Within the overall rubric of comprehensive approach India has attempted a number of strategies to counter Naxalism over the years. These range from combat sweep operations or so called Operation Green Hunt planned but not executed in the winter of 2009-10 to cease fire and negotiations currently ongoing in West Bengal. Leadership decapacitation has also been used effectively. Thus from a law and order approach followed till 2008, a security cum development led strategy has been attempted since 2009.
Despite some key failures in 2010 particularly incidents as Silda West Bengal, Chintalnar in Chhattisgarh or Jnaneswari Express mishap in West Bengal, there has been a drop in level of Naxal violence. As on 15 July 2011 total fatalities have declined to 229 from 372 for the same period last year. This success can be attributed to capacity building of State and Central forces through positive interventions. Willy-nilly the army has also been now involved in a non combat containment role in the Naxal hotbed of Bastar in Chhattisgarh.
Development has been the other arm of the strategy. A number of schemes have been undertaken targeted at bringing about perceptible change in affected districts. These schemes include National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA), Pradhan Mantri Grameen Sadak Yojna (PMGSY) and National Rural Livelihood Mission (NRLM). A Naxal district specific Integrated Action Plan (IAP) was evolved for 60 severely affected districts with a package of Rs 25 Crore now being increased to Rs 30 Crore for development. There have been many concerns of poor implementation due to grass roots management combined with security as these areas have been out of the governance ambit for long.
Broadly administration of these schemes has been through the standard Centre-State- District model. Thus disbursal of funds or relief by the Centre has been through State governments to districts based on India’s three tiered governance process. Of late however the Central government seems to be more inclined to go in for a two tiered Centre-District hierarchy which may reduce the role and influence of the State government.
The first indication of this came with formulation of IAP wherein funds were released district wise. Monitoring of the scheme is also being done by the Planning Commission. The Union Rural Development Ministry is now envisaging a similar model for rural development schemes in Naxal affected areas. The Rural Development Minister Mr Jairam Ramesh is visiting each state to apprise himself of the needs and get a grass roots feel. The Union Home Minister had also some time back gone in for direct video interaction with districts from Delhi to assess the state of implementation of various schemes.
Similarly in the security sphere, there appears to be a two tiered approach. A day long workshop for Superintendents of Police (SPs) of 30 worst affected Naxal districts was held on 27 August 2011 in New Delhi. The aim of this workshop was to sensitise SPs towards employment of minimal force to avoid alienation of the population, focus on intelligence and target guerrilla leadership as per media reports. The Home Minister and the Director Intelligence Bureau briefed the police officers. The interaction with SPs also resulted in valuable feedback.
Some states apparently resented this and as per one media report only one of the five SPs from Bihar from Rohtas attended the workshop. SPs from Aurangabad, Munger, Navada and Banka could not come ostensibly due to delay in receipt of information from the State Home Department. Whether this was due to administrative sloth or for want of sanction of higher authorities given that the Bihar Chief Minister is not in tune with the Centre’s approach towards Naxalism is unclear.
Another incident of direct intervention by the Centre was reports of instructions to the Jharkhand government to transfer SPs in some districts where it was perceived that adequate measures to control spread of Naxalism was not being taken.
Then states are following their own strategies for example West Bengal is going for negotiations with Maoists with suspension of operations. Talks are in advance stages and whether a breakthrough will occur or not remains to be seen. Neighboring states as Jharkhand are wary of the move as they fear Maoists using the lull to regroup and sanctuaries in Jungle Mahal.
The Central government is planning to go down further by launching a Centrally-sponsored scheme for 300 tribal blocks across seven states to be executed by hand-picked officers and directly monitored by Independent Evaluation Office (IEO) under the Planning Commission. “In the 12th Plan we are going to cover the entire central Indian tribal belts of Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Chhattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh, Jharkhand, Bihar and West Bengal. We need to allocate money in a more focused way by ascertaining which area needs how much money,” Commission member Mihir Shah was quoted by The Indian Express. [IE Report 17 August 2011]
The challenge for the Government remains that of ensuring implementation of various schemes planned in Delhi in the Naxal affected districts which have major problems of security as well as administrative vacuum given that these have been minimally staffed over the years. Nevertheless there is a concerted effort to push down resources in terms of money but how these can be converted into development goods remains to be seen. Overall stress on development has led to major investments in infrastructure but this has also contributed to siphoning funds over a period and this is likely to add to the Naxal kitty.
While it is nobody’s case that a hierarchical system of administration needs to be followed efficacy of the approach of direct intervention by the Centre at the District level as a matter of routine may need some consideration. Given that development as well as law and order are state subjects, there may be some constitutional concerns as well.
The overall picture that emerges is thus of a hybrid approach of implementation. How effective it would be given differences between Centre and States based on parties in power and personalities remains to be seen. In a conflict situation a perfect model is seldom achievable, however staying within the constitutional ambit, improving communications and coordination between states may be a better role for the Centre than directly intervening at the District level.