Build on the bounty of Bastar

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Chhattisgarh (Kanker), July 23 (ANI): The story of Bastar has unfortunately shrunk to that of a battle ground; a battle of wits and a show of strength between State authorities and the Naxals.

What strikes anyone first about Bastar is its breathtaking natural beauty. It seems nature, in a moment of exuberance, ran riot here. Deep, thick forests, small rocky hills gurgling streams, evergreen ferns and foliage, Bastar is how the Mother Earth in its pristine glory must have been.

The combination of soil, water, temperature and air seems to be perfect and one which could spring forth endless bounty for all the life forms it supports.

The question arises after all why can't this bounty of nature be harnessed for the good of the local adivasis or the region as a whole?

There is lot of talk of fostering 'Development 'as an antidote to the endemic violence that has seeped into this land. If this is about new beginnings, if there is a sincere desire to turn the cycle of violence into a cycle of productivity and prosperity, we need not look very far.

Take agriculture. The land in the region is very fertile, enriched for hundreds of years by natural fertilisers, simply fallen leaves. This is the ideal place for 'organic' food that the world is now waking up to. Its rivers are also un-spoilt, its banks have fertile soil. The climate and other conditions in Bastar are ideal for year-round cultivation, of course, with some innovations.

But then what is the roadblock? The presence of Naxals is apparently the one major impediment to any such initiatives taking root. The Naxals view any developmental activity with suspicion and mistrust.

Be it infrastructural activities like building of roads, school buildings or delivery mechanisms of the state to hone capacities of local people and bring benefit. Such initiatives and persons involved with them become 'targets' of Naxals, who have gone about destroying roads and school buildings with impunity.

No one may like to lay him or her or family open to this very obvious danger.

Yet there is a way of getting around the issue. Rather than any 'strategy' at the policy-level, here local wisdom and an ear to the ground can steer one clear of this prickly issue.

The presence of Naxals, and there is no point soft-footing this, is mainly in the interior areas, in villages far from the highway. The government could take measures to boost agriculture in villages near the highway, which are relatively 'safer'.

Once these start yielding results and the pockets of prosperity become apparent to not only the ones involved but the ones who are spectators, then it can spread.

Taking cue from the villages along the highway, agricultural practices can be emulated by remote villages. Instead of fear, we can witness a ripple effect of hope, of development not at a forced pace but dovetailing into the needs on the ground.

This is something that Bastar badly needs at this juncture. There are other initiatives like the good work being done at Sanjay Gandhi Agricultural Botanical Garden in Bijapur district. An expanse of emerald green, it is a sight so startling that it takes your breath away.

Spread over 20 acres of land, it has eight green houses, four of which house different varieties of mango trees. Every inch of this botanical marvel speaks of the colossal effort to maintain it and showcase its immense potential for any fruit-growing enterprise.

The variety is mind-boggling. Mango, jamun, jackfruit, custard apple, and berry. The nursery supplies thousands of fruit-tree saplings to the Department of Agriculture to be distributed according to their plan.

In another botanical garden in Narayanpur district, which unfortunately was the scene of the most recent bout of attack on the CRPF, where the fragrant white blooms of 'Rajnigandha' are grown. Aloe vera, that magical 'wonder-plant' coveted by cosmetic industry not only in India but worldwide is also in the pipeline.

According to Charkha Features, what is laudable is that such initiatives have continued. Yet what is deplorable is that they have not got the attention they deserve. They remain circumspect rather than their potential being opened out for the greater common good.

Rather than being bound by the existing outlets for the saplings, one wonders can't this be more widespread? Can't more and more local communities be co-opted into this initiative, thereby giving them a chance to break lose from the cycle of under-development which in turn sucks them into the cycle of violence in the region?

For instance, the terrain and climatic conditions in Bhopalpattanam block, in Bijapur district is ideal for growing fruit trees. Bijapur full of forests of prized wood, 'Sal' ' 'Sagwan' and 'Saja' is also the eye of the storm, the hotbed of Naxal activities. But that is the whole point.

Should one give up on the vast potential in the area because of the prevalent tension, even violence? Would that not amount to being culpable, if not party to the crime?

The approach could easily be multi-dimensional.

While enhancing agricultural productivity or horticulture, the administration should encourage the movement within Bastar and with adjoining states for trade. Konta block in Dantewara district close to the Andhra Pradesh border could be easily developed as a hub. Spices and herbs from Andhra could reach markets in Chhattisgarh easily and the forest produce like 'imli', 'mahua' and even vegetables could reach across the border. This can be achieved apart from trade within the regions of south Chhattisgarh. Apart from fostering trade, it would promote, in its wake, an environment of normalcy and prosperity. What is required here is some imagination, panache and yes a bit of daring!

The need of the hour is to change the approach to the problems, of the local adivasis. This would amount to addressing the development needs of the region, critical not only from the perspective of social goals but as a political exigency. Instead of a 'hands-off' policy from these troubled areas, we need to intervene on the side of peace and development. by Asha Shukla (ANI)

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