I read Aman Sethi's piece on the Saranda Development Plan (“Nine months on, police camps sole development in Saranda plan”, June 4) with great interest but with greater anguish. Before I deal with his main charge — that private mining interests are behind the SDP — I want to lay out what the SDP is all about. It is the first systematic experiment in combining a security-oriented and development-focussed approach in Maoist-affected areas on a large-scale. In July-August 2011, the CRPF and the State police jointly “liberated” this area of West Singbhum district of Jharkhand from 11 years of Maoist control and domination. One of the very first things I did after becoming Union Rural Development Minister in July 2012 was to initiate discussions with the State government on how best to consolidate on the success achieved by the CPRF and launch development activities in this most backward area. In October 2011, the SDP was prepared by the district administration covering 56 villages in six gram panchayats of Manoharpur block. The population covered is around 36,000 (7,000 households).

The main elements of the SDP are as follows:

•Building houses for 6,000 households under the Indira Awaas Yojana which have already been sanctioned in December 2011.

•Appointment of 56 Rozgar Mitras from local tribal youth for MGNREGA works for which over 6,000 job cards have already been issued and something like Rs.60 lakh in wages have been disbursed.

•11 roads and one bridge to be constructed under the PMGSY for improving connectivity to all habitations, of which two roads are nearing completion.

•Implementation of the Forest Rights Act, 2006 under which 2,122 claims have been received and 176 titles have already been distributed.

•Distribution of 7,000 solar lanterns, 7,000 transistors and 7,000 bicycles paid for by SAIL which is to be completed by end-July 2012.

•Launch of five mobile health units, again as part of SAIL's corporate social responsibility programme, of which three are in operation and two more will start by end-July 2012.

•Start of six watershed development projects covering an area of around 36,000 hectares, which were sanctioned in February 2012.

•Improving access to drinking water supply for which 128 hand pumps have already been installed.

I have personally visited Saranda twice in the last few months and in response to a suggestion made by a local human rights activist have set up a broad-based monitoring group to see how the SDP is being implemented. I have been receiving mixed feedback — some local reports are positive but some others have raised questions.

Now, to Mr. Sethi's main charge — that the main purpose of the SDP is to protect and enhance the interests of private mining companies. As the full picture of the SDP highlighted above will reveal, the daily concerns of deprived tribal communities are the very core of the SDP.

It is true that a number of private mining companies have their eyes on the mineral wealth of Saranda. But I can categorically assert that there was never any thought given to private mining when the SDP was conceived. Indeed, I distinctly recall that when I was Environment and Forests Minister, the issue of mining in the Saranda area had come up repeatedly and I had taken the position that only SAIL should be allowed to mine. On February 9, 2011 I had, in a publicly available speaking order (as indeed were all such decisions of mine in that tenure), clearly laid out the reasons for this special treatment for SAIL and the conditions associated with the forest clearance. Subsequently I am on record as having opposed opening up Saranda to private mining. In Paderu in Andhra Pradesh, I have consistently taken the view that bauxite mining — private and public — should be banned.

Regarding the expanded presence of the security camps in Saranda, I have been guided by the views of the district and State administrations who feel that it is premature to withdraw police personnel completely at this stage. It is true that I have facilitated with my erstwhile ministry clearances for setting up such camps. I make no apologies for it. The presence of the police is essential for enhancing public confidence. One Rozgar Mitra — Srikrishna Mahato — was killed by the Maoists on March 2, 2012. The Maoists and their many “front” organisations obviously do not want the atmosphere of fear and intimidation to be dispelled so that people can lead normal lives. The security camps are necessary so that rural roads that tribal people — not private mining companies — want get constructed and MGNREGA works proceed unimpeded.

(Jairam Ramesh is Union Minister of Rural Development. )

Aman Sethi responds

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