It is not often that human rights activists and government observers appear on the same analytical platform. But when they do, it is worth pausing in the churlish dismissal of any criticism of rampant industrialization as anti-national sentiment.

I have increasingly encountered such analyses from officials charged with internal security, administrators and police alike, in Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Orissa and West Bengal. These states are well known for their heavy-handed application of both industrial and security policies. Such orientation enables business and politics to walk hand-in-glove.

For the purpose of brevity, in this week’s column let’s pick Chhattisgarh, arguably the state with the most roiled political economy and security environment. Security analysts point to the rash of proposed and work-in-progress thermal power, iron and steel and coal-mining projects in this state, in particular such concentration in the three north-central districts of Raigarh, Janjgir-Champa and Korba.

Security concerns extend beyond the usual footprint of twisted land acquisition and shabby resettlement and rehabilitation issues. Indeed, such concerns project Korba and Raigarh as agriculturally among the most productive districts of Chhattisgarh. Security analyses also correctly highlight Janjgir-Champa and Raigarh as geographies for the Mahanadi river system which eventually drains into neighbouring Orissa.

They speak of prime agricultural land being acquired for industry, leading to loss of livelihoods, and in other cases pollution affecting output in farms near industrial concentrations. Appropriation of water resources for industry to the detriment of agriculture is red-flagged. As one report mentions: “Most of the available water from tributaries as well as from the Mahanadi river has been diverted to existing power/iron and steel plants. The under-construction plants are also dependent on water from this river basin."

Several security analysts speak of the fallout of diverting forest and agricultural land in the area for coal blocks, a matter of particular focus especially on account of the central government taking a decision to adopt such proposals for fast-track clearance.

Then there is the downstream effect. As one security analysis read, “Displacement from land and forest, decline in agricultural productivity and a polluted environment will lead to distress amongst the majority of the local population which till now has been unorganized. After the compensation amounts given to the local landowners have finished they will also become part of the discontented masses."

Besides the increasing volume of protests by social activists who generally step in to provide organization to such discontent, there is the additional factor of the Communist Party of India (Maoist). The Maoists have what can be termed a foothold in Raigarh district, which shares an eastern border with Orissa, and in Jashpur, the adjacent district to its north that shares a border with Orissa and Jharkhand. Some insiders expect Maoists to begin leveraging local discontent for propaganda and recruitment.

This is not idle talk. The CPI (Maoist) has for at least the past year worked diligently to secure a corridor that links its stronghold in southern Chhattisgarh with Jharkhand using a funnel that runs through western Orissa. A part of this funnel, a personnel and material route, is also believed to contain an alternate sanctuary in Orissa for Maoist leadership—I have discussed these in detail in earlier columns.

Under pressure in all theatres of their operation, Maoists are naturally looking for fresh grounds to sow and reap. The new industrial hubs of Chhattisgarh can provide that with their proximity to this Maoist pipeline. Were that to happen, it is not impossible to imagine that businesses, both big and small, would be as inextricably linked to the Maoist political economy as they are in southern Chhattisgarh.

Another report has this damning indictment: “Growing agrarian and social unrest is bound to provide an audience as well as a plank for the Maoist ideology… The state government is not prepared to meet the possible challenges. Neither does it have the foresight or depth to see the future trends." Some reports specifically name government officials thought to have benefited from the state’s industrial overdrive.

It is not difficult to see where this is headed. Instead of fixing the ills of its own policies—industrial, land, and resettlement and rehabilitation, to name a few—the government of Chhattisgarh could well request the deployment of vast numbers of paramilitary forces in central Chhattisgarh. As has happened in southern Chhattisgarh and elsewhere, a situation of resentment and violence will lead to security forces being deployed. This will be described as a necessary step to reclaim space for governance and peace—governance and peace that was deliberately weakened.

Sudeep Chakravarti is the author of Red Sun: Travels in Naxalite Country and Highway 39: Journeys through a Fractured Land. This column focuses on conflict situations in South Asia that directly affect business.

Respond to this column at rootcause@livemint.com

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