What is the point of a special development scheme for Maoist areas which increasingly covers districts not affected by the Maoist menace?
When it was proposed, the Integrated Action Plan (or the IAP) was a scheme designed to undertake fast-track development work in those districts which were severely affected by the Maoist violence. The plan was originally to originally cover 33 districts which were most affected by Maoist violence, got expanded to 34 and subsequently to 35 districts. Before the scheme could however be announced, the emphasis shiftedaway from the Maoists and the IAP was expanded to cover other tribal and backward districts, bringing the number of such districts to 60. The plan was rechristened as The Integrated Action Plan (IAP) for Selected Tribal and Backward Districts under the BRGF programme (see this blogpost on Everything you wanted to know about the IAP). The district level officials of these 60 districts were given a block grant of Rs 25 crore and Rs 30 crore per district from the Union government during 2010-11 and 2011-12 respectively, and their progress was being monitored directly by Delhi.
The list was subsequently expanded to 78 districts (here are the state-wise details of the districts covered). And the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs yesterday added another 4 districts to the list, taking the total number to 82. So far, so good. Not really, because four new districts carved out of Maoist-affected Dantewada, Bastar and Sarguja district in Chhattisgarh this January — Sukma, Kondagaon, Balrampur and Surajpur — have been included under the IAP. But Chhindwara in Madhya Pradesh, not affected by the Maoist menace, has made it to the list. Of course, that Chhindwara happens to be the constituency of Union Minister Kamalnath must be a mere coincidence.
The idea of development preceding security in Maoist areas is a flawed one [see blogposts on The mobile towering fallacy of development and Choosing the least worst option]. IAP, as designed originally was, itself flawed with the back-loaded component of funds, and has been a muddle from its inception. The problem has now been compounded with the mindless dilution of the list — the IAP is just like another patronage scheme for certain districts, in the guise of bringing fast-paced development to Maoist-affected areas.
But there is a bigger danger of this expansion of IAP to 82 districts. The IAP is commonly understood and referred to as a development scheme for districts severely affected by Maoist violence. If IAP covers 82 districts, it means that at least 82 districts in India are severely affected by violence. But that is not true. In the list of SRE (Security Related Expenditure) districts, there are 83 districts in nine states where all the expenses incurred on security are reimbursed by the Union Home Ministry. SRE districts are those districts where more than 20% of the police stations have experienced some incidents of Maoist violence. Within these 83 SRE districts, 35 have been classified as ‘focus’ districts. There are the most hardship prone districts, wherein the paramilitary personnel posted to these districts avail an enhanced hardship allowance. Only these 35 districts are severely affected by the Maoist insurgency and the IAP, when proposed initially was to be restricted — rather logically — to these 35 districts.
As an aside, the proliferation of the list of IAP districts is not happening in isolation. The list of districts covered under Backward Regions Grant Fund, which was initiated in August 2006 and aims to catalyze development in backward areas, is proliferating equally fast. It now covers 272 districts in India (out of a total of 640 districts).
Now look at the unintended message government of India is sending by covering half its districts under special development schemes: the routine systems and processes of governance in this country have failed miserably. If these special interventions are the only way out, why not put the whole country under these special interventions? Perhaps that would have been done by now but for the real purpose of these schemes — to dispense patronage, by sending a message of doing something for the poor and the backward. The perils of India being a Socialist Republic!