Other States

Caught between Maoists and police, they step on minefield

PDRDF of Sukma Shikha Singh interacting with villagers. Photo; Special Arrangement

PDRDF of Sukma Shikha Singh interacting with villagers. Photo; Special Arrangement  

A Prime Minister’s Rural Development Fellow (PMRDF) can get abducted by Maoists or land in police custody.

Harsha Vashishta, 27, a neuro-physiotherapist from Raipur, who left her clinic to work in villages on a fellowship provided by the Union Rural Development Ministry two years ago, has been luckier. Dr. Vashishta was sent to Bastar as a PMRDF, as part of the Ministry’s initiative to help “reduce poverty and improve the lives of people in rural India.”

A typical day for her involves meeting people, enquiring about their problems and inspecting village infrastructure. The demanding nature of the job leaves her with no option but to carry her eight-month-old baby to the field.

Dr. Vashishta is one among the 156 PMRDFs working in 82 districts across nine States affected by Left wing extremism to provide “catalytic support to the district administration to reduce the developmental and governance deficit in areas affected by extremist violence.”

On January 25, V. Sai Vamsi Wardhan, PMRDF of Giridih, was abducted by Maoists from Nakania village in Jharkhand where he had gone to organise a camp for the villagers.

Mr. Wardhan was released after two days, but one CRPF jawan was killed and 11 injured in landmine blasts during the rescue operations.

“We work on basic issues such as agriculture, health care, education and infrastructure. If the work is limited to the village, we face less resistance from Maoists,” said Akshay Badare, an engineer who left his high-salaried job in an MNC bank to be a fellow.

“While travelling in the interior areas, we depend on the villagers,” said Mr. Badare, adding that the mantra to work was “not to mind the landmines and get over your fear.”

“There have been instances when our visits coincided with meetings held by Maoists, but we did not face problems as people want development,” Shikha Singh, the PMRDF of Sukma district, which is considered the most sensitive district, said.

On a separate front, Mahesh Raut, PMRDF of Gadchiroli district in Maharashtra, was detained by the police for two days in April last year for allegedly having Maoist “links” in opposing proposed mining projects.

Mr. Raut’s detention led to the then Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh questioning the detention without FIR in a letter to the Maharashtra Chief Minister.

“When you speak of rights and resources in these areas, you are perceived to be taking sides. The police regularly question us how can we travel to some of the most interior areas without any difficulty,” Mr. Raut told The Hindu.

The first batch of the PMRDFs is near the end of their two-year tenure. A new batch of 140 professionals is undergoing training at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai.

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Printable version | Sep 20, 2020 10:59:24 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/caught-between-maoists-and-police-they-step-on-minefield/article6070520.ece

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