In this Note from the Field, a PMRDF working in the Left Wing Extremism affected Purulia district in West Bengal, narrates how the Maoist movement disrupted livelihoods, revenue generation and public service delivery, and how the Integrated Action Plan has helped restore normalcy in the district.
Purulia - the land of plateaus, hill ranges, forests, dams, waterfalls and rivers has always been known for its picturesque beauty, and receives a great deal of tourist attention. The martial dance “Chhau” originated in this district and is still actively practised by the villagers. The tribal inhabitants of the district - mostly Santals - make their living through agriculture and fuel wood. The 6259 sq. km district comprises 170 Gram Panchyats, 20 Blocks and 2468 Villages, and has 3 sub-divisions. It is flanked by Bankura and Paschim Medinipur districts on the east, Bardhaman district of West Bengal State and Dhanbad district of Jharkand state on the north, Bokaro and Ranchi districts of Jharkand state on the west, and Singhbhum district of Jharkand state on the south.
Figure 1. The beautiful landscape of Purulia, West Bengal
The Maoist movement
In 2008, the calm was disrupted due to the evolution of a mass movement called Maoist movement.
Figure 2. LWE affected blocks in Purulia district
The environment turned tense due to the various activities of the Maoists Seven political persons were murdered at Jhalda block overnight, a number of political as well as apolitical persons of Jhalida II block were abducted, an on-duty Office in-Charge (OC) of police station in Bandwan block was killed, forest assets at the Matha forest office in Baghmundi block were burnt. Many other such incidents took place that brought fear and shame to the land of “Chhau” and tourism.
Figure 3. Killing of civilians by Maoists at Jhalida I block
Impact on livelihood and public service delivery
Marginal tribal farmers were rendered homeless and were forced to spend nights in the forests or elsewhere to escape the Maoists. While places such as Ajodhya, Murguma and Garh-panchakot were earlier frequented by tourists throughout the year, this was no longer the case. Adding to the agony, doctors, nurses, Auxiliary Nurse Midwives (ANMs) and other such government and non-government staff were not turning up for their respective duties due to threats to their lives and insecurity. Thus, the Maoist movement had a direct impact on livelihoods, public service delivery and revenue generation in Purulia.
Integrated Action Plan
In 2012, the state government, with central assistance, came up with an Integrated Action Plan (IAP) for addressing the critical gaps in development of the district. Planning and implementation for this central fund was assigned to a newly formed committee of district level government officials. The committee is headed by the District Collector/ District Magistrate, and consisting of Superintendent of Police and the District Forest Officer. The committee drew up a plan consisting of concrete proposals for public infrastructure and services such as roads, bridges, school buildings, Anganwadi centres, Primary Health Centres (PHCs), drinking water supply, electric Lights in public places etc. in a decentralised manner.
In the financial years 2011-2012 and 2012-2013, 824 schemes in 8 LWE blocks and 322 schemes in 9 LWE blocks respectively had been taken up in Purulia district. By now, 97% of the 2011-2012 schemes and 35% of the 2012-2013 schemes have been completed.
The assets being created under the various schemes have significantly improved the quality of life of the rural people in the district. Infrastructure has been created in the remotest parts of LWE blocks
According to Hariram of Radhanagar village in Bandwan block, “Tense faces have turned into smiling faces, inaccessible roads have become accessible; people have started leading normal lives, leaving behind the nightmare days”.
Fulmoni of Kushboni village from Bandwan Block is very happy to access the bridge that has been built across Khusbani, Ghagra and Kumra roads, as earlier the village used to get disconnected due to heavy rains during rainy season. The bridge now helps the kids to go to school that is in the next village even during heavy rains, which was not possible earlier. In the same way, the concrete village road of Maoist affected Baghbinda village in Jhalda I block and the Anganwadi centre at Gorsai in Barabazar block has greatly improved the lives of residents.
Figure 4. Bridge on Radhanagar Jore, Bandwan
The new Plain Cement Concrete (PCC) roads have enabled vegetable traders to reach remote villages for purchasing vegetables directly from marginal tribal farmers at better rates than the middle men. Moreover, many youths from the area have been engaged as contractors under the various IAP schemes. Local people have participated in the infrastructure development works in their area both as work force and as supervisors for implementation and monitoring of projects. The boards displayed at the beginning and end of every scheme has helped maintained transparency.
Figure 5. Local participation in IAP projects
Figure 6. A PCC road with a display board
The new infrastructure is also helping security personnel in carrying out their duties as their mobility has been enhanced.
IAP has helped restore normalcy
Pumping 60 crores in 9 LWE blocks under IAP in the last two years has brought about a drastic change in the lives of the rural poor of LWE blocks. Infrastructural development has improved the socio-economic situation in several ways. This success is being cherished and the works are being replicated by both the habitants of the LWE blocks and the district administration.
The residents of Purulia are moving towards leading normal, secure lives and the district is on its way to reclaiming the status of a popular tourist destination.