Many welfare projects of the government go waste because their benefits do not reach the people at the grassroots level. This is often so because the administration does not reach out to them. District officers of East Singhbhum in Jharkhand have struck upon a laudable idea to take the fruits of development to the people. Senior officers of the district administration arranged a janata durbar (people’s court) in a remote tribal heartland to get first-hand impressions of how welfare schemes are working in the villages. It is not as though the officers did not know about the scarcity of drinking water and the bad conditions of roads, which the villagers complained about. The benefits of such exercises are twofold. While the administration can enlighten itself on the ground realities, the people’s trust in law and justice is also gained by such closer encounters. Given growing public disenchantment with governments, the importance of such exercises cannot be overstated. Neither development nor good administration is possible without this mutual trust. Also, many development schemes fail to reach the people because contractors and other middlemen hijack them for profit.
The gravest danger is, however, the people’s loss of faith in legal redresses and their drift towards unlawful action. The Jharkhand government should be aware of this more acutely than most other governments. In large parts of the state, political extremists belonging to the People’s War group of the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) and the Maoist Communist Centre regularly hold their own people’s courts in an open challenge to the authority of the state. In most cases, they can do so because the government’s writ does not run in places far away from district headquarters. By giving death sentences or forcibly seizing land and property, they spread terror and incite hatred. The rebels exploit the people’s frustrations with the administration’s inability or unwillingness to reach out to them. Developing grassroots contacts can help the administration wean the disgruntled people away from the extremists. The example set by the East Singhbhum officers needs to be followed elsewhere in Jharkhand. Senior administrators visiting remote villages on development missions can also inspire and enthuse local-level officials. Even if the visits do not always mean early solutions to the problems, the gestures can at least generate hope and goodwill. One hopes, however, that this particular visit would not be a flash in the pan. Some district officers often try to break out of the conventional mould, raising hopes, and then meekly revert to bureaucratic routine. That would not make much of a difference either to the quality of administration or to people’s lives.