Thursday, May 22, 2008

Scrap Salwa Judum: Planning Commission panel

New Delhi: An experts group of the Planning Commission has described the Chhattisgarh government’s controversial Salwa Judum vigilante campaign against naxalism as “an abdication of the state itself” and called for its immediate scrapping.

In its report, released on Monday, the group on ‘Development Challenges in Extremist Affected Areas’ also disagreed with the government’s view that there could be no dialogue with naxal groups unless the latter agreed to give up violence and arms.

This view was “incomprehensible and inconsistent with the government’s stand vis-À-vis other militant groups in the country,” the report states, adding: “Why a different approach to the naxals? The doors of negotiation should be kept open.”

The experts group, whose members include retired bureaucrats and police officers as well as academics, took a dim view of the official counter-insurgency strategy of encouraging the formation of tribal squads to fight the naxalites.

This strategy was being pushed “with a view to reducing the security force’s own task and risk.”

“This has promoted a fratricidal war in which tribals face the brunt of mortality and injury. Those tribals who are unattached to either the naxalites or those opposing them become victims of violence by all agencies — naxalites, squads formed to fight them, and the security forces. This approach is devastating the local tribals and causing hopelessness and despair.”

On the situation in Chhattisgarh, the report states that the “encouragement of vigilante groups such as the Salwa Judum and herding of hapless tribals in makeshift camps with dismal living conditions as a strategy to counter the influence of the radical Left is not desirable.

It delegitimises politics, dehumanises people, degenerates those engaged in their ‘security’, and above all represents abdication of the state itself.”

The Salwa Judum campaign, it recommends, “should be undone immediately” and replaced by a strategy of deploying “responsive” administrators who could redress people’s grievances.
Socio-economic aspects

The expert group linked the rise of the naxalite movement to the “various disturbing aspects of the socio-economic context” prevailing in the country and said treating such movements as “unrest” was “little more than a rationale for suppressing them by force.”

Noting that the main support for the movement comes from Dalits and Adivasis, the group argued that its growth is “linked to lack of access to basic resources to sustain livelihood.”

While the rights of forest-dwellers are severely restricted in the name of forest conservation, “the forests are increasingly shaped to suit the needs of industry,” it says. “The development paradigm pursued since Independence has aggravated the prevailing discontent among marginalised sections of society [as] the benefits have been disproportionately cornered by the dominant sections at the expense of the poor, who have borne most of the costs.”
Right to protest

The group also criticised the tendency of state governments to crack down on peaceful protest. “The right to protest even peacefully is often not recognised by the authorities and even non-violent agitations are met with severe repression.”

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