| Union minister Jairam Ramesh pillion-rides on a CRPF jawan’s bike on his way to Digha from Jeraikela in West Singhbhum on Sunday. Picture by Bhola Prasad
Manoharpur (West Singhbhum), July 1: Union rural development Jairam Ramesh, who visited Saranda today, was determined to send out a message that for him, it was a homecoming, inspection duty and a road trip all rolled into one.
The minister, who had called the Saranda Development Plan the first experiment in combining security and development concerns, had in the recent past minced no words about the “tardy implementation” of the scheme across 56 chosen villages in Manoharpur block. But this time, Ramesh, who landed in Jeraikela from a state chopper at 9.15am and trundled 30km to Digha riding pillion on a CRPF jawan’s bike to get a taste of Saranda’s roads, exuded charm that blunted the rancour, though the criticism was there.
When The Telegraph caught up with the minister at Domlai on the sidelines of a public meeting and asked him about the ride, he responded with characteristic candour.
“The roads are horrible,” the 58-year-old minister said, grimacing at his soiled clothes.
But the former economist did not resort to blaming the Jharkhand government for any delay in execution of the ambitious plan across Asia’s largest saal reserve.
“We have high stakes in the Saranda Development Plan. If it is successful, it will pave the path for replication across other Maoist hubs like Latehar, Garhwa, Palamau and Chhattisgarh. As things stand, I am not at all satisfied with the pace of development but won’t blame anyone in particular. It is the joint effort of the Centre and state governments and we will have to share the blame. In fact, I take the blame for setting such tight deadlines for the project,” said the minister.
Barring Manoharpur MLA Gurucharan Naik, none of the state ministers accompanied him.
Ramesh will meet chief minister Arjun Munda in Ranchi tomorrow after discussing the project with development commissioner Debashish Gupta, planning and development secretary Avinash Kumar (also Kolhan subdivision’s commissioner) and principal secretary of water resources Santosh Kumar Satpathy, all of whom were with him.
And he stuck to the October 2013 deadline.
“We have done an analysis and are confident of meeting this deadline,” he said.
Facts — and figures — don’t augur too well. So far, construction work of only two out of 11 roads has been undertaken under the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana. But the minister was confident.
“I have received an assurance that all 11 roads will be completed by end of 2013,” said Ramesh.
He rattled off more figures. “By 2013 October, all the 7,000 families in 56 villages of six panchayats doting Manoharpur block in the Saranda forest will have got funds for Indira Awas Yojana (houses for the poor), solar lanterns, bicycles, transistors and also forestland rights in the case of deserving villagers,” he said.
He also rubbished speculations that the Centre’s largesse was supporting private multinational companies. “These theories are being spread by those who have now been uprooted from the forest (read Maoists). During my tenure as Union forests and environment minister, I had given permission to only SAIL for mining in Chiria,” the minister said.
In return, SAIL had been asked to bear the expense of the distribution of solar lanterns, bicycles and transistors.
“I have asked SAIL to hand over money to the state government, which in turn will implement distribution at the village level. SAIL gave around Rs 8 crore for this project to the state government some three days ago,” Ramesh said.
The minister also made an emotional appeal to villagers to vent their anger against the government through democratic ways but resist arms.
“Hartal karo, dharna do, protest karo. Par bandook mat uthao (Resort to agitation, strikes and dharna but don’t pick up the gun). Change will come to Saranda for the better through democratic means. We will ask those with different ideologies to take part in elections,” the minister said.
Ramesh had a hectic day. After landing from a state-owned chopper on a helipad in a Jeraikela field, he went to Digha where he inaugurated two check dams. He also laid the foundation stone for the construction of two culverts on the Domlai rivulet. All the projects are being funded by Centre’s Integrated Action Plan (IAP).
At all locations, he spoke directly to villagers, asking them if the benefits were reaching them and directing local administrative officials to ensure that they did. His personal secretary R. Vinil Krishna noted down the names of villagers and details of complaints.
Around 5.30pm, Ramesh left for Chaibasa where he is scheduled to halt for the night.