Kanker (Chhattisgarh), Dec 4 (ANI): A charming drive through the Keshkal Valley on National Highway 43 introduces a visitor to Chhattisgarh's many picturesque waterfalls and forests; traversing the state's southern part from the state capital of Raipur to Jagdalpur in Bastar.
There is nothing to indicate that anything is amiss; if anything, the pleasurable drive conveys a sense of prosperity and development in this rural belt in India's hinterland.
Turning off the tourist circuit reveals a rather different picture. And the questions begin to tumble out: Why are few roads in Bastar well constructed and others are at their unbelievable worst? Why is the problem - undeveloped roads - still awaiting a solution despite the availability of ample resources, as indicated by Five-year plan budgets?
The answer seems rather evident in its simplicity: Maoist presence. Labelled the stronghold of the guerrilla force of the outlawed CPI (Maoist), the Bastar region has always had development processes lagging, with roads being the first target.
Rural Development Minister, Mr. Jairam Ramesh, who, visited last month, called for speedy completion of public welfare projects, primarily rural roads, within three to four years with a sense of urgency and characteristic "Get-it-Done" attitude, would certainly believe so.
But there is more to the situation than meets the eye. For a grave issue plagues Bastar, putting it at par with rest of the country yet making the consequences far more disastrous here as compared to other more developed states: Corruption. On the pretext of road construction, several contractors, bureaucrats and politicians have, over the years, garnered massive benefits for themselves.
If you will set out to find one such incident, you will stumble upon many. This, however, does not take away the sufferings caused to the region due to Maoist violence, for the road leading to this level of corruption was laid down by this extremist violence itself.
The National Highway 43 has two partial bridges whose construction started had several years ago. Over the years, accidents, traffic jams, diversions and other inconveniences are the only "benefits" the locals have received from such development projects. The road from Kanker to Bhanupratapur in Kanker District is similarly scattered with a number of bridges, some of which were completed after extensions of two to three years, while others are still hanging in the balance.
Poor maintenance of roads between Dantewada and Bijapur districts tell a similar tale. The difficult road journey from Bhairamgarh to Nimedh is dotted with several CRPF camps. It would be considerably easier to repair these roads if the labourers were allowed shelter in the camps, since they are vulnerable to Maoist attacks.
Reports of Maoists setting ablaze road repair machinery ignore the fact that the rusting machines were doing little for the badly potholed roads, in any case. Such 'dramatic' incidents only whittle away some more hope among the locals of having the convenience of connectivity in the near future.
The better-constructed and maintained roads in the blocks of Bastar District disprove the belief that Maoist violence is the cause of poor development of the region. The well-established transport nexus is dependent on these few well-constructed roads. From Narainpur, there is no road connecting the short five-kilometre distance to Devgaon, let alone Kondagaon further on.
It is ironical that nothing bars the felling of trees in the name of road construction; but several factors seem to obstruct the provision of roads and electricity in the interiors. Undoubtedly, the region reflects the barriers created by the deep-rooted Maoist presence, but coupled with the even deeper-rooted malaise of corruption, the challenges appear insurmountable.
Contractors are believed to face life threats by Maoists, even as terrified workers leave the work incomplete; yet budgets do not go unspent. In Keshkal Block's Bahigaon region, an entire road is believed to exist on paper - though no such road exists in the village. In villages not affected by Maoist activity, corrupt contractors often dump poor quality material on the roadside and get away with it in the name of Maoist terror.
Dealing with such rampant corruption behind the pretext of Maoist fear needs streamlined planning. Before announcing new projects on road development, the Ministry must check the quality of roads constructed in the state since its birth in 2001.
The contractors and bureaucrats, if found guilty, should be dealt with severely. The security arrangements of development projects must be handed over to the CRPF, not the local police, in line with the suggestion made by Mr Jairam Ramesh, "There should be greater synergy between security forces and the implementing agencies."
Unemployed youth from the communities can play a constructive role in the implementation of these initiatives, posting them to areas they do not hail from, thus preventing the creation of a locally-rooted nexus. Such a strategy was successfully implemented during recruitments in the education sector, where improvements have begun to show in the quality of education being imparted.
The stated fear of Maoist reprisal is worse than it really is on the ground. Officers dread visiting areas even adjacent to the roads in areas identified as unaffected by Maoist activity. More than Maoists, it's the silent, accusatory eyes of the villagers that hound them. The honest officers are not afraid to survey any region, no matter how deeply entrenched it is believed to be in Maoist violence.
A lady officer recently toured the entire region from Jagdalpur to Orccha and oversaw the construction of a road of good quality in a short time period, using strong security surveillance. She was aware of the sensitivity of that region yet remained unfazed.
The Charkha Development Communication Network feels that the Rural Development Ministry has rightly identified the pressing need of the hour as the complete revamp of the administration and governance in tribal areas, especially in Central and Eastern India. But when action will follow intent remains to be seen. By Asha Shukla (ANI)