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Posts Tagged ‘Motilal Vora

The first Naxalite presence in the Bastar region was noticed a quarter century ago. Chhattisgarh had not yet been carved out of Madhya Pradesh and Bastar was not yet divided into several districts. Bastar was the biggest district in the country, bigger than the State of Kerala in area, covered by thick forests and almost exclusively inhabited by tribals.

The BJP government of Sunderlal Patwa instituted a one-man inquiry committee headed by then Bastar Commissioner Sudeep Banerjee to find out the reasons behind illicit felling of trees in the forest lands of Bastar between April 1989 and May 15, 1990 and the emergence of Naxalism. The finding of the committee was that the Naxalism had grown out of the endless exploitation of the tribals by the police and forest department personnel and the tribals in the Bastar district had greater confidence in the Naxalites than in the government officials. The report gave credit to the Naxalites for generating new self-confidence among the tribals of Bastar district.

The Commissioner’s report said that a total of 81,877 trees were illicitly felled in Bastar district in 1989-90 while as many as 15,716 trees were illicitly felled between April 1 and May 15, 1990. The total number of trees illicitly felled during the period of inquiry thus came to 97,593.

‘The tribals have for ages been depending on the forests. The figures show that the forests have continuously been depleting and the laws enacted for management of forests have only been abridging the rights of the tribals over the forests. Though the tribals are the best friends of the forests even today, a feeling has been growing among them that the forest resources are being utilised by the administration or the non-tribals like traders and contractors. The tribals have been seeing the traders, contractors and government officials prosper by the forest resources while their own condition has been deteriorating’, the report pointed out.

The report said that the political parties had always adopted an equivocal attitude to the tribals’ act of ‘encroaching’ upon the forestland. Only the Naxalites had been openly supporting the tribals on this issue. The Commissioner emphasised that it would be wrong to blame the Naxalites for the encroachments on the forestland. The Naxalites had only adopted a “more realistic approach” to the prevailing social and economic situation. The report, of course, mentioned that a feeling had grown among the people because of the support of the Naxalites that the forest officers or the police could do no harm to them.

Around the same time, two female workers belonging to an NGO in Dhar district were declared as Naxalites by the District administration and ordered to leave the district, simply because they had told the villagers, employed in the plantation work, that they were being grossly underpaid by the contractor. Vijay Singh, then Commissioner of Indore, had shown the guts and (ignoring the scowl on Patwa’s face) rescinded the order of externment against the two girls.

Misuse of TADA

A journalist based in Kanker (then part of Bastar but now a separate district) wrote about the reprobate behaviour of the police in the Naxalite areas and the Superintendent of Police of Bastar booked him under TADA for “harbouring and helping” the Naxalites. Many senior journalists who knew the Kanker man closely vouchsafed for his integrity and even Congress leader Motilal Vora (who knew the Kanker journalist intimately) spoke in his favour but Patwa remained adamant. After the dismissal of the Patwa government in December 1992, the Bastar district police chief submitted to the designated court an affidavit saying that he had falsely booked the Kanker journalist to please the Chief Minister. The IPS officer continued to flourish in the Congress regime of Digvijaya Singh and continued to indulge in excesses against the people (so much so that he was indicted by a committee of the State Assembly). If Patwa could make use of him in an attempt to silence his adversaries and critics, why shouldn’t Digvijaya Singh do the same? The officer retired as Additional Director General of Police.

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Former President A P J Abdul Kalam is a sensitive person, always commiserating with the poor and those in distress. His recent Rs 200-crore proposal for the socio-economic development of the areas around the Kudankulam nuclear plant in Tamil Nadu shows his concern for the people who had to inevitably suffer in various ways because of the oncoming nuclear plant.

Kalam’s plan includes jobs through industries, roads and facilities for fishermen (who are in a majority in the area). “The people of Kudankulam and the surrounding villages should be provided urban amenities at a cost of Rs 200 crore”, he asserts.

Kalam has, however, resorted to activism in favour of the poor and the distressed only when he ceased to be The President. Had he shown a similar zeal while still in office, the lives of the Bhopal gas leak disaster survivors would probably have been less miserable today.

File picture taken on December 4, 1984, Victims in the corridor of Hamidia hospital Bhopal.( Photo:Prakash Hatvalne)

Kalam, then The President, visited Bhopal in September 2002. He was scheduled, besides his other official engagements, to formally inaugurate the Bhopal Memorial Hospital in spite of the protest of the gas victims’ organisations who were demanding dissolution of the Bhopal Memorial Hospital Trust (BMHT) because of the mismanagement caused by former Chief Justice of India A M Ahmadi who was awarded with the chairmanship of the BMHT by the Union Carbide for diluting the penal sections against those responsible for the gas leak disaster.

Apparently appreciating the sentiments of the survivors, Kalam cut short the ceremonial function and spent some time with the patients admitted there, commiserating with their plight. It had given a new hope to the survivors who had been suffering for long because of the unconscionable apathy of the State and Central governments.

Enthused by Kalam’s interest, some organisations of the survivors led by Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Udyog Sangathan (BGPMUS) submitted a memorandum to The President listing their problems covering mainly the ill-treatment of the gas victims at the Bhopal Memorial Hospital (which was constructed under a Supreme Court directive specifically for the gas leak survivors), and their rehabilitation — medical, social, economic and environmental.

Then chief minister Digvijay Singh also submitted to The President a memorandum seeking redress of the grievances of the survivors. This was significant as well as astounding. Digvijay Singh is perhaps the most unstable character in the Madhya Pradesh politics. Before he became chief minister in December 2003, he was a part of the agitations launched by the gas victims, sitting on dharnas organised by them and submitting memoranda to the Governor. He, as the PCC president, had got included in the 1993 Assembly election manifesto of the Congress that the problems of the gas victims would be solved on the priority basis if the Congress came to power.

Once he formed the government, Digvijay Singh not only distanced himself from the gas victims but completed the winding up of the projects to help he gas victims, which were started during Motilal Vora’s tenure in the late 1980’s. The process of winding up of these projects was started by Digvijay Singh’s predecessor Sunderlal Patwa of the BJP. The phrase “gas leak survivors” was not even mentioned in the Congress party’s 1998 election manifesto.

Digvijay Singh’s renewed interest in the problems of the gas victims in 2002 had taken the survivors’ organisations by surprise but they were happy, nonetheless.

Had Kalam taken an interest in solving the problems of the gas victims, it would not have been difficult for him to persuade the NDA government at the Centre to agree to his proposals, in spite of the reservations of the BJP leaders on the Bhopal gas issue. And with Digvijay Singh’s renewed interest in the problems of the gas victims, the State government, too, would not have shirked from its responsibilities. But, unfortunately, Kalam commiserated with the survivors for their sufferings while in Bhopal and apparently forgot everything about it on reaching Delhi.


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Fortune & Crime

“Behind every great fortune there is a crime”, originally attributed to 19th-century French writer Honoré de Balzac.

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