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The slow trudge to normalcy

The slow trudge to normalcy

Author: RK Vij
Publication: The Indian Express
Date: August 6, 2009
URL: http://www.indianexpress.com/news/the-slow-trudge-to-normalcy/498593/0

Introduction: The Gangalur-Bijapur road cutting through Maoist territory is a major triumph for the administration

The gruesome incident of July 12 instant was shattering. We lost a superintendent of police and 28 others, fighting to their last breath in a Naxalite ambush on a black tar road near Maanpur of Rajnandgaon district (Chhattisgarh) which is supposedly partially affected by overt Maoist activities. A huge blast followed by indiscriminate firing from automatic weapons engulfed innocent lives who not long ago had pledged to save democracy, little knowing that the day of supreme sacrifice was not far ahead. Whether the Improvised Explosive Device (IED) buried beneath a 'pucca' road was drilled down to its core only recently or was an old planted ghost (before black tarring of road) remains a mystery to be solved, but how secure the interior roads are can be fairly gauged from this incident. Bastar region, which is nearly one third of the state, and almost equal to Kerala and Haryana in size, is full of such nasty roads. Only a few dare to traverse them. I have witnessed many upheavals during the two years of my stint in Bastar, and I feel compelled to highlight the efforts and creativity of the civil administration of Dantewada district (and now Bijapur) that led to the construction of the reinforced cement concrete (RCC) road from Gangalur to Bijapur.

This 23 km stretch of road, cutting across the dense teak forest, is unique on many counts. It passes through a large swathe of inaccessible 'liberated area' of Maoist influence, where it is claimed that the state's writ does not run. Although paramilitary and state forces are deployed at four locations on this small patch due to its strategic importance, yet not a day passes without the occurrence of Naxal violence. So much so that government officials fall sick in the name of their posting and bus operators withdraw their fleet on pretext of unviable and uneconomical routes. Bidders, despite quoting exorbitant rates for any developmental work retract at the first opportunity to avoid Naxal wrath. The hearts of our doctors, who extend their so-called social service only up to urban limits, do not melt even if a poor tribal dies of cerebral malaria before reaching a nearby government hospital. Indigenous homeopaths and baigas are the only saviours over there. The Maoists' claim of running a parallel government and rendering relief to a long-neglected class is mere farce. They have reduced these areas to a hapless condition. Gangalur, a village of a few hundred tribals, now sprawls over an area that includes a relief camp since the emergence of Salwa Judum in June 2005. This village now has a RCC road up to Bijapur thanks to K.R. Pisda, a former district collector who came up with the idea of making Gangalur-Bijapur RCC road from non-conventional methods.

Raman Singh, the chief minister of Chhattisgarh, laid the foundation stone of this RCC road on April 5, 2007. Funds up to Rs. 10 crore were brought in by the collector from NMDC (National Mineral Development Corporation), a mighty enterprise with its headquarters at Bailadilla of Dantewada, under the Peripheral Development Fund Scheme. This made it easy for him to do away with long-drawn bureaucratic procedures. A committee of district officials constituted to carry out this herculean task purchased an automated mixer plant and other equipment. After an extensive hunt, experienced masons were motivated to join the euphoria. A mixer plant was set up in the premises of the CRPF camp at Cherpal, halfway between Bijapur and Gangalur. Everyone involved in construction of the road was given an insurance cover of Rs. 5 lakh. The district superintendent of police, Ratan Lal Dangi, joined hands by providing security on a regular basis.

However, the officials' commitment to this road construction made the Naxalites furious. Hari Ram, a local guerilla squad (LGS) leader of Gangalur, threatened security forces, special police officers (SPOs) and their cohorts of dire consequences and rhetorically announced, 'I will commit suicide if I fail to stop construction'. Although, it couldn't deter the administration from the project, it was not an easy path to tread. Soon Naxalites burnt down a tractor involved in ferrying material. They also partially damaged a freshly laid-up road and set the plant at Cherpal on fire. Seven SPOs and three CRPF jawans lost their lives and many security men were injured. Four Naxalites were also killed. So far, 43 cases of arson, murder, kidnapping, exchange of fire, recovery and explosion of IEDs have been registered. And the road is ultimately in its completion stage.

The people of Gangalur and intervening villages to Bijapur are now a happy lot. Hari Ram, having failed to thwart the project, has shifted to Abhujhmaad. The distance to the district headquarters has shortened. The fear of landmine explosions haunts people less now, as the wire mesh embedded in cement concrete can absorb more shock and stop splinters from taking lives.

The Gangalur-Bijapur road is not a mere mix of cement and sand, but a blow to Maoist ideology, which has been rejected by the people of this region. It stands for the 'success of innovation over red-tapism', the victory of public courage and sacrifice over Naxalite cowardice; and is indeed a befitting reply to the cycle of violence.

- The writer is a senior IPS officer from Chhattisgarh

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