By Saumitra Mohan
The problem of left wing extremism (LWE) has incessantly drawn the attention of the governments at the Union and State levels, which are trying to tackle with it in their own ways. Coordinated efforts of the two Governments to reach out to the underprivileged in the LWE affected areas have borne fruits, with the retreat of the Naxalites in recent times. This is notwithstanding the latter’s attempts at rediscovering themselves including indulgence in sporadic violence.
The Planning Commission of India (PCI) is spearheading the implementation of the Integrated Action Plan (IAP) in the 78 selected tribal and backward districts for their accelerated development. The aim of this initiative is to provide public infrastructure and services in the affected/contiguous Districts. Therefore, the nature of major works/projects taken up by the districts under the IAP include construction of school buildings/school furniture, anganwadi centres, drinking water facilities, rural roads, Panchayat Bhawans/Community Halls, godowns/PDS shops, livelihood activities, skill development/vocational trainings, minor irrigation works, electric lighting, health centres/facilities, Ashram schools, construction of toilets, construction of multi-purpose chabutra, construction of passenger-waiting hall, special coaching classes for students, construction of ANM (auxiliary nurse and midwife) Centres, development of play grounds etc.
The IAP had been conceptualized by the Planning Commission and is being implemented by the Union Ministry of Home Affairs to supplement the infrastructure deficit in the naxal-affected districts. Realizing the road connectivity to be a major bottleneck in naxal-affected areas, the Union Government wants to connect each habitation in the IAP district within the next three years.
Under the existing IAP plan, a Committee headed by the District Collector initiates development projects related to infrastructure, health, education and employment in each of the 78 naxal-affected districts. The Committee consists of District Forest Officer and Superintendent of Police. However, demands have been raised for the inclusion of representatives of the Panchayati Raj Institutions also in this Committee. It has also been demanded that conditions like compliance with the Forest Rights Act of 2006 and the Panchayat (Extension to the Scheduled Areas) Act of 1996 should be applied to the districts under IAP.
A suggestion has also been mooted that instead of a district, a block should be the unit for IAP, as in a district there are many developed regions including the district headquarter. So, there are chances that money might get spent on regions that are already developed. The demand has been tentatively approved and the plan may be modified soon. The Centre has been seriously mulling the proposal to increase the number of districts included under IAP in response to the demands from the states.
The Government has also been toying with the idea of modifying flagship rural development schemes like Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) to suit the needs of naxal-affected districts. While the schemes will be made more flexible, at the same time funds allocated to them will also increase. For the effective implementation of MGNREGA, a Panchayat development officer and a junior engineer will be appointed in each gram Panchayat in the IAP districts. 75 per cent of its cost will be borne by the Centre. It has been rightly decided that all families affected by naxal violence will be eligible for housing under the Indira Awas Yojana. The budget for the National Rural Drinking Water Programme in the IAP districts has also been increased from Rs 750 crore to Rs 1,000 crore.
As of now, only 11 districts were covered under the programme which ensured that all the land records in these districts are computerized in one of the many attempts to stop tribal land alienation. However, all the 78 districts under IAP will now be covered under National Land Records Modernization Programme. In addition, plans have also been afoot to create a network of para-legal institutions in the gram Panchayats to resolve land disputes.
It is also being contemplated that service sector jobs be provided to 3, 00,000 unemployed youth, in the next five years under the National Rural Livelihoods Mission. The Union Ministry of Home Affairs is also to start Public Private Partnership initiatives for value addition in minor forest produce through involvement of women in self help groups.
Meanwhile, the Union Ministry of Panchayat and Rural Development has chalked out a plan for young professionals to take part in administrative reforms in the Naxal affected areas. The scheme, called the Pradhan Mantri Rural Development Fellow, is likely to commence from next year. Three young professionals will be roped in under the scheme for a maximum of three years in each IAP district to assist the District Collectors in rural development planning.
As a result of the above developmental initiatives, it is believed that the alleged development deficit in the Naxal affected areas can be tackled in a coordinated manner by the Union and the concerned state governments. Many states including West Bengal have resorted to indigenous initiatives for such areas with highly encouraging results. One only hopes that the problem of Naxalism would be over sooner rather than later as a result of these initiatives.
District Magistrate and Collector, West Bengal
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