Centre charts Rs5,500 crore road map to take on Naxals

Centre charts Rs5,500 crore road map to take on Naxals

New Delhi: The Union government has lined up a Rs5,500 crore project to link remote areas in 33 districts that have an active Naxalite or Maoist, presence with highways to provide rapid access to paramilitary forces.

The government also expects the five-year programme to help it connect better with local populations, which have a significant number of Naxalite sympathizers.

The districts are spread across nine states—Orissa, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Bihar, Jharkhand, Karnataka, West Bengal and Andhra Pradesh.

The Centre will provide Rs4,400 crore to these states, road transport and highways secretary Brahm Dutt said.

“In addition, the National Highways Authority of India (the highways regulator) will ensure connectivity between existing highways and the smaller roads at a cost of Rs1,100 crore," he added.

Recent Naxalite attacks, such as the one in Malkangiri in Orissa in June, have left the security establishment shaken. Naxalites in Malkangiri had opened fire on policemen from neighbouring Andhra Pradesh who were patrolling in a boat. The boat capsized and more than 40 Grey Hounds, a special anti-Naxalite security unit, personnel were killed.

The road-building programme is intended to ensure that remote habitations, which are Naxalite strongholds, were connected to the nearest town, said a Union home ministry official, asking not to be named.

“The more these places remain unconnected, the more the Naxalites will be able to gain influence and, therefore, this intervention is a must," he said.

According to a home ministry assessment, 1,565 incidents of Naxalite violence took place last year, in which 696 people, including security personnel, were killed. Chhattisgarh accounted for nearly one-third of the violent incidents.

“There are places in Chhattisgarh, for instance, where there is no way you can build a road as mines have been planted by Naxalites and even the local population is against you (the state)," said P.V. Ramana, an expert on Naxalites at the Observer Research Foundation. Contractors who undertake the work will also be at the risk of attack by Naxalites and “the government may even need to factor in the cost of meeting extortion demands and risk to the lives of contractors and the workers in order to retain them."

The planned road-building project is a sign that the focus of the state remains on enforcing law and order and points to a lack of empathy in the government to the “plight of the people", said K.G. Kannabiran, president of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties, a human rights group that is often sympathetic to the Naxalites.

The government first needs to fulfil constitutional obligations such as social justice, the absence of which has led to the Naxalite problem, said Kannabiran.

“The roads are going to be built for the paramilitary to move in, but the fact is that the Maoists too will be able to use this road," he added.