Linkages between Development and Left Wing Extremism

Development and Extremism are linked into two ways. First, development is vital for tackling extremism or strengthening national security. Second, growth of extremist organisations, coupled with their ability to influence the process of legitimate politics and the alleged nexus of political parties with such forces, are undoubtedly impeding the development process. Thus, underdevelopment breeds insurgency and insurgency retards development. This two are mutually reinforcing and created a vicious cycle of under-development ↔ insurgency ↔ under-development.

Under-development is obviously linked to left wing extremism in India but more important and dangerous facet of the development that has boosted the Maoists in almost all regions is “distorted development”.  It has been now realised that Naxalism is not just a law and order problem but is a result of distorted developmental planning in the tribal areas.

Distorted Development in Naxal Affected Areas

The economy of the tribal regions of India is mainly consisting of two parts viz. subsistence agriculture and minor forest produce. The agriculture is primitive here, entirely rainfed, and without support of any irrigation projects except a few minor projects which the Maoists claim that they have built them. Those who live in these areas are centuries behind rest of the India. Many of them are unaware of even any of the modern method of farm production. For irrigation, they either depend upon rain god or the small ditches or ponds, constructed by them. Their method of cultivation is slash-and-burn (jhum); their main cultivated crop is Kola, a coarse grain. Although they cultivate small amount of paddy, maize also yet don’t know how these crops are cultivated in rest of the world. Most of them are even unaware of the use of plough and seed drill etc. The first basic step needed for development in these areas is the land and tenancy reforms, which is to be hand in hand with strengthening their traditional economy by assuring remunerative prices for their produce and minor forest produce. The beginning point for development in such areas would be imparting the knowledge of modern methods of farming, hand in hand with basic infrastructure development. The Government of India and state governments stress as well as claim upon the implementation of various development projects/policies, which include Backward Regions Grants FundPanchayat (Extension to Schedule Areas) Act of 1996, MGNREGA, Schedule Tribes and other traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006, Bill on Land acquisition and development etc. However, none of these programmes, policies or laws have reached in these areas firstly due to conflict prone environment , secondly due to the lack of effective administrative machinery and thirdly due to political apathy and lack of will. This is evident from the following facts:

  • Despite claims of success of welfare programmes, the tribal agriculture methods remain centuries old
  • In some parts of naxal affected areas such as Bastar region, there are almost no irrigation projects.
  • Any programme taking the guarantee of a livelihood of tribals and bringing basic changes in their life could never ever reach there.

What has reached in these areas is the economic devastation in the form of exploitation of natural resources and the distorted development to facilitate this exploitation.

Development led displacement

Displacement due to development has been one of the key reasons of loss of home, livelihood and means of survivals for tribals in India. The Nehruvian development envisaged rapid industrialization of the country by construction of big dams and setting up of heavy industries. This process resulted in displacement of millions of tribals by the big dams, hydroelectric projects and public sector mining activity. On the other hand, the forest laws restricted their access to the forests and common property resources. The process of this displacement further accelerated with the economic liberalization and with more and more contracts given for mineral extraction, setting up of industries, Special Economic Zones (SEZs) etc. This had a devastating effect on the on tribals living in mineral-rich areas.

The best example to understand the link between displacement, development and Maoism is presented by the tribals living in the Chitrakonda in Malkangiri. In 1940s, the tribals had first displaced from Koraput by Machkund Hydel Project. Most of them moved to Chitrakonda, but then in 1960s, they were again replaced by the Balimela Hydel Project. Since then their villages have remained water-locked by the Chitrakonda reservoir and are accessible only by boat. No rehabilitation or socio-economic development has taken place here for decades. There are no roads, water supply or electricity. No official visits these villages. Only the Maoists bother to come to these villages and listen to the peoples’ grievances. It is not surprising then that this hilly, forested region, which the rest of India has forgotten, has been a Maoist hotbed for decades. While exploitation and poverty are common themes across tribal areas, there are differences in how this exploitation takes place. In Orissa, displacement by government and private industrial and development projects has plunged tribals in poverty.

Faulty Mineral Policy

Almost all tribal areas of the country are rich in forests, rivers as well as minerals. These areas have the finest coal, dolomite, bauxite, Iron ore, tin and conundrum to name a few. The forests in these areas are rich in finest quality of timber trees, bamboo. A closer look at India’s mineral policy also helps us to understand the conditions of the tribals of the mineral rich Dandakaranya region. Before 1991, the extraction and refining of minerals was largely undertaken by the government. However, the National Mineral Policy 1993 opened the doors to foreign direct investment (FDI) in the mining sector. In 1997, the FDI ceiling in mineral sector was relaxed and in 2006, the ceiling was removed. Currently, 100%FDI is permitted in mining.

The opening of mining sector led the companies to make beeline in the mineral-rich areas of Chhattisgarh, Orissa and Jharkhand. This led to lots of investments in these areas but thousands of acres of forest land was converted into non-forest land. The rules that forbid sale of tribal land to non-tribals were violated. In 1997, the Supreme Court had taken notice of this in Samta Judgement and that led to enactment of Panchayat (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act (PESA), 1996, which made it mandatory to consult Gram Sabha before development projects in tribal lands are undertaken. However, despite that, there are many instances when tribal land was taken over and handed over to the companies. One example is Lohandiguda in Bastar, where some 2000 hectares of land of Fifth Schedule Area was acquired by the state and given to Tata Group. Similarly, in Dhurli and Bhansi villages in Dantewada district were also acquired and given to Essar Group.

The result of all this is that the outsiders came to these areas and reaped the profits of mining but the indigenous inhabitants had to bear the enormous cost social, human and environmental cost. Tribals lost their land and livelihood. Neither companies nor government secured their access to food, water, livelihood and way of life.

The Maoists claim that government is taking all steps in looting and exploiting these resources at the cost of the local tribal economy. The government is constructing the Super Highways, Railways and other infrastructure projects for the sake of facilitating the loot of these resources. The tribals fear that the government has joined hands with the private capitalists and imperialists forces in the name of globalization to spend millions of rupees for exploitation of the natural resources.

Though, governments claim that these development projects will benefit the local tribals but truth is obviously different. The capital intensive projects cannot provide any benefits to the local population and cannot provide employment to the locals. The distorted development gave all round devastation to the tribals and thousands of them have been forcibly displaced from their villages to clear the way for these works. The above description makes it clear that the Maoist movement has raised significant questions on development. On one hand, we have various constitutional measures, acts, plans and policies for all round development of the backward and tribal regions, on the other hand, the state has practically failed to effectively address the age-old social imbalances, eradicate the vested interests in the red corridor mainly because of the vote bank politics. The failure of the state to reach out to the poor and also its mal-governance (due to inefficiency, corruption, exploitation and state-engendered violence) leading to ‘ retreat of governance’ have resulted in creating ‘a power vacuum’ as well as a space for the Maoist to strike roots and gain legitimacy among ‘the impoverished’.


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