Chhattisgarh-'A state continuously striving to do better'

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Development and smart policing must go hand in hand in Chhattisgarh, says Sanjeev Nayyar who travelled through several Naxal affected regions of the state.

I recently travelled through the Naxal affected districts of Bastar, Dantewada, Kanker and Narainpur. Over ten days I visited touristy places, adivasi homes, Bailadila iron-ore mines and the Jungle Warfare College, and also spoke to a cross-section of people. The purpose of this article is to share insights and observations gathered during the trip.

I reached Raipur at mid-night and took a bus to reach Jagdalpur by 8 am. Unlike what I had thought, Jagdalpur is a big town with a buzzling market place. It has a couple of huge stores selling consumer durables. Other district towns are smaller in comparison. I found the state to have excellent roads.

At Chitrakoot waterfalls and Kutumsar Caves (stalactite formations) I saw many tourists enjoying as they do in Delhi or Jaipur. Whilst driving through areas in which Naxals are active, the driver advised me not to get off and click pictures like I did elsewhere.

At the weekly market, Haat, adivasis offered me landa (rice beer) and mahua (the local brew). Everywhere people were interested in knowing where I was from.

Villagers told me that electricity is the key to their progress. They said that when a village is electrified the first thing villagers do is buy a TV with a DD dish. The rich amongst them go for a Tata Sky dish. Once they are exposed to the outside world perspectives could change even though others fear it will destroy the adivasi culture. Many yearn for a cellphone connection.

Several people told me that there has been tremendous development after Chhattisgarh became a separate state. Earlier Bastar was one district; today there are seven. This has increased the pace of development even though it means higher administrative cost.

I saw some interesting initiatives.

Tie up with private agencies to offer vocational training

With an aim to provide vocational training the Livelihood College was started in October 2011. The local administration has created infrastructure and then tied up with renowned national-level private training agencies to run courses, and other nongovernmental organizations/corporates to run the college.

There is an industrial stitch sewing and hospitality section by Infrastructure Leasing & Financial Services Limited, a BPO/office assistant and TALLY section by Indian Can, diploma and postgraduate diploma computer trainings affiliated to Indira Gandhi National Open University and Department of Electronics and Accreditation of Computer Courses by Track Computer, an advance welding course section on modern ESAB machines sponsored by Essar Foundation etc.

Except for the diploma and PG diploma course in computer application, students and teachers are provided free residential hostels.

More than 2,000 students have been trained by the college so far. The college also helps students find jobs

To see pictures of Livelihood College Dantewada Click here

Residential schools, colleges to offer quality education

Most backward areas lack education facilities. Finding quality faculty and managing facilities over a large geographical area is a challenge. The local administration has sought to overcome this by having a centralised 5,000 student residential campus encompassing schools and professional colleges. The Rs 100 crore project is called Education City Geetham, which is approximately 12 km from the district headquarters town of Dantewada.

It currently has a Kasturba Gandhi Balika School (100 girls residential), a KVN school (500 boys/ girls 1-8th standard) and a government Industrial Training Institute.

The recently developed Aastha Gurukul is a residential school with CBSE syllabus for children orphaned due to Naxalite violence. Students are provided with food, shoes and clothing. The building is well laid out with good washrooms. I loved their Godrej beds that have an attached study table.

The under-construction DAV Polytechnic has a 1,000-seater auditorium and a sports complex to harness tribal talent. Aastha (Rs 22 crore) and DAV (Rs 45 crore) have been funded by the National Mineral Development Corporation.

IAS officers who undertake major projects in such areas should be transferred on completion of projects even if it means a posting in excess of the usual three years.

Both these initiatives are potential game changers and could be emulated nationwide.

To see pictures of Education City Geetham Click here

Promotion of adivasi art

I saw artisans make outstanding cast-metal images, terracotta/metal/bamboo products and bottle gourd lampshades.

I met with Dr Jaidev Baghel, an adivasi and national award winner for his work in cast metal images. They are Ghadawas who have been creating metal images of devas and devis for centuries. The craft of casting metal (ghadawakam) by the lost wax process is called cire perdue in the West. Students from institutes like National Institute of Fashion Technology spend days at his workshop learning the art.

Their work must be purchased and promoted aggressively within India and abroad. More money in their hands makes them less susceptible to be influenced by the votaries of violence.

To see pictures of Bastar Craft Click here

People wish the NMDC was less bureaucratic

Established in 1985 the Ramakrishna Mission Ashrama, Narainpur runs a residential school for 1,000 children, a coaching school for 1,900 children, an agriculture training cum demonstration farm, an ITI centre and a hospital/mobile health unit amongst others.

In Abhujhmarh (described as a 'tangled knot of hills') it runs five free residential schools.

I visited one such school at Kundla (206 children) where a Nutrition Rehabilitation Centre is run with UNICEF. They run 181 anganwadis and mini-anganwadies covering more than 5,000 children below six years of age.

The mission meets about 75 per cent of its food needs from an in-house farm. Through various practices children are taught the dignity of labour and Indian culture. At the coaching centre children are brought by school buses from a 15-20 km radius and also served breakfast. The ITI trains plumbers, welders, draughtsman, tractor mechanics etc.

On the anvil is a residential model higher secondary school for 11and 12th standard students, a first in the district. Adivasis are the biggest beneficiaries of their work. Children looked very happy, eager to learn and progress.

The mission's approach of 'selfless service' has helped them survive and excel in a difficult environment but funding remains a constant challenge though.

People I spoke to appreciated the corporate social responsibility efforts of the NMDC but wished the public sector unit was less bureaucratic, released funds faster and increased funding in other Naxal affected districts besides Dantewada, where its mines are located.

To see pictures of Ramakrishna Mission Ashrama Narainpur  Click here

Transformation of police force into combat soldiers

Faced with high casualties the Chhattisgarh government invited Brig BK Ponwar to set up the Jungle Warfare College Kanker in 2005. Normal policing involves maintaining law and order in a given jurisdiction and is not geared to fight armed votaries of terror.

The brief was to transform the police force into combat soldiers.

Objectives of the 45-day course are endurance training, quick reflex firing, operations to counter Naxalites and importantly change mindsets to win the hearts of the civil population. Always be in combat mode but with a smile -- is its motto.

I saw the physical conditioning the cops go through -- transformational! They are also taught jungle lure, patrolling, laying an ambush, area domination, psywar, raid on Naxal hideout. Importantly all training is akin to actual prevailing ground conditions. The firing ranges are used to enable cops to fire their weapon to overcome every situation in an encounter. How to detect and clear a road of IED's is included too. Dogs are trained to detect IED's. I was happy to see a number of women being trained as well.

Cops are trained over a 400 sq km radius covering 65 villages during which they meet the village head and inquire about the efficacy of health, electricity and other facilities. The feedback is collated and sent to the district collector for action.

The 800 acre campus is full of motivational phrases like 'Commando, Fight the Guerrila Like a Guerrila, Population is the Centre of Gravity'.

In nearly eight years the college has trained app 25,000 cops from various states. IED attacks in the state have fallen from 78 in 2006 to 12 in 2012.

According to Brig Ponwar cops trained at the college do not get killed, they get the President's medal for bravery. He added that training the police receive has, incidentally, cured many ailments like piles, blood-pressure and diabetes.

To see pictures of Jungle Warfare College Kanker Click here

Winning the hearts and minds of people

The trip ended with a visit to Bhoramdeo Temple, described as the Khajuraho of Chhattisgarh.

Surely the government needs to do a lot more work on various fronts. However, I left with a distinct feeling that here is a state that is continuously striving to do better.

Will this solve the Naxal problem? To me winning the hearts and minds of people is more important

To see pictures of Bhoramdeo Temple Click here

The author is a national affairs analyst, founder and a Business Consultant.

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