Once a Maoist hotbed, Saryu village on dev path

Ranchi: A village situated in the Maoist hotbed of Latehar district in Jharkhand is poised to take off on the development path, thanks to elimination of the rebels from the area and the launch of a special development programme by the Centre.

Ever since Jharkhand came into being in 2000, Saryu village, a hilly and forested area, was overtaken by Maoists, as were other areas in Latehar district.

Maoist attacks were almost the order of the day in Latehar district and the non-descript village bore the brunt of it, climaxing in the attack last December on the convoy of independent MP and former Jharkhand speaker Inder Singh Namdhari.

Namdhari had escaped unhurt, but 10 policemen were killed in one of the most daring attacks by the rebels.

That was the proverbial last nail on the coffin and the security forces soon launched an all-out offensive against the rebels, destroying their bunkers at the village and elsewhere.

After the Maoists were driven out, the security forces pitched permanent camps at the village.

Union Minister Jairam Ramesh soon came calling and announced the launch of the Saryu Special Development Programme (SSDP) covering 12 Panchayats and four blocks.

The SSDP, work for which is likely to start from next October, is a part of the four-pronged strategy to deal with the Maoists – the other three prongs being political mobilisation in rural areas, social justice to tribals and security measures.

Latehar Deputy Commissioner Aradhana Patnaik said, "As per the SSDP, we plan to work in areas of education, health, MG-NREGA, housing under Indira Awas, skill development, road net work, irrigation, sanitation, drinking water and a stadium."

He said efforts would be made to ensure participation of villagers in the development process. His announcement to involve villagers in the development of the village delighted Shilpa Kumari who had shifted from Saryu village in 1996 to pursue studies.

Now an elected member of the Latehar Zilla Parishad, Shilpa Kumari is extremely happy at the prospect of her village developing.

Recalling the horrors she faced during the Maoist sojourn, an elderly villager, who prefers not to be quoted, said, "For years we have been under constant threat from both the Maoists and the police. The Maoists used to demand food from the villagers."

"And when the police came, they exerted pressure to extract information about Maoists. We attracted the ire of the police if we did not share information and if we shared, we had it from the Maoists. Now we hope for a better future for our children."

The Latehar deputy commissioner said, "Our focus will be on 119 villages. We have made two groups comprising youth – one group will comprise of literates who will be imparted skill training and the other group to be given jobs under the MG-NREGA schemes."

Patnaik said a survey of households in 119 villages, besides Saryu, has been ordered to know qualifications of the youth in the families and the potential of their skill development.

Patnaik said there is only one high school at Ghasi Tola in Garu Block under which Saryu village comes and plans were there to upgrade primary schools into middle and middle schools into high schools.

"We have also decided to write to the government to open a Plus-II college," said the Deputy Commissioner.

She said that women self-help groups would be set up with the help of villagers and that sub-primary health centres would be upgraded, labour rooms and medicine centres set up and special thrust given to control malnutrition. There is a plan to construct a stadium in the region, Patnaik said.

The administration had already initiated various works with the existing funds under the Integrated Development Programme, she said adding funds for other projects would be sought from the Centre.

Saryu Special Development Programme is the second such initiative in Jharkhand after the Saranda Action Plan, both initiated by Ramesh, in the West Singhbhum district.

Maoist violence in Saranda areas has dropped after the security forces last year destroyed the CPI (Maoist) regional headquarters situated in the midst of the dense forest.