Bandwan (Purulia), Oct. 26: “Gari banai amra, gari chore ora; aam khaye ora, aanti khai amra (We make the vehicles, they ride; they eat the mango, we eat the seed),” sang “those people from the forests”, a day before the October 11 ambush.
Raju Singh, 13, was among the audience at Dulukdih village that Friday evening when a group of People’s War extremists held an “indoctrination” meeting with the residents.
Nine Naxalites, three of them women, addressed the villagers as 11 others kept watch on the approach roads.
The gun-toting visitors knew their lines well, harping on issues that were key to the well being of the villagers. Posters they pasted on the walls of the huts demanded in blood-red letters: “Price babui grass appropriately, at Rs 3.50 a kg, start a mass movement for this price.”
Another poster stressed that rights to the land, water and jungle belonged to the people of the area and that the People’s War’s efforts had to be honed by hurting the “enemy of labourers”.
For most of the 85,000 population of Bandwan block in south-east Purulia, the means of livelihood is kendu leaves and rope made from babui grass.
Tribals, who constitute 54 per cent of the population, have very little land to cultivate. As it is, the hilly terrain is mostly covered with forests. Of the 135 villages in the block, only 30 have electricity. “Each village, however, has a primary school and is connected by a motorable road,” says block development officer Sanjit Mandal. But Bandwan still remains one of the most under-developed blocks in an underdeveloped district.
“We have a school but there is no teacher,” says Moyna Murmu of Gurpana village. “Only one tubewell is working and there has been no government help,” her mother-in-law adds.
In Dulukdih, Sumita Mahato talks on the same lines. Asked where they take the sick, pat comes the reply: “Shoshane (To the crematorium).” There is no primary health centre. The closest hospital is in Bandwan town, 25 km away, and is accessible only through an unreliable private trekker service.
Sustenance that comes mainly from the daily sale of ropes and leaves was hit when police took away most of the men for questioning after the blast and ambush that killed the Bandwan officer-in-charge and injured five policemen. The others have fled fearing more raids.
Several central and state schemes have been earmarked for the region. Around April 2002, former district magistrate D.P. Jana initiated a tribal action plan for the two Jhalda blocks in north-west Purulia and Bandwan. The administration received a central fund of Rs 5.2 crore and another Rs 2 crore from the state’s Paschimanchal Unnayan Parishad. About 70 per cent of the Rs 7.2 crore remains unutilised.
A senior official in the district’s planning department said delay in selection of beneficiaries, mainly because of political interference, absence of advanced planning and infrastructure and shortage of technical personnel were the main reasons why “implementation of development schemes is so sluggish”.