The MSP Strategy

Naxalism or Maoism is the biggest threat to internal security? That was Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in 2010. In a way it was the first instance when Naxal insurgency was recognised as a serious problem. And the problem remains. Meanwhile the country witnessed many bloody attacks by the Naxals (or Maoists), and many cold-blooded murders of unarmed tribals by security personnel in the name of combating maoists. Every Naxal ambush is followed by a barrage of condemnation and massacres of villagers and scores of innocent people. To revenge these massacres, the rebels in turn kill security personnel and political leaders and thus the vicious cycle of violence continues. It is an unacknowledged civil war.

As per a RTI query from the Naxal Division of Home Ministry, 11,742 civilians lost their lives (till 30.06.2013) in Naxal-related violence since 1980. 4638 Naxals were killed during the same period while 2947 security personnel died fighting Naxals from 1980 to 2012. Naxal-related violence in average claimed 596 lives every year, which means at least one person (either civilian or security person or Naxal) died everyday in Naxal-related violence for the last 32 years.

An armed conflict which has been continuing for more than four decades cannot be dismissed as a law and order problem. Nor can it be tackled simply by continuously modernising the fire-power and killing machine of the state.

The predicament of the common villagers is that either they are with the state or with the rebels. Thus, they are doomed in collateral damage and their deaths become mere statistics of RTI reply.

Having realised the futility of combat only policy, the Centre is planning to cripple the naxalite movement by way of depriving them the sources of their funding.

The Union Government of India has decided to provide Minimum Support Prices (MSPs) to 12 main items of minor forest produce, which form the mainstary of livelihood of forest-dependent people who are largely members of scheduled tribes. The declared objective is to ensure remunerative prices for minor forest produce. No doubt the elimination of contractors in forest produce marketing will dent a significant fund source for the Naxalites. Left wing extremism haunts many of the tribal dominated tracks in the nine states, included in schedule V of the Constitution.

40% of the financial resources (around Rs 140 crore annually) of extortionists and political extremists is derived from forest produce contractors. The rest comes from mine owners, road contractors, and private companies. The MSP mechanism will cover non-timber forest products such as bamboo, tendu leaves, tamarind, mahua seeds, sal seeds and leaves, and karanj seeds. Procurement will be done by co-operative organisations, and the MSPs are to be determined by the Tribal  Marketing Development Federation.
It remains to be seen how the MSP strategy succeeds in curbing left-wing extremism and winning the hearts and minds of tribal people in central India and elsewhere. ooo     [contributed]

Vol. 46, No. 8, Sep 1-7, 2013

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