Jairam Ramesh

Union Rural Development Minister

Q&A with the minister

How politics can fight Maoists
I will give you an instance of this. In Odisha, many candidates were elected unopposed in the panchayat elections held in the Maoist-affected districts. The home ministry had asked us to stop funding union-sponsored schemes in these panchayats. I said, “ No”. It was the first step towards political mobilisation. We collected data to show that the number of unopposed candidates were not any higher in Maoist-affected districts than those in the other districts.

I was in Balrampur village in Purulia district, where the Maoists have been very active in the recent years. An old couple complained to me about non-payment of old-age pensions. After I left, the collector who was with me on the tour got a call. He told me that some Trinamool Congress workers had walked up to the couple and told them, “You should have come to us. What are we here for?” Now, that is the kind of change that political mobilisation can bring about.

On ‘Operation Greenhunt’
The home minister has repeatedly said that ‘Operation Greenhunt’ is a figment of imagination. He has said that the Maoists are welcome to have a dialogue with the government. They simply have to give up violence for the talks to happen. That offer has not been accepted yet.

On the bamboo debate
Now, bamboo finds mention in two pieces of legislation — in the Indian Forests Act, 1927, in which it has been classified as a tree, and in the Forest Rights Act, 2006, where the environment ministry classified it as grass in keeping with a more scientific definition. The FRA transfers the control of its trade to the gram sabha and panchayats. Sadly, Mendalekha in Gadchiroli district remains the only village in the country where the gram sabha retains the control of trade in bamboo.

On mining
I will not advocate a blanket ban on mining. Neither would I justify completely liberal mining policies. We have to work it out on a case-by-case method. A BJP leader I recently met said that the only solution is to nationlaise all mines. But nationalisation is not the answer. Some PSUs don’t have a very good record to support a call for nationalisation. In fact, as the minister for environment and forests, I gave a clearance to SAIL for expanding its Chiria mines (in Saranda) only because it has had an exceptional track record in social responsibility. Even that clearance was given with riders. But today, in Jharkhand, there are 19 companies, all of them private ones, awaiting various clearances. This was the result of an indiscriminate signing of MoUs. Now, the state and union governments should take a call on these licences. My personal position is that let’s have a ten-year moratorium on mining in the area during which the interested companies, both private and public sectors, prepare themselves for operating in an ecologically and socially senisitive area. My point is that the middle ground suits our long-term intersts the most.

On administration in tribal areas
We need to take a fresh look at both the governance and administration in these areas. One thing that immediately springs to my mind is that we should have a separate administration for tribal areas. Before independence, we had the Indian Frontier Administration Service in the scheduled areas. Time has come when we should be seriously reflecting on whether we need to bring it back.

On new R&R regulations
The initial stand I had taken was that the R&R commitments need to be fulfilled retrospectively but given the investment climate of the day I have changed my stand and I am with implementing these prospectively.

On the provision for sharing of 26 percent of the profits with the displaced in the new mining bill
Noble intentions can’t be the sole criteria for policymaking. The administrative realities of the region in question have to be taken into account.

On the Bijapur incident (on the killing of children alleged to be Maoists)
The ground-level truth is incredibly complex. However, it has to be said that the Maoists do (emphasis added) recruit children. They often use children as young as 12 years of age as human shields in encounters with the security forces. We shouldn’t demonise the forces. Having said that, I believe if the forces did commit a mistake, it should be investigated and the guilty should be punished. The liberal rage at the Bijapur deaths is, however, not matched when the state is subjected to violence.

On why an ‘SDP’ was not implemented in a non-mining area
The problem is that the Sarandas of India are all in mining areas. Palamu and Lohardaga in Jharkhand were off the radar of the Maoists until a few years ago when coal reserves were discovered. To be honest, the Maoists believe in the market economy more than us.

Governance Now partners ANSA-SAR for development reporting

On this occasion, Naimur Rahman, COO, Affiliated Network for Social Accountability, South Asia Region (ANSA-SAR), funded by the World Bank Institute to promote, strenghten and sustain the concepts and pratices of social accountability, announced a partnership with Governance Now wherein the magazine’s experiment in grassroots reporting in Saranda would be scaled up. As with ‘Saranda Governance Laboratory’, four reporters will spend six months in a rural setting and monitor governance at the grassroots level.



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