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Road construction work in progress, en route to Sukma, Chhattisgarh. Photo: Vinay Sharma/ Mint (Vinay Sharma/ Mint)
Road construction work in progress, en route to Sukma, Chhattisgarh. Photo: Vinay Sharma/ Mint (Vinay Sharma/ Mint)

Infra development uphill task in poll-bound Bastar

State determined to bring remote villages on development map; Naxals are against it

Sukma (Chhattisgarh): Along Jeeram Ghati, a hilly patch that leads to Sukma district in Chhattisgarh, about 200 state police personnel march in as contractors for a road project prepare to travel through a Naxalite-dominated area.

The battle lines between Left- wing extremists (LWE) and the state remain etched in stone. While the latter tries to bring remote villages on the development map primarily through better connectivity and newly launched central government schemes, Naxalites are equally determined to prevent this.

At the centre of this war is the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana (PMGSY), which aims to link all 35 districts severely affected by LWE to the national highway network. However, the scheme has begun to gather dust with little or no means of disbursement at the grassroots levels.

Schemes such as PMGSY, the Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana, and Ayushman Bharat promise not just a better life for villagers in Bastar region, but also a total disruption of the very ecosystem that permits Naxalism to thrive. However, Naxalites have begun pulling out all stops to ensure that neither connectivity nor development permeates to the Dandakaranya forest region, which spans close to 5,000 square miles of uncharted land.

Chief minister Raman Singh, however, has ensured the systematic distribution of rice at 1 and 2 per kg to extremely poor families and families below the poverty line. Singh also launched the Sanchar Kranti Yojana (SKY) in July, which aims to distribute free mobile phones to villagers and establish internet connectivity in 9,000 villages across the state.

However, party workers said that hurdles to the execution of the schemes were becoming insurmountable.

“The Naxals target contractors, security forces protecting contractors, political entities and all other people associated with the centre and the state. There are villages located in the red corridor where even water is not available, let alone gas or hospitals. We have been trying for many years, but either contractors are afraid or those who come often get shot," said a senior Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) worker in Sukma, seeking anonymity.

In 2016, Naxalites ambushed a road construction project on the Dornapal-Jagargunda stretch along Sukma district. Contractors and security forces are still struggling to complete work on the route.

As 18 districts in Chhattisgarh go to polls in the first phase on 12 November, contractors who have been assigned road projects under PMGSY are scrambling to wrap up work, fearing retaliation from the Naxalites.

“We work just for 2-3 hours during the day because we want to leave before afternoon to avoid getting ambushed by the Naxals," said a contractor who has been working on a road project, on condition of anonymity.

Security forces in the area said the only way to ensure safe passage was by paying a “safety tax" to the extremists.

“Everyone who works in these regions, be it the farmers or the mining and quarry operators, know that they have to give the Naxals a cut. They collect about 140 crore as illegal funds annually. If the cut is given, then the projects run smoothly for about 15-20 days, after which the process is repeated. If they don’t give a cut, there is bloodshed and to keep peace, that commission or cut is given to the Naxals," said a senior Central Reserve Police Force official, who did not wish to be named.

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