Maoist violence, poverty mar growth in decade-old Chhattisgarh

Raipur, Nov 17 (IANS) In 10 years of existence, Chhattisgarh has become a study in contrasts. While the state recorded a high growth rate at 11.49 percent, people contest claims of development by citing the fast spreading Maoist insurgency, lack of healthcare and poverty.

A state of 20.08 million people today, Chhattisgarh was carved out of Madhya Pradesh Nov 1, 2000, to bring prosperity to the neglected region, particularly the tribals.

'Chhattisgarh is a fast developing state, it has left two others - Jharkhand and Uttarakhand - far behind in terms of development though they were formed at the same time,' said Brijmohan Agrawal, a senior minister in the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government of Chief Minister Raman Singh.

The BJP has ruled the state since December 2003.

'We are a zero power cut state, have the country's best public distribution system (PDS) and are making rapid progress in all sectors, be it road or health. No one can dispute this,' Agrawal told IANS.

But people say the quality of life has taken a beating, including that of tribals and Dalits who constitute respectively 32 percent and 12 percent of the population, due to corruption in infrastructure and welfare projects and increasing Maoist insurgency.

'Nothing has changed in the life of poor people; corruption at every stage is depriving us of the benefits of key schemes,' said Mangru, a 52-year-old rickshaw puller in capital Raipur.

'If I have to get a job card under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS), I have to pay cash to officials and if I manage to get enrolled, I have to pay the contractor to get the daily wages deposited in my account.

'Poor people can't afford to pay money at every stage; we are probably born to be victimised,' he rued.

While 45 percent of people live below the poverty line, over 70 percent are dependent on the PDS. In 2000, the number of poor families was 1.87 million. This figure has now surged to 3.62 million.

This despite per capita income increasing from Rs.12,170 in 2001-02 to Rs.38,534 (advance estimates) in 2009-10.

The Congress is quick to seize upon the irony.

'There may be a development boom in Chhattisgarh but it is restricted only to a handful of businessmen, traders, bureaucrats and BJP leaders. The masses have been left out even as their condition has gone from bad to worse,' said Congress leader Ramesh Varlyani.

The Congress ruled the state from November 2000 till the state's maiden assembly polls in November 2003.

'Go to the interiors of the Bastar region (in southern Chhattisgarh), and you will find in several pockets that people walk 60-70 km on foot through a forested stretch to access a primary health centre.'

The All-India Adivasi Mahasabha, an umbrella organisation of tribal bodies, which is active in the state's interiors, also ridicules the BJP government's growth claims.

'The only success of the BJP government in the state is it allowed Maoists to spread fast. Before it came to power, the rebels had a strong presence only in certain pockets of Bastar. Now their writ runs in the entire interiors,' said Manish Kunjam, president of the Mahasabha.

Maoist violence has claimed over 2,100 lives in the state.

Corruption has been a big bottleneck to implementing welfare and infrastructure projects in the iron ore-rich southern region as well as the coal-abundant north that form some of India's worst poverty-hit zones.

The state is also plagued by a poor health sector and human trafficking.

In the districts of Korea, Surguja, Jashpur, Raigarh, Korba, Janjgir-Champa, Bilaspur, Mahasamund and even Raipur, officials admit hundreds of families fall victims to human trafficking.

Most victims are young girls who are assured jobs as domestic helps in metros but get pushed into the sex racket by middlemen who run an organised racket in these districts.

'The state was carved out to take care of the tribals of Chhattisgarh who were left out of the development process for decades but they have been even more neglected and victimised since the state came into being and that is one of the reasons why Maoist insurgency is spreading fast,' said Kunjam.

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