“There has been a systematic failure in giving tribals a stake in modern economic processes that inexorably intrude into their living spaces … systematic exploitation ... of our tribal communities can no longer be tolerated,” Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had said in November 2009.
Five months later, on April 24, Singh released the State of Panchayat Report (SoPR) 2010 not knowing that a department, which commissioned the report, deleted a chapter capturing the plight of the tribals.
The Ministry of Panchayati Raj thought the chapter —PESA, Militancy and Governance concerns and challenges in India’s tribal districts — dealing with the rights and problems of tribals of the PESA districts under the Red Corridor, does not match with that of a government report. Panchayat’s (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act , 1996 (PESA) intended to shift balance of power through PRIs to the tribals in areas covered by Fifth Schedule. Out of the 76 Maoist hit districts , 32 are PESA districts.
It appears that the chapter was cut out because the report talks of tribals turning to ultras for protection against state oppression. The study was commissioned in 2009 by the Ministry of Panchayati Raj to Institute of Rural Management, Anand. But when the report was submitted a year later to the Ministry, it found objections.
The report while criticising coercive ways of Maoists also mentions “the good work done by the party” like mobilising community labour for farm ponds, rain-water harvesting and land conservation works.
Terming Salwa Judum extra-constitutional it says “such conditions of tumult disrupted normal life, rendering PESA meaningless on ground”.
“Ministry of Panchayati Raj had observed that SoPR couldn’t be an academic study for incorporating extreme views. It should be balanced and should lead constructive suggestions. You are requested to edit the chapters accordingly and e-mail to us as soon as possible.”
But sources indicate it could have been under the direction of more than one ministry that the chapter was removed.
For IRMA, whose researchers spent months in Maoist-hit areas, the deletion of the chapter came as a shock. “The attempt by MoPR is intrusive, questioning the autonomy of SoPR. The suggestion to edit it is ... even coercing to come up with views palatable to them...” a professor at IRMA said.
When contacted, A.N.P. Sinha, secretary MoPR said, “I do not care what a professor or an attender at IRMA says. Ask the director why it was deleted.”