Aman Sethi responds

June 06, 2012 01:12 am | Updated November 16, 2021 11:49 pm IST

With all due respect to Mr. Jairam Ramesh, I believe the Minister has misconstrued the central thrust of the article. As the lead paragraph makes clear, activists are concerned that “a development plan intended for tribals in Jharkhand has been hijacked by mining interests”.

At no point does the article imply that the Saranda Development Plan itself is a ruse by mining interests, or that Mr. Ramesh has interceded on behalf of said interests. Rather, it quotes activists who feel the SDP is being selectively implemented to suit certain powerful lobbies. As Mr. Ramesh himself has said in the past, a Union Ministry can only provide funds and guidance for projects like the SDP; implementation remains in the hands of the State government and local administration. This is why I chose to travel through Saranda and speak with villagers and local officials rather than rely on indicators like “funds sanctioned” or “projects okayed.”

Mr. Ramesh's Ministry may be allocating funds on a war footing, but the results are yet to reach beneficiaries. On October 25, 2011, Mr. Ramesh wrote to the Chief Minister of Jharkhand, Arjun Munda, and outlined certain short-term interventions to be completed in six months (such as the distribution of solar lanterns, bicycles and transistor radios, distribution of BPL cards) and medium-term interventions to be completed in two years.

For the purposes of brevity, I offer the following anecdotes from a visit I made seven months after Mr. Ramesh's letter to Mr. Munda:

— The Special Executive Officer in Charge of the SDP in Chaibasa said he was yet to receive his terms of office and his responsibilities were still being finalised.

— According to a SAIL official, in seven months the local authorities had distributed 200 radio transistors, 200 bicycles and 2,000 solar lamps out of an intended 7,000 of each.

— Not a single integrated development centre had been installed, though a foundation stone had most certainly been laid. Officials said the pre-fabricated structures were on their way.

— No BPL cards had been issued in the villages of Baliba or Thalkobad when I visited, and so neither village was eligible for houses under the Indira Awaas Yojana. While Mr. Ramesh may have sanctioned the construction of 6,000 houses, no official or villager could point me to a scheme beneficiary.

The only project that does seem to be progressing, my article notes, is the construction of 21 police camps. The article quotes the Superintendent of Police of West Singhbhum who says the camps will provide security for development works.

As a counterpoint, I spoke with Congressman Sushil Barla, who claimed that mining corporations have hijacked the SDP.

It must be pointed out that the SDP is primarily a confluence of existing schemes, rather than a special package. If anything, its implementation was supposed to set it apart from business as usual.

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