Wracked by remoteness, economic inactivity, illiteracy, lack of development and left-wing extremism, Dantewada region of Chhattisgarh has for long been one of India’s most intractable corners of backwardness and misery. And then came the pandemic.
Dantewada falls in the Bastar region, which is a fifth schedule area. This schedule of the Constitution protects tribal interests in states other than Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura and Mizoram.
Local plans are required for overall development, due to which the district administration plays an important role.
The district administration here executes government programmes based on local sentiments and local conditions, in view of the Naxal menace.
The Naxal or Maoist movement dates back to 1967 when armed peasants revolted in Naxalbari and later the “red" cadres of the CPI (Maoist) led the agitation claiming legitimate socio-economic rights for tribal and locals. Security personnel have been fighting bloody battles with the guerrillas around the Bastar region of Chhattisgarh that comprises remote districts like Sukma, Bijapur, Kondagaon, Kanker, Narayanpur, Bijapur, Dantewada and Jagdalpur.
To overcome the region’s various challenges, the Chhattisgarh government is relying on the mantra of development, with trust and security. Observers say the administration has been working for at least the past two years to win the trust of locals and bring about progress. The Covid-19 pandemic though escalated the problems in a region starved of healthcare infrastructure. Several Maoists too have succumbed to the disease.
In order to achieve the goals of development, security camps have been set up in areas like Chikpal, Kamali Guda, Potali, Chindanar and Malewahi.
Various schemes for the development of villages in the region were pending for many years, officials say. Projects such as the construction of a bridge on the Indravati river near Chindanar village at a cost of Rs 56 crore, enabling electricity access to remote area likes Potali and Burgum, the opening of shops under the public distribution system (PDS) in highly sensitive areas as well as the construction of the Barsoor Palli Road, connecting many villages, are signs of progress.
In conversations with local people, it was found that during the nearly four months of the monsoon season, the area around Indravati was almost cut off from the district headquarters. The indigenous people had little or no access to medical care. After talking to the villagers following the construction of the bridge, officials say they found that there was a wave of happiness. It has also opened up new avenues of employment and eased connectivity woes for agricultural work as well.
It has also provided an opportunity for the administration to provide governance to every nook and corner.
The opening of the security camps there has given confidence to locals as well as government workers to come here. Villagers say they feel the region is poised to join the mainstream, and where once children used to join Naxal organisations, now they are going to schools and ashrams.
Chikpal resident Somesh Kumar Markam said that after the opening of the camp in the village, there has been a lot of change. “There is a road to reach the village. Previously, one had to go to Katekalyan on a 10-kilometer walk to get ration, but now with the opening of a ration shop in the village, things are different," he said.
Another local resident Ramvati says that after the road was built here an Anganwadi centre was set up where her children go to study new things.
Dantewada district has generally seen resistance from villagers to the opening of camps by security forces due to Naxal pressure, say officials, but with schemes like PDS shops, schools, medical centres, electricity supply and bridges starting to come through, the old attitudes are changing.
A health sub centre has started in Chikpal and the villagers are relieved that they don’t have to travel long distances even for minor ailments. Roshni Mandavi, a nurse posted here, says that she has been in the area since 2000. “Earlier people did not come for treatment. But now the villagers have become aware and they themselves come to the centre for treatment," she said.