While the Centre intends to uproot naxalism through the controversial Operation Green Hunt, Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan has a different view on the problem. He also speaks on other issues plaguing the State, including malnutrition, migration from Bundelkhand, faulty implementation of the Forest Rights Act and the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme.
This is the 25th year of the Bhopal Gas Tragedy. What has been the State government’s contribution in addressing the grievances of the victims?
Madhya Pradesh has always been a region practising organic agriculture, so it is ironic that when the world’s biggest industrial disaster in the Union Carbide’s pesticide plant happened in India, it had to be in Bhopal. India has been a vedic-agricultural nation and this kind of an industrial disaster should be looked at as a civilisational mismatch. Since 1999, when the Central government withdrew from relief works, it is the State government that is taking care of the victims and their families. We have spent Rs.254 crore in relief works since 1999.
How serious is the problem of naxalism in Madhya Pradesh, with the Centre recognising only Balaghat as a naxal-affected region?
I do not want to get into a Centre-State debate on the issue. But there certainly is a naxal presence in Madhya Pradesh. But naxalism, as a problem, needs to be dealt with sensitively. Instead of the all-out, military offensive that is being planned, I feel we should concentrate on the roots of the problem. The system often becomes such that ordinary people do not get justice. This has to be addressed.
What are the reasons for this injustice?
A section of people keeps getting richer and we are made to believe that India is shining. Justice is easy for this section. But people who actually need justice and government support do not get it. They are forced to fall prey to deviant ideologies. Violation of tribal rights, land grab, and displacement are just some of the problems. In our quest for rapid industrialisation, we forget that investments which are supposed to provide employment end up displacing people.
But isn’t your government doing exactly this?
Displacement is caused by various development projects like Sardar Sarovar, Maheshwar, Omkareshwar, etc. Further, the massive tribal population in the State is dissatisfied with the implementation of the Scheduled Tribes & Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act. This was reiterated by Union Minister for Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh during his visit to the State. That is not correct. In fact, M.P. has been quite successful in implementing the Act. One lakh claims have been approved. I am going to start a Vanadhikaar Yatra (Forest Rights march) soon and will personally hand out land pattas.
Displacement is to be prevented. We prevented the area around Indira Sagarto be declared a reserve forest. We have already told investors to acquire land on their own. We will just be mediators.
Massive displacement has taken place in the Kuno Wildlife Sanctuary in the name of bringing in Gir Lions from Gujarat. Twenty five villages have been uprooted with no signs of the lions yet.
This situation has a lot of contradictions. Some Union Ministers come here and say forests need to be protected. Others say people need to be given their rights. The forest officials are not acting out of mal intent. They are just discharging their duties.
M.P. ranks the highest in the number of malnourished children. Infant mortality rate (IMR) and maternal mortality rate (MMR) are extremely high. A recent news article reported 22 malnutrition deaths in 48 days in Sidhi. The administration has failed to deliver in the remote areas. The public distribution system is facing shortfalls. Don’t these contribute to the growth of naxal influence?
Every disgruntled villager should not be called a naxalite. These indicators are worrying and the government is working towards addressing them. We have been fighting with the Centre for more wheat for the PDS. But they recognise only 41 lakh BPL households in the State as against the actual figure of 62 lakhs. But violence is not the solution, from either side. We need to stress more on development.
What about poor educational access in tribal areas? Will teaching in local dialects and languages like Bhili and Gondi help spread education in tribal regions?
Access to education is very poor for tribals but it is improving now. Local dialects are almost similar to Hindi. Teaching in several dialects will lead to an unmanageable multiplication of diversities. Hindi is not a single exclusive language. It has adapted to local dialects and people are comfortable with it.
Why haven’t village level governing institutions been able to address the problem areas?
Elections have ruined the Panchayati Raj. I am not suggesting any alternative to the democratic system. But we have to accept that it’s ridden with problems. It keeps dividing people.
Gram Sabhas have not been convened for years in most villages. Gram Sabhas under the Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act are virtually non-existent in tribal areas. How do you expect people to participate?
Convening Gram Sabhas for every issue, although desirable, is practically not possible. They are convened from time to time for certain special issues. But I agree it is a problem.
Bundelkhand has been seeing extremely high levels of out-migration. NREGS has virtually failed to prevent that. What is your reaction to the region’s problems and the newly announced Central package?
The NREGS has seen irregularities in wage payment and corruption at lower levels. We are learning from our experience and trying to address the problems. As for migration, people will migrate if they have better opportunities elsewhere. The new package is too little too late. We had asked for Rs.24,000 crore. And it is not clear whether there will be a fresh package or funds will be adjusted under existing Central government schemes in the region.