District administration proposes plan to resettle Chhattisgarh forest dwellers near main roads to improve delivery of essential services.

 Local authorities are deliberating an ambitious plan to resettle thousands of forest dwelling villagers across Chhattisgarh’s Maoist affected Narayanpur district in a bid to provide essential services such as education and healthcare. Sources in the administration said that the plan was still under consideration at the district level and was yet to be formally presented to the State government.

Narayanpur is one of Chhattisgarh’s least developed districts, in part because a large section of the district, called Abujmard, has never been surveyed by the Indian government. Of particular concern to the government is the Orcha administrative block that is spread out over 4,600 sq km of dense, inaccessible jungles and is widely believed to be a stronghold of the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist).

The first phase of the draft plan, prepared by the district administration and accessed by this correspondent, proposes shifting 250 tribal families from Abujmard to ‘development centres’ on near main roads. Eventually the plan envisions 15 to 20 such centres to house Orcha’s population of about 33,000 adivasis.

“Most of Orcha is completely inaccessible to the district administration, making it impossible to implement any government schemes, distribute MNREGA payments or provide education or healthcare,” said an officer familiar with the plan, but seeking anonymity as he is not authorised to speak with the press.

The officer said that while the Maoists have sabotaged all attempts to build roads through Narayanpur, the guerillas are yet to oppose government schemes that provide food rations, healthcare or employment. “But we can’t extend basic services unless we can access the site. This way we will move villagers close to existing roads,” said the source.

Each centre shall be spread over 400 to 500 hectares, wherein each family shall be allotted between two and four acres of land that shall be farmed on a community basis. The camps shall also have processing units for forest products, schools, childcare centres and ration shops. Relocating families shall be provided concrete homes for free under the Indira Awas Yojana housing scheme, electricity from the Backward Regions Grant Fund and most construction and development work shall be carried out using funds from the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MNREGA) and the Integrated Action Plan (IAP) for Maoist affected districts. If such central schemes are properly harnessed, officials estimate, each centre shall cost about Rs. 260,000. The cost estimates rise sharply to about Rs. 6 million per centre if developed by government departments such as the Public Works Department.

Officials are yet to devise a plan to convince villagers to abandon their ancestral villages and shift to these proposed centres. Abujmard is also home to the Mariya tribe, identified as a ‘Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Group’ by the tribal welfare department of the union government. Such a plan could prove explosive in South Chhattisgarh where, as recently as 2005, thousands of forest dwelling villagers in Dantewada and Bijapur districts were resettled, often forcibly, in police camps in a government supported programme called the Salwa Judum. Petitions filed in the Supreme Court holds Salwa Judum participants responsible for about 500 murders, 99 rapes and 103 acts of arson.

While officials have insisted that their plan is not a blueprint for a second Salwa Judum, it is likely to be viewed as such by the Maoists who are already in high alert after the State government handed over a large tract of Abujmard to the Indian Army for training ranges. In the statement in June this year, the Maoists claimed that the State and central governments are preparing to clear Abujmard in preparation for a massive military offensive targeted at the guerillas.