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Airports over basic rights: Maharashtra government’s myopic plans for Gadchiroli

Airports over basic rights: Maharashtra government’s myopic plans for Gadchiroli

Bodhi Ramteke

A plan announced in the current year budget of the Government of Maharashtra is to connect Gadchiroli with Samruddhi National Highway. It also proposes a new airport in the district. This decision should be welcomed. Because the tribals and the other residents of the district who have never even seen a train till today will at least see a plane flying in the sky! Even if an airport is built, most people will not be able to use it because the system does not make them strong and capable enough to afford its use. The government should make it clear for whose benefit these airports and highways are being built. Because considering the situation of the district, at present there is no need to spend crores of rupees on these works.

In Gadchiroli, people are struggling for their basic rights. More than 200 villages get cut off from the rest of the world during monsoons for more than 4 months. There are no schools which offer quality education, many Zilla Parishad schools are locked up since many years. The district lacks hospitals-doctors-proper medical facilities; 50% posts in the health department are vacant. Every year there is a long delay to get funds for the health department and therefore problems like shortage of medicines etc arise. Many roads are still unpaved, many rivers are without bridges, due to which ambulances and other vehicles can’t reach the villages. People face difficulties in calling ambulances or hospitals in any other emergency situation as more than 800 villages have no internet and proper network facilities. Just to make a call one has to walk many kilometers.

If police find suspicious activities relating to Naxal anywhere, they cut down the electricity, network connections. Fake cases are being filed on the tribals, they are killed in fake encounters, even the surrendered Naxals are suffering humiliation at the hands of the police. Rights of the tribals provided by the Constitution and other laws are violated by the state itself in the name of development through illegal mining. Apart from this, there are many issues for which people are fighting. But ignoring these important issues the state government is planning to spend crores of rupees on projects which no one has demanded.

If we track the reasons for neglect of the important issues, we can see that the ruling class do not get direct benefits from resolving them. Keeping situation as is it is even very beneficial for them, and for their people who claim to be working for the upliftment of the tribals. The condition of the roads is very bad in many parts of the district but the state is constructing the good roads only near the Surjagad Mining Project from where their vehicles will pass. Only when the ruling class sees benefit to themselves, they start constructing roads. Otherwise, they leave the roads as they are, in bad conditions, forgetting that other members of the species called humans also live there and that they too need good roads.

The government also proposed to double the monthly allowance of C-60 Commandoes from four thousands to eight, and to establish a separate special hospital for police personnel, on the lines of the Army Hospital. We welcome the decision. But what stops the state from framing the proper system for the payment of wages for MNREGA workers, on time? The poor have to keep enquiring the authorities again and again for payment of just 100-150 rupees for their work? Why does the government not prioritize the resolution of the pending claims of Individual Forest Rights and Community Forest Rights? And give the tribals and other forest dwellers their rights to their own land? Why is it quiet on the issue of violation of the rights of tribals through the 25 sanctioned mining projects in the district?

Even today the bags of the tribals are being checked in the market or wherever the police want. In many areas people are probed for personal information without any reason. Restrictions are imposed on their travel. If such incidents happen in cities like Delhi or Mumbai someone would approach the court for redressal, or even the court itself may take suo moto action citing violation of right to privacy. But here tribals and the locals are consciously kept unaware, uneducated about their rights. Even if someone tries to raise this issue, he will be put behind the bars imposing various draconian laws like UAPA, as this process of labeling someone anti-national is very easy in our country. People are living in such a challenging situation and now let’s see what the airport can bring the change in our life.

In our case before the State Human Rights Commission, we have already made a demand for airlift facility for the pregnant women who have to walk for 23 km for delivery due to lack of hospitals. Now the state has stopped the working of the Commission and is not taking any efforts for recruiting candidate to fill the vacant posts. This is now resulting in ignorance of many important issues of violation of human rights in entire Maharashtra state. Also, the people have started losing faith and hopes from such constitutional bodies.

There are many issues which needs to be solved on a priority basis but the ruling class is consciously ignoring those issues. The so-called social workers working here like to keep themselves in safe zone, securing their caste interest, and don’t want to speak on the issues. Due to lack of vision and knowledge about the issues it is of no use to expect anything from the MLAs, MP who have become the puppets of the system.

We are not opposing the project of the airport, we also want the access which was denied. But before that, the system should work to empower the people socially, educationally, economically. Only then they will dream of boarding a plane. Otherwise even if the airport is built, it will only benefit the ruling class and our people will be remain limited to watching the airplanes flying in the sky.


Bodhi Ramteke is a Law Graduate from ILS Law College, Pune, and the Founder of the PATH Foundation. He recently completed Judicial Internship at the Chamber of Justice D.Y Chandrachud, Supreme Court of India.