from reaching food and other supplies to the affected villages. Therefore they sought directions that the Special Commissioner to the Supreme Court in the CWP 196/2001 Mr. Harsh Mander should visit the villages with district officials to ascertain the conditions of the residents.  The Supreme Court in its order of 28 March 2011 noted that the Commissioner would visit the site with district officials and submit his report to the Supreme Court before the next hearing.

In consequence of this order, the Special Commissioner to the Supreme Court in the CWP 196/2001 Harsh Mander requested the state government to make appropriate arrangements for him to visit the affected villages at the earliest. The state government agreed to offer all assistance to facilitate his enquiry, subject to 2 requests. He should await the visit first of H.E. the Governor and the Chief Minister to the villages on 2 April, and that the state government would be able to make arrangements to visit only one village, because of the burden of ensuring security arrangements. 

Accordingly, Harsh Mander visited village Morpalli in Dantewada on 6 April, 2011. He was accompanied on the helicopter by Principal Secretary to the Government of Chhatisgarh Mr. Vivek Dhand, Divisional Commissioner Bastar Mr. Srinivasulu, and Collector Dantewada Mr. Omprakash Choudhary, and subsequently met the Chief Secretary Mr. Joy Oommen in Raipur. The state government extended all assistance for the enquiry.  

The Hindu reported that even 20 days after the massacre, the villagers had not received any emergency aid from the state.[1] On 2 April 2011 the Chief Minister Raman Singh and others visited[2] one of the three villages that were burned down. The government distributed 17 quintals of rice, some tarpaulin, two hundred sarees for women, volleyballs, tea but no sugar, a few quintals of potatoes in Tadmetla village. The Chief Minister denied all allegations that there were starvation deaths in the affected villages, even though local news reports and those from BBC Hindi had claimed that six starvation deaths had occurred in the village of Morpalli.

On starvation deaths reported in the media, the villagers informed the team that the three deaths could have occurred because the old and feeble persons who had fled into the forests had lost their way and were unable to procure adequate food. The team noted that there was no evidence of starvation in Morpalli village, but the impoverishment and destitution was acute as the means of their survival - their granaries- had been burnt by the security forces. Moreover, they reported that there was a complete abdication of all of the state’s welfare functions as a result of which the people were unable to access basic amenities including clean drinking water.  As reported in the media, the people recounted that only the village of Tadmetla had received meagre relief from the government, despite the Chief Minister’s visit.

The Writ Petition (C) No.196 of 2011, PUCL Vs. Union of India, highlighted the events that  occurred on 11 March 2011,when about 200 local militia (Koya commandos) and 150 Special Forces (CoBRA) burnt all the houses, green reserves and property at Morpalli, Timapuram and Tarmetla villages of Dantewada district of Chhattisgarh. In consequence of this application, Special Commissioner Harsh Mander visited one of the affected villages Morpalli on 6 April, 2011, with state government officials. This is his report.

Main Findings

The visit to village Morpalli was too brief, and too much in the shadow of security, for me to be able to make detailed observations. Still, I was able to talk to the assembled villagers of Morpalli, and local village, block and district officials. I saw their burned homes and grain stores. I also spoke, incidentally, also to the jawans of the security forces. These are my main findings:

Conditions prevail in the region akin to an on-going undeclared civil war, predominantly using guerrilla tactics in the inaccessible and thickly forested region. The indigent local tribal communities are trapped in unending cycles of often brutal violence, unleashed consecutively by Maoists, security forces and vigilante armed civilian groups such as the Salwa Judum, and its incarnations by other names. Each group claims that there attacks are retributive and defensive, and that they have not initiated the violence. But none of the groups can defend such a claim.
The villagers of the region live in unabated conditions of great fear, of violence, but also consequences of taking sides, or being seen to be taking sides, with each of these warring groups. They are condemned equally if they act or they do not act. They are called upon by visiting dalams or squads of Maoists militants to supply them food, uniforms and sanctuary. They frequently comply, whether out of active sympathy with their ideology of armed rebellion, or from fear and helplessness. It is hard to tell what motivates this support - and I believe it is not even relevant to ask – but their perceived Maoist support results in grave and exorable consequences for the local villagers. Many are jailed as Maoist sympathisers and languish for long periods in prison, without even the succour of national and international support and human rights backing as surged for Dr. Binayak Sen. Security forces often camp in the villages, or march through these, and make similar claims on the impoverished local residents, grabbing their grain and livestock, and demanding that they cook for them and serve them. They also suffer bouts of brutal retaliatory violence from the Special Police Officers and vigilante civilian groups like the Salwa Judum, who unleash periodic violent attacks on local villagers with or without the active support of security forces.

The reliance on Special police officers recruited from the local community, and civilian vigilante groups, to fight the Maoists has bitterly torn apart the social fabric of the homogenous tribal community. When, I visited the burnt- down homes and grain stores of the villagers and spoke to some of the women there, I could observe that this was not simply a routine surgically executed attack of external armed groups. There was evidence of vicious personalised hatred of the kind that I have observed only in communal pogroms and anti- dalit attacks. It is not unusual also, say, for one brother to be a recruit of the Salwa Judum  and his sister to have joined one of the Maoist squads, and old parents left in the village struggling to survive the consequences of the violence of both. 

Another consequence of State support for civilian vigilante groups has been the transfer of all development assistance and personnel meant for the local villagers to camps of those claimed to be ‘spontaneous’ supporters of the Salwa Judum. Government officially admits to around 50,000 persons being housed in 20 Salwa Judum camps between 2005-08[3], and even during my visit to Morpalli it was clear that PDS subsidised grain for the village had been diverted to the Salwa Judum camps. It was only after intervention of the Supreme Court that PDS was restored to this and surrounding ‘affected’villages since May 2010. The villagers testified to receiving since this date their quota of highly subsidised rice from a PDS shop in Chintagupha Thana or Polamparlli Thana, which are at a distance of about 20 kilometres from the village but, only on an average, every alternate month.

Apart from this recently resumed PDS, almost all other most basic public services were unavailable to the villagers. The Maoists had bombed and razed the school building in 2007, and since then no school has functioned in the village. There is no ICDS centre and I could see highly malnourished children all around me; and very few aged persons receive pensions. The sub-health centres were also not functioning. This is the only village I have visited anywhere in the country in which the villagers had not even heard of the Mahatma Gandhi NREGA, far from possessing job cards of benefiting from wage employment in public works. The village elected Sarpanch was absconding from the village for many years. It was rumoured that he feared for his life from the Maoists; others claimed that it was from the Salwa Judum. The Gram Panchayat Sachiv, or the Secretary of the village panchayat had not visited the village for 4 years. She ventured into the village, as did the teacher and ICDS worker, only because of our visit – although they presumably were drawing their salaries regularly. On enquiry, I found that the Gram Panchayat Sachiv was a non-tribal, wife of the local grain trader and moneylender! She recalled that many years earlier, she visited the village occasionally with her husband, when he went there to buy or sell grain to the villagers. But since the Maoists gathered strength, her husband’s visits dried up, and so have hers!

I did not find evidence in my visit of confirmed starvation deaths in the village. But I found conditions of people living with starvation, in conditions of great penury and destitution. This is aggravated by the conflict. We were informed that this is the second time their houses were destroyed and their few belongings destroyed or looted. Their conditions are aggravated further by the virtual abandonment of the local people by the entire state government machinery, except the security forces. 

The village, and even block and district officials have completely abandoned services to these villages for two reasons. There is no doubt that there is real fear from the Maoists, from being targeted or being killed accidentally in land-mines or cross-fire. The Collector spoke to me of a young newly recruited Naib Tahsildar who had been sent to the village from Dantewada for 2 days before my visit in ‘preparation’. When he returned, he wept like a child before the Collector. ‘I want to do a job’, he said. ‘But I don’t want to die! If I have to do this again, I would prefer to resign.’ However, to some extent, fear of Maoist violence is also an alibi for inaction. There are fine and brave officials at various levels, including reportedly the earlier Collector Dantewada Prasanna, who braved fears of attack and roamed the length and breadth of the district, without being blocked or intimidated by Naxalites. But the second reason for the withdrawal of most public officials is that the majority of appointments are not by local residents of the villages. The only chance that teachers or panchayat secretaries or ICDS workers will continue to work in these villages is if they are actually residents of the villages, and preferably from the same tribal communities. It is true that many would not fulfil the educational qualifications for these positions. But failing to recruit them creates a vicious cycle in which even in the next generation, there will be no educated local tribal young people to recruit as teachers and village development functionaries in the next 20 years, because no schools or development institutions function at the village level. The battle against Maoist violence (and vigilante ‘counter-violence’) will be won in the end not by armed commandos and the further shedding of blood, but by schools, health centres, feeding centres and employment.

The tribal communities in the districts of South Bastar are economically and socially devastated by the conflict with which they have had to live for nearly 3 decades. But even independently of this, these districts are among the poorest in the country. It is clear from the table below that even compared with the development indicators for Chatisgarh, which are among the lowest in the country, development deficits are abysmal for Dantewada.

Socio- Economic Indicators for Bastar Division

Literacy Rate (%):

All India
South Bastar Dantedawa
North Bastar Kanker
Source: Census 2001 and 2011

Combined Enrolment ratio^
Rank^^ in Education Index
Infant Mortality Rate
Rank in Health Index
Per capita Income#
Rank in Income Index
Rank in HDI
Dantewada and Bijapur*



All India**



# Per capita income at current prices 2000-01 in INR. This per capita income is excluding the income from mining and quarry as it is believed that the income from such sources doesn’t accrue to the poor.
Source for literacy rate is census 2001 data
^ Combined enrolment ratio is the average between primary and secondary enrolment ratio
^^ Out of 16 districts
*Bijapur district was carved out of Dantewada in 2007. The information from this survey was collected between 2003-2005.
** Data on enrolment ratio and per capita income is for 2005. Source: International Human Development Indicators http://hdrstats.undp.org/en/indicators/62006.html. Data on Infant Mortality Rate is from NHFS 2005-06
@ In Purchasing Power Parity (PPP) US $
Source of the table is the Chhattisgarh Human Development Report 2005. Available at: http://cg.gov.in/book/hdr.pdf

Equally worrying is recent data from the Census 2011 that the decadal rate of growth of population of these districts is far below that of the state and country. In Bijapur and Dantewada, it is as low as 8.76% and 11.90% respectively as compared to 22.59% for the state. It is important to understand what has led to population growth which is almost half that of the overall state. The possible explanations could be a) they were not counted; b) they have far higher levels of mortality because of poor incomes, nutrition, health services and the on-going conflict; and c) internal displacement to other states like Andhra Pradesh, or other districts of Chhatisgarh. 

Decadal Population Growth Rate Figures for Selected Districts of Chhattisgarh (%)

All India
South Bastar Dantedawa
North Bastar Kanker
Source: Census 2011


In light of my findings in my visit to Morpalli village, I propose that the Supreme Court kindly considers giving the following directions:

Above all, the state government must urgently restore its development and welfare presence in this and all 644 ‘affected villages’. As a minimum, the following services should be restored within 3 months:

Every hamlet should have a fully equipped functioning ICDS centre, supported by functioning nutrition rehabilitation centres at the PHC level; there should be a drive to identify and treat malnourished children
PDS Fair Price Shops run by panchayats should be opened at the maximum distance of 5 kilometres from every hamlet, and should be open at least 5 days a week
A drive should be undertaken to ensure that all households of local tribal villagers are given AAY ration cards and foodgrains at Antodaya rates (prevalent in Chhattisgarh) in all the 644 villages affected by the on-going conflict.
MG NREGA job cards should be also given to all local households, and the State should strive to ensure that 100 days of work is given to every household that seeks employment under the scheme.
All persons above the age of 65 years should be given old age pensions
All sub-health centres and PHCs should be restored and rendered fully operative.

All primary, middle and high schools should be fully functioning, with a full contingent of teachers, and if no pucca building is available, it may be run temporarily in kutcha structures
A campaign should be undertaken under SSA to bring every child into school
To service all the conflict affected areas, sufficient numbers of residential schools for both boys and girls should be opened, and parents given the option of admitting their children in residential schools if they feel they would be safer and more secure there.
Special effort should be made to identify all minors in custody or camps, including former child soldiers, and they should be admitted into residential schools, after professional psycho-social counselling under the supervision of NCPCR.

All vacant positions should be filled within 6 months by local, preferably tribal persons, and preferably to persons who are resident in the villages. For this, if necessary educational and other qualifications should be relaxed.

All village level functionaries, including teachers, ICDS workers, and Gram Panchayat Secretaries should be residents of the villagers, and should physically reside in the villages. Non-resident appointments should be either cancelled or the functionaries transferred, as the government feels is appropriate. This should be completed in 6 months.

The state government should in 6 months study the reasons for such low decadal increase in population in the 3 districts of Bastar Division. In case the reason is that they have not been counted, this may be remedied in consultation with the Registrar General of India. In case they are internally displaced, state government should indicate the numbers and locations, and steps planned to enable people to return to their homes. A detailed report on this may be submitted to the Supreme Court.
I am not making any specific suggestions regarding relief and rehabilitation of internally displaced persons, including the estimated one lakh persons who were resident in Salwa Judum camps, or migrated to other areas including Andhra Pradesh. This is because this is already under consideration of the Supreme Court in the Writ Petition 250/2007 Nandini Sundar and Others vs. State of Chhatisgarh.

As Special Commissioner in the Writ Petition 196/2001, I propose that after receiving Action Taken Reports on each of these points, I will return to the affected areas, and periodically send my representatives, to evaluate the extent to which these steps have been taken in the affected villages, to ensure the right to life with dignity and without fear, of all the affected villagers of this impoverished, troubled and conflict-ridden region.

[1] Aman Sethi, ‘Torched Villages in Dandtewada yet to receive emergency aid’. The Hindu. 1st April 2011.
[3] ‘Hearing plea against Salwa Judum, SC says state cannot arm civilians to kill’, The Indian Express, April 1st 2008. Available at: http://www.indianexpress.com/news/hearing-plea-against-salwa-judum-sc-says-state-cannot-arm-civilians-to-kill/290932/