Chhattishgarh chief minister Raman Singh speaks to Sweta Ranjan of Governance Now
Sweta Ranjan | October 18, 2010
Raman Singh has an unenviable job as chief minister of Chhattisgarh, the state worst hit by Maoist violence – he is in fact in his second term. But the 57-year-old ayurvedic doctor has a clear diagnosis of the disease and treatment in mind. In an exclusive interview with Sweta Ranjan, he discussed his approach to find a permanent solution to the festering problem. Excerpts:
Your state has witnessed a lot of development work during your regime but it has also suffered a series of Maoist attacks in the last few months. Do you think this overshadows your development efforts?
Chhattisgarh has seen a lot of mishaps in the last six months. But this only shows that Chhattisgarh is making all efforts to uproot Maoists. This kind of reaction (from the rebels) you will not find in any other part of the country. Maoists have put all their strength in focusing on Chhattisgarh because we have started to take development beyond the district level and down to the block level. They have started realising that they cannot win this war. Chhattisgarh will soon have the kind of situation that Andhra Pradesh has achieved. In this process, we have suffered several jolts but we are now in a better position.
Andhra Pradesh worked on a strategy to crush Maoists. You have not.
These two states cannot be compared. Andhra Pradesh prepared a system and followed that strictly but still it took the state 12-16 years. That way, Chhattisgarh has been unfortunate. Till it was part of Madhya Pradesh, Maoism was never on the agenda. In the past six-seven years we have trained police forces for guerilla wars, set up a training institute in Kanker, and appointed nearly 2,500 police personnel. We have built police stations, police posts in the areas where it was difficult for police to even think of going.
Have you, along with the centre, considered any change in the strategy to counter the rebels?
Strategies cannot be formed or changed in a day. From 2003 to 2010 we have followed one line of action and that will not change till I remain chief minister. We plan to focus on better communication with CRPF (Central Reserve Police Force) and other forces. Change in the strategy is not very important after an attack.
Do you mean to say the previous governments did not pay attention to this issue at all?
No disease arises in a day. It needs to be diagnosed and then treated. They were doing the treatment without knowing what the disease was.
Are you criticising, in particular, the Congress regime in Madhya Pradesh headed by Digvijay Singh?
He was chief minister for 10 years. During those days there was nobody ready even to discuss the issue. A minister was beheaded, there were four bomb blasts, police stations were looted but the government didn’t bother. In Dantewada, Bijapur, Narayanpur no one made efforts to draw up a strategy, not even to push developmental projects. You have to face the issue, prepare a strategy. And we are doing that. We have been able to create a healthy atmosphere in Chhattisgarh because we are keen to address the whole issue.
Home minister P Chidambaram came forward to support you but do you think the centre is, of late, withdrawing itself?
I don’t think the country’s leadership has any idea about the depth of the problem. Backing out would mean succumbing to Maoists and telling them that what they are doing is the better option. Then we would be giving them the right to kill people in kangaroo courts. Then we would be giving them the right to collect “royalties” worth Rs 200 crore. If they don’t respect democracy, your national flag, the constitution; then any government – whether in Delhi or Chhattisgarh – has to stand up against such elements. I don’t see much of a change in the centre’s attitude (but) my experience of six-seven years is that the home minister and the prime minister both have a positive approach.
Do you think the home ministry could have offered you more support?
The definition of support could be different. For the first time in the country, there are development projects worth Rs 10,000 crore. Such development projects are being implemented in the affected districts as well as in (nearby) non-affected districts. This is a positive development. That’s precisely what I wanted to happen.
Talking of development, Chhattisgarh has won praise for improving the public distribution system.
I am sure we are on the road to uproot Maoist terror completely.
How much time will it take?
I cannot give you any time limit, but I can tell you that given the pace of our progress the future will be far better.
You have said that Maoists have links with terrorist organisations like Lashkar-e-Taiba?
I don’t say they have connections with LeT or LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam). I just say that the technology they use, the arms and weapons they have got, I don’t think they get this modern technology from within Chhattisgarh. They get it from outside India through one or the other source. I cannot identify the source. That is up to the government of India to find out where they get it all from.
In recent debates, there is much talk of implementing the Forest Rights Act to address tribals’ concerns and thus deny Maoists possible sympathisers.
Let me tell you about PESA [Panchayats (Extension to the Scheduled Area) Act]. There is a lot of misconceptions about PESA. Our former panchayati raj minister Mani Shankar Aiyar feels if PESA is implemented Maoists will be uprooted. I have told the prime minister and (planning commission deputy chairman) Montek Singh Ahluwalia that we should give the rights of minor forest produce to panchayats and to gram sabhas within panchayats. We have given the rights of the minor forest produce to the panchayats and the tribal society. They do business worth Rs 1,000 crore and 100 percent revenue goes to them.
I favour an amendment in PESA. Collection of tendu leaves is worth Rs 400 crore. If rights are given to gram sabhas, then gram sabhas can neither collect tendu leaves nor can sell the same and earn profits. We have worked on a cooperative structure. The central government sent a team to study this model. It is the model for PESA. Let’s make an amendment (in PESA) to give cooperative societies the rights of minor forest produce and distribute the bonus and profit among the societies.
The second issue is that we have distributed all iron ores leases to multinationals. Maoists oppose this because we are pushing them out. In Bastar there was no multinational for the last 50 years. As much as 96 percent of iron ore is being extracted by NMDC (National Mineral Development Corporation), SAIL (Steel Authority of India) and others.
Moreover, there is a misconception that land reforms have not taken place. Tribals’ livelihood is minor forest produce. Agriculture-based economy is in the plains.
I am referring to N C Saxena’s report on this issue.
Saxena has said in his report that some 2,00,000 land pattas (titles) have been given and some have been cancelled and people are protesting that. I have tried to convince Saxena that land allotments which are cancelled are cancelled by gram sabhas and not by the (state) government. Gram sabhas decide who should be given the land. The gram sabha deals with disputes. We distributed 2,20,000 land pattas, the highest number in India. Some cases are pending because we cannot distribute pattas until the gram sabha decides. I have requested another meeting of gram sabhas.
The Saxena report also talks many positive things about our government. So there is no dispute on that as such.
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