Hurdles facing plan against Maoists

Economic Times, December  2010

The Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs has approved the Integrated Action Plan (IAP) for 60 of the mostly Naxal-affected districts. The aim is to draw people away from the Maoists by propelling development schemes like those related to employment, drinking water and healthcare. Under the plan, each of the 60 districts will get Rs 25 crore in the current fiscal year. This assistance will be increased to Rs 30 crore in 2011-12, with a total allocation of Rs 3,300 crore. It is interesting that civil society groups and panchayati raj institutions will have no role to play in the implementation of these schemes. The entire burden of implementation has been left to district administrations, that is the district magistrate, the superintendent of police and forest officer. Going by the past experience, such monetary and administrative packages have rarely made difference in areas where there is insurgency and rebellion. Instead, what is required is a radical political intervention by central and state governments at various levels to ensure Acts like PESA, PRI, MNREGA, Minimum Wages Act and others are not subverted and are instead implemented in letter and spirit. Until this is done, these plans and programmes are bound to fail and pumping in more money in Maoist-affected regions will lead to more corruption. However, political initiatives require political will which sometimes does not pay electoral dividends in the short run. Some of the issues the central and state governments could address are as follows.

First, they demonstrate political will and statesmanship to give up the lure of largesses from big corporations, as well as challenges the powerful village and district-level political lobbies. All the Acts mentioned above through which these development programmes will be implemented are being subverted primarily by the political class. Take the case of corruption in MNREGA and Indira Awaas Yojana. It is the people’s elected representatives at the grassroots level like the mukhiya or the zilla parishad members who are the main source of corruption. They are the main implementing authorities for such programmes and without their knowledge and consent, it would be impossible to misappropriate funds.

Similar is the case when big companies acquire tribal land for mining purposes. Under the PESA, no one can acquire tribal land without the permission of the gram sabha. Yet, it is common that villagers come to know that the acquisition has taken place only at the time they are about to get displaced. Here also, it is the elected representatives who are “bought” by the big companies to subvert the PESA by illegally fabricating the consent of the gram sabha. All political parties are implicated in subverting Acts like the PRI, PESA and the Minimum Wages Act that seek to empower the poor, dalits and tribals.

Second, a proper administration and implementation of these Acts can only happen if the target group is aware of its rights enshrined in these Acts. Until that happens, how can we expect them to demand their rights from the government and elected representatives? What is striking when one travels in rural Bihar, Jharkhand, Orissa and other Maoist-affected states is the complete lack of awareness amongst the vast majority of the poor about MNREGA, Indira Awaas Yojna, Widow Pension Scheme and hundreds of other government programmes. This is a major challenge because the target group is illiterate. Education and awareness will not only put pressure on the elected representative to deliver, but also create a sense of ownership among the beneficiaries. There are entrenched and powerful vested interests who would like the poor to remain ignorant. Again, what is required is political will and not pumping in more money that will encourage these vested interests to ensure that the poor remain ignorant while they pocket the funds.

Finally, transparency and accountability in public welfare schemes is a major political challenge if the government wants to regain the confidence of the people in Maoist-affected regions. The practice of social audits in states like Andhra Pradesh and Rajasthan in MNREGA has given a sense of ownership to the people in development works. They have become less cynical towards politicians. Yet, this is easier said than done. On September 1, hundreds of sarpanches staged a demonstration and clashed with the police in Jaipur demanding an end to social audits of MNREGA works. Obviously, they were enraged because social audits in Rajasthan have exposed the corruption of the sarpanches in the MNREGA works. None of the political parties in Rajasthan had the courage to tackle the sarpanches and endorse the practice of social audits. Social audits in all government schemes should be made mandatory and should not be left to NGOs and civil society groups.

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