Development Challenges in Extremist Affected Areas: Report of an Expert Group to Planning Commission

FOCUS

In May 2006, the Planning Commission (now the NITI Aayog) set up an Expert Group of 16 members to identify the causes of tension and alienation in ‘areas of discontent and unrest’ in India. Some of these causes were widespread displacement, forest issues, insecure land tenancy, land alienation and usury. The Group was also tasked with recommending special measures to strengthen the implementation of the Panchayat (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996 or PESA. It submitted this report to the Planning Commission in April 2008.

Some of the Group’s members formed sub-groups and visited Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Bihar, Jharkhand and Odisha. The report discusses the reasons for the unrest associated with the Naxalite movement in these states and recommends ways in which the government can respond to it.

The first chapter provides the context in which the discontent and unrest developed. The second covers the effective implementation of PESA in the Fifth Schedule Areas. The third  talks about how people’s discontent arose from the ‘failure of the system’. The fourth  chapter discusses the responses of the state to issues like rural violence, and the fifth contains recommendations based on the analysis in the preceding chapters. 

    FACTOIDS

  1. Dalits (16 per cent) and Adivasis (8 per cent) together comprised about one-fourth of India’s population. 70 per cent of poor Scheduled Castes and 63 per cent of poor Scheduled Tribes lived in Bihar, Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal.

  2. The report says that the development paradigm pursued since Independence was insensitive to the needs of marginalised communities. For Adivasis, development projects generated multiple conflicts, undermined communal solidarity and increased vulnerability to exploitation.

  3. With economic reforms, there was pressure to dilute laws that protected tribal tracts and to give private companies access to mineral-bearing land in the Fifth Schedule Areas.

  4. While there was no official database of persons displaced by development projects, a study by Dr. Walter Fernandes, director, North Eastern Social Research Centre, Guwahati, said a total of 60 million people were displaced between 1947 and 2004, 40 per cent of them were Adivasis and 20 per cent Dalits. Only one-third of all displaced persons were resettled.

  5. 40 per cent of all the people displaced by dams in the last 60 years were forest-dwelling Adivasis.

  6. The acquisition of land (for various projects) was the single largest cause of the involuntary displacement and landlessness of Adivasis. The report said that indiscriminate land acquisition must be stopped and acquisition of land for public purposes should be confined to public welfare activities and national security.

  7. One of the main causes of rural poverty was the disappearance of Common Property Resources (CPRs), which impoverished households used to supplement their incomes. Panchayats had to be empowered to effectively manage CPRs.

  8. A clear and categorical provision should be made in the Constitutional (73rd Amendment) Act, 1992 (also known as the Panchayati Raj Act) to empower gram panchayats in all the aspects mentioned in the Panchayat (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996 or PESA, without any interference from the state government.

  9. According to government estimates, the Naxalite movement, which started in West Bengal, was active in about 125 districts across over 12 states.

  10. Poverty, deprivation, oppression, neglect and a lack of access to basic resources were the main reasons for the discontent that led to the Naxalite movement, mainly supported by Dalits and Adivasis.

  11. Though the professed long-term ideology of the Naxalites was capturing state power by force, the report said that its day-to-day manifestation must be looked upon as a fight for social justice, equality, protection and local development.

  12. The report recommend that disparities in the availability of physical, developmental and social infrastructure be removed in Naxal-affected districts on a priority basis. Funds should be allocated for modernising and upgrading existing infrastructure.

  13. The report said that Naxal violence was decontextualised in public policy perspectives (which were preoccupied with violence and Naxal ideology) and the government’s security operations. It was necessary to create a positive image of the government, remove the people’s sense of alienation and wean them away from  the influence of the movement.

  14. To tackle the ‘Naxal problem’, the report recommended that the State negotiate with Naxal groups and implement ameliorative measures like the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, 2005; the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006; and the National Rehabilitation and Resettlement Policy, 2007.

  15. The formation of vigilante squads (such as the Salwa Judum in Chhattisgarh) to fight Naxalites had aggravated the problem. The report criticised this strongly and recommended the formation of an  ‘empowered task force’ to protect the people and address their grievances – this would be the ‘best strategy to eliminate the influence of radical left groups’.

    Factoids and Focus compiled by Shubha Srishti.

AUTHOR

The Expert Group set up by the Planning Commission (now the NITI Aayog) in May 2006, which had 16 members. 

COPYRIGHT

Government of India 

PUBLICATION DATE

01 Apr, 2008

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