Fighting neoliberalism in Bengal
Lalgar in West Midnapur, Bengal, on a warpath - A The Statesman report, Nov 10 2008
The indigenous people of West Midnapore appear to have adopted protests more familiar with those taken in Nandigram where, in the backdrop of police excesses, the locals dug up roads to prevent the law enforcers from making inroads into their villages.
For the fifth successive day since Maoists set off a landmine close to the chief minister, Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s cavalcade, the indigenous people of Lalgar, in Jhargram sub-division, continued to put up obstacles in their bid to prevent the police from raiding villages from where secondary school students were arrested for their alleged involvement in the blast. The people of Lalgar and adjoining parts of Jhargram subdivision are on a warpath protesting against the torture of adivasi women and arrest of seven “innocent” community men in connection with the 2 November blast.
Roads remained dug up and tree trunks were piled up by agitating people, effectively cutting Lalgar off from the district headquarter, Bankura and other parts of the state. The police, for some inexplicable reason, is yet to take any steps to restore the roads to their original condition.
Even as Lalgar residents snapped power lines in the block headquarter, causing a blackout in the entire area, the district administration has done precious little to assuage the feelings of a section of the indigenous people aggrieved by the police high-handedness.
There is fear that the local administration has lost its grip on the situation. Consequently, the agitation has now shown signs of spreading to neighbouring Belpahari, Binpur, Jamboni and Goaltore blocks. The situation is likely to worsen if the people carry out the threat to block State Highway 9 at Dohijuri near Jhargram tomorrow. Over the past two days, hundreds of adivasis, armed with the traditional bows and arrows and machetes demonstrated outside Lalgar police station for hours together, demanding punishment of the police officers who, they believe, were responsible for the excesses.
They also wanted the inspector-in-charge, Mr Sandip Sinha Roy, to be taken to task. It was only when senior police officers intervened and assured prompt action that the people dispersed. In view of the mounting rage, Mr Sinha Roy was asked to proceed on leave. But that did not assuage the sentiments of the people who continue to seethe in anger because the police had not spared even santhal women. “We would call off our agitation only when senior police officers seek apology for beating up our womenfolk and arresting innocent men and schoolchildren,” said Mr Prabir Murmu, secretary, Sara Bharat Jakat Majhi-Madowa Juan Gaounta.
Development funds unused as Maoists strengthen hold
The Maoists in Bengal are successfully strengthening their foothold in the state as is indicated by the latest Maoist-sponsored blast in Salboni.
The government’s attempt to bring an end to Maoist activities in the state by taking up development works in the areas infested by them has failed miserably, as the district administration could not utilise the funds allotted for such work through Paschimanchal Unnayan Parshad.
According to officials of Pasminchal Unnayan department the district magistrates of five districts have failed to spend the allotted funds due to “lack of infrastructure.”
The state government had allotted Rs 30 crore in the year 2007-08 and another Rs 40 crore in 2008-09 for development work, but most funds are lying unused.
“Actually, the districts are flushed with Central funds under National Rural Employment Guarantee Act and the various district administrations are giving priority to utilising funds and hence the funds provided by us remain unutilised,” said Mr AB Chakraborty, secretary of the department.
For instance for the past two years, between 2006 and 2008 the total fund that has been sanctioned is around Rs 46 crore while only Rs 14 crore has been utilised so far.
Incidentally, the chief minister, Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee chose to set up a full-fledged department, Paschimanchal Unnayan department under a Cabinet minister, carved out a development and planning department to give special emphasis to development in Maoists infested areas. The districts included are West Midnapore, Bankura, Purulia, Burdwan and Birbhum.
Moreover, due to lack of infrastructure, the department could bring about very little to development in the Maoist-infested area. The Paschimanchal Unnayan Parshad, earlier an only-policy making body is being overhauled to add teeth. But the development authority is yet to find a site to set up its headquarters in Bankura and the special secretary of the department , who has been appointed as the chief executive officer is yet to be allotted an office in Writers’ Buildings. He is forced to wander throughout the day or sit with his subordinates at the state secretariat.
At the same time the department has been entrusted with the “task of critical gap filling” and its role is limited to playing second fiddle to other departments like PWD, power, PHE and school education.
Meanwhile, the state government had roped in IIT, Kharagpur to prepare a comprehensive development plan for these areas but doubts have been raised whether the state government which has been unable to utilise Rs 30 crore can spend Rs 16,000 crore over 10 years for as recommended by IIT.