A week ago, six militants of the Communist Party of India (Maoist) were shot dead by commandos of Maharashtra’s anti-Naxal C-60 force at Govindgaon, a village in Gadchiroli district.
Shankar Anna alias Munneshwar Jagatu Lakada, 43, was leading the Maoist squad that organised a meeting on the night of January 19 at Govindgaon, villagers say.
Gadchiroli police say Shankar Anna was secretary of the CPI (Maoist) Aheri area committee and divisional committee member the south Gadchiroli division. He hailed from Ramantola village in Etaplli tehsil. The village of this slain Maoist stands testimony to the government’s efforts at developing the Naxal-affected areas.
A small village with 60 households, Ramantola straddles the borders of Chhattisgarh and Maharashtra, with no road connectivity. A Maoist sympathiser says the village is almost part of the Naxal liberated zone, but it has no Naxal jantana sarkar.
Some police sources say the Maoists have never been able to establish a jantana sarkar in Gadchiroli. “An attempt was made, but swift police action put paid to their plans.”
But the Central and State governments have almost no presence in the village either.
Ramantola is 30 km from Kasansur, a town with road connectivity. From Kasansur, one has to walk down to Sewari, a village seven km away, which can be reached by a two-wheeler. From Sewari, one has to walk the next 23 km to reach Ramantola.
On January 26, when some reporters asked Maharashtra Home Minister R.R. Patil, the guardian minister for the district, about the bad condition of the road to Sewari, he said: “So what? There are villages in Gadchiroli where people have to walk 40 km.” For him, the lack of proper roads is no big deal.
This reporter was “advised” against visiting the village on the next day of the encounter and was told “to come by the other route” next time.
The other route to Ramantola is from Chhattisgarh’s Kanker district. From Pakhnjore town, Ramantola is 35 km. A road runs to Irapnar village; but from there, one has to walk 14 km to Ramantola.
A government school building and three hand-pumps (which yield polluted water when it rains) are the only proof in Ramantola of the fact that the government has not forgotten this village. As there is no electricity, the villagers depend upon three transistors for links to the outside world.
Some youngsters do have mobile phones, but they are used only for listening to music, in the absence of network. Shankar Anna’s body was claimed by his father Jagtu Lakada, but villagers are not keen on speaking about his funeral details. Jivi Kavadu, a temporary teacher in the Ramantola school, advised this reporter “not ask questions about Shankar Anna, since villagers are in shock after his death.”
But the village is not hostile to the visitors. Asked about their problems, almost all villagers spoke up. “It’s all in the open. You can see how this village is,” says Chandra.
The full-time schoolteacher is hardly present in the school, which is looked after by Jivi Kavadu, explains a villager.
Nor is there a health centre. The nearby health centre is seven km away, at Mendhri; but Mendhri residents say their centre has been a shambles for the past three years.
According to the District Health Office of Gadchiroli, there were six deliveries in 2011 and three in 2012. But the condition of the health centre building tells a different story. “We have to go either to Pakhanjore in Kanker or to Kasansur for treatment” says 22-year-old Shanti Kawadu.
Even to go to the weekly market, Ramantola villagers have to walk 14 km, to Irapanar. “This is the condition of every village in this area. Even the people of neighbouring village Uiketola have to go to a hospital in Chhattisgarh’s Kanker district,” says Laxman Uike, a temporary teacher at Uiketola.
Very few have landholdings that employ villagers during the rainy season.
It is futile to ask whether the Central government’s employment guarantee scheme works here. The government claims that it has been trying to tackle the “Naxal menace by carrying out security operations and bringing development to these areas,” but Ramantola tells a different story.