Where are the states in this?

Union Home Ministry’s plan to resolve the Maoist problem must give states the ownership of the problem

Here is GK Pillai, who was India’s Union Home Secretary till last year, on how the government of India seeks resolution of the Maoist problem. This is from the IPCS Conference Report #38.

The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), Government of India seeks resolution on four terms. One, basic law and order needs improvement, therefore the number of forces has been raised. The police footfall on ground has been increased three times. The government is tackling this issue head on since the last decade, as a result, the naxals are responding with large scale violence. The government proposes to deploy 120 police battalions next year and revamp the police set up. Simultaneously, general welfare schemes are paid attention to and starting from now, it would need five years to reduce the problem significantly.

Second, the focus would be on development of LWE affected areas. MHA has approved road development projects worth 7300 crore and Integrated action plan for 68 districts will be provided with internet connectivity. Considering popular grievances over land ownership, policies like the Tribal Land Act are being monitored by the MHA along with the Ministry of Tribal Affairs. Policies like the Tribal Land Act and Minor Forest Produce have given land ownership to the tribals. Bamboo has been declared as an exclusive ownership of the tribals. As a result, income of inhabitants has sharply gone up. To illustrate, tribals auctioned their produce themselves, eliminating middle men and earned 30 million annually as against earlier half million. The Police, Revenue and Forest departments were exploitative departments from a point of view. Officials are unwilling to be posted in naxal affected areas and look at such postings as punishments. Thus they are not interested at all. It’s a challenge to post and retain the best officials. So far government has achieved only 30 per cent success rate in this regard. Besides, vacancies in schools and police postings remain, which is an impediment in improving civic administration in these areas. It is extremely necessary to improve basic infrastructure in these areas to sustain recruitment and postings. PISA is monitored by the MHA. However situation is improving in a way that marriages are taking place, buses are running, markets have opened, and contractors are willing to build roads in naxal affected areas. Trust in government is improving; local population has demanded presence of police troops for another five to ten years. So far, the government has recovered 4000 sq. km of area from naxal occupation.

Third, efforts should be made to regain political space in the problem areas. Naxals do not desire popular tilt towards government and want to terrify people with their brutality. In 2011, out of 1100 persons killed by the naxals, 700 were tribals. In many areas affected by naxalism, political parties do not exist but it is important to put political presence. To understand the positive impact of political parties in arresting naxalism, the state of Uttar Pradesh is a classic example. LWE has not exceeded in Uttar Pradesh owing to Bahujan Samaj Party’s stronghold in villages. Similarly, in Andhra Pradesh former Chief Minister Y S Rajshekhar Reddy made efforts for political resurrection in naxal affected areas. A commonplace problem or limitation in such efforts lies in the different perceptions of naxal problem in different state governments and the limitations posed by slow movement of federal dialogue. Though political parties are realising the gravity of the issue and the need for political presence, much work needs to be done. LWE areas are mineral rich therefore we cannot afford to make any mistake. In a scenario built by the MHA, by taking control of resources, Naxals have the capabilities to cut off power supply to Delhi in three days. Government does not expect naxals to give up arms; rather give up on violence; to which naxals would never succumb as their ideology is founded on violence. They fear that people will not support them if they give up armed struggle. Naxals cannot be tamed or brought to talks unless put under pressure. It is crucial to show them that they are not at any advantage over the government.

Last, the criminal justice system needs an overhaul. About 1.8 Lac offences are laid on tribals under the FRA. There is immense harassment due to procedural bureaucracy. Several cases were withdrawn and the MHA is pushing for the withdrawal of all cases with hope that the move would bring in some relief. [IPCS Report #38]

This does sound like a plan – well thought out and cogently articulated. No one can doubt the good intentions of the Union Home Ministry in tackling the Maoist crisis. While this plan will lead to some improvement in the situation, it won’t achieve full success. The reason for that is simple. Both law & order and development are subjects in the domain of the state governments. By taking ownership of the Maoist problem and prescribing centralised solutions across 7 states, the union home ministry is actually allowing the state governments to get away scot-free.

With all the Maoist-affected states ruled by non-Congress governments, it is impossible for the Congress-led central government to buy them all into any centralised plan. There has been little effort by the states to build capacity to either enforce the rule of law or undertake development, where rule of law has been established by the security forces. For eg, Saranda Action Plan in Jharkhand is being funded and directly controlled by the Centre, and even there, the progress is slipping.

For the state governments, the Maoist problem has become an useful tool to extract more central grants for development and security. Every state wants more districts covered under the SRE (Security Related Expenditure) and IAP (Integrated Action Plan) schemes of the MHA and the Planning Commission respectively. Indirectly, this is an acknowledgement by the state governments of their own failure.

But to blame only the states would be ignore the important role which the centre must play. The centre is to the states what a parent is to a shaky kid on the bicycle for the first time. She needs both support and freedom.You prolong the support and the child will never learn to ride the bicycle. You leave her without support and the child will shun the bike.

The central government has got that balance wrong.  Centre’s support has become a crutch for the states. This prescription of centralised solutions from the top must stop. The states must own the problem, and find the solutions that suit them best.

PS – Just in case you missed it, Mr Pillai actually said this: “In a scenario built by the MHA, by taking control of resources, Naxals have the capabilities to cut off power supply to Delhi in three days.” That outage is perhaps needed to wake this country up to the graveness of the Maoist threat.

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