Bhubaneswar, July 5: Union rural development minister Jairam Ramesh has touched off another controversy by taking a dig at the state leaders for lacking political will to tackle the growing Maoist menace in the state.
“The leaders of Odisha, who have suddenly discovered themselves to be the champions of tribals, should work on the ground in these areas to improve the situation,” Ramesh said on the sidelines of a cultural event here yesterday, referring to the threat of Left-wing insurgency in the state.
The minister, who failed to visit Janbai in Malkangiri district during his last visit to Odisha in May because of the threat perception, said more than funds it was the political will that was necessary to bring about a positive change in the Maoist belt.
“In some of these areas, gram panchayats have ceased to function. We need political activity there,” he said, calling upon the state leaders to visit these areas instead of doing lip service to the cause of tribals, who constitute the majority in most of the Maoist-dominated districts.
Stating that funds were not a constraint as each of Odisha’s 18 Maoist-affected districts had been allocated a sum of Rs 30 crore for development, Ramesh put the onus on the state government for development activities such as construction of roads and health infrastructure in the areas. As far as the coercive drive against the radicals is concerned, the minister said the state police had to take lead since paramilitary forces could only play a supportive role.
The minister’s critique of the government evoked angry reactions from the BJD with senior leader and former agriculture minister Damodar Rout describing his statements as irresponsible. Rout said the minister instead of pointing an accusing finger at the state government should have looked at the situation prevailing in neighbouring Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand.
Ramesh, during his last visit to the state, however, described the Maoists as “anti-democracy” and “anti-people” when threat perception had scuttled his proposed visit to Janbai Ghat, the gateway to what is popularly known as Malkangiri’s “cut-off” area which is home to nearly 30,000 people whose only means of communication with the mainland are boats. The minister was keen on the trip as he wanted to know first hand why the construction of the proposed Gurupriya bridge which would connect the “cut off ” area with the mainland was being delayed.