Sunday, October 5, 2008

Open Letter to PM on Kandhamal violence - proposed long term solutions

Dr. Manmohan Singh
Prime Minister of India

Cc: Mr. Naveen Patniak, Chief Minister of Orissa
Cc: Shri Muralidhan Chandrakant Bhandare, Governor of Orissa

Subject: The common thread of large scale violence in Orissa in 2008; proposed solution to be taken on war footing

Dear Dr. Singh:
While the nation's eye is focused on the recent Kandhamala violence, I would urge you to go over the following news reports about large scale violence, most initiated by Naxalites and Maoists, in Orissa in 2008. These large scale violent events happened in Nayagarh, Malkangiri, and Kandhamal districts, and have spread to nearby districts such as Gajapati and Boudh. To really solve the Kandhamala violence and to ensure that it does not happen again, one needs to dig a bit deeper and find the fundamental issues that need to be addressed. Just more police is not enough as we can never have enough police to guard over the thousands of villages in these areas. The news snippets are:

February 15 2008 (Deecan Herald): "Fifteen people including 13 policemen, a civilian and a gram rakhi (village guard) were killed when armed Naxalites unleashed a wave of attacks on police establishments like stations, district police armoury and police training centre in Nayagarh town … Twelve policemen and women have also sustained injuries in the attacks and have been hospilised. The condtion of some of the injured police personnel is stated to be critical. In a daring and meticulously planned wave of attacks, the ultras virtually laid a siege to the town. The Naxals who included women cadres have looted huge quantities of arms and ammunitions from the district armoury in a truck and a bus they hijacked, besides setting on fire the police stations and vehicles. The arms looted by the ultras included light machine guns and assault rifles. … According to Rajesh Kumar, the Superintendent of Police(SP), Nayagarh, nearly 400 to 500 armed Naxals launched simultaneous attacks on the police stations and other establishments taking the security personnel by surprise."

June 29 2008 (AFP): "At least 39 members of an elite Indian anti-insurgency unit were missing feared drowned in the east of the country Sunday after their boat capsized following an attack by Maoist rebels, police said. The boat, which was carrying 64 people, came under heavy rebel fire while patrolling a reservoir near Malkangiri in the south of the coastal state of Orissa, police said."

July 16 2008 (Times of India): "In the second major strike by Maoists in Orissa in less than three weeks, 21 Orissa policemen were feared killed in a land mine explosion and firing by the ultras in Malkangiri district on Wednesday. The van carrying the members of the Special Operations Group was on its way from MPV 126, 50km from here, to MPV-41, when the landmine went off. The SOG personnel were going to the place where the house of a BJP leader was attacked by the Maoists on Tuesday night."

Dec 27 2007 (Times of India): "Eleven churches and prayer houses were ransacked and torched in several areas of Kandhamal district in Orissa in the early hours on Thursday. Seven churches and prayer houses were attacked and set afire in Gandapadar, Badahapanga, Bhandarapada, Pisupadar, Masapadar, Minia and Adigara under Phulbani Sadar police station area, police said."

August 23 2008 (Times of India on Oct 3' 2008): "Many Christians have been killed, and an estimated 50,000 forced to flee their homes in the eastern state as attacks on Christians have escalated across the country after a Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) leader Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati and four of his aides were shot dead by unidentified gunmen at his Jalespata Ashram in Kandhamal district on August 23."

Oct 4 2008 (The Hindu): "The Orissa State committee of the Communist Party of India (Maoist) on Saturday claimed that it killed Vishwa Hindu Parishad leader Swami Lakshmanananda in Kandhamal district on August 23. Talking to a team of journalists from Bhubaneswar in a forest in Kandhamal, the spokesperson of the party's Orissa unit, Sabyasachi Panda, alias Sunil, said it became necessary to eliminate the Swami as he was forcing tribals and Dalit Christians in Kandhamal to convert to Hinduism. "After the December 2007 communal violence in Kandhamal, we threatened to kill him if he and his supporters did not refrain from harassing tribals and Dalit Christians to change their religion," said Mr. Panda."

Now let us dig into the geography of Nayagarh, Malkangiri and Kandhamal.

Nayagarh is about 100 kms from Bhubaneswar close to the Dasapalla forest. It is also 65.6 kms away and the fifth station from the Khurda Rd station on the Khurda Rd - Balangir railway line which was sanctioned in 1994-95, but has made very little progress. The other proposed stations from the Khurda Rd side include Dasapalla (110.25) and Boudh (198). Dasapalla is considered deep jungle and an often used hide out for the Maoist rebels. Boudh is the town where disturbances spread to from Kandhamala.

Malkangiri is to the southwest of Koraput, the farthest district heard quarter town from Bhubaneswar and close to Andhra Pradesh and Chhatisgarh, and again a major operation area of the maoists. It is the second major town (Motu on the border is the first) on the Orissa side on the proposed Vijyawada-Ranchi highway. Also, for several years now the Orissa government has been proposing survey of a Railway line linking Jeypore to Malkangiri and beyond.

The Kandhamal district (earlier called Phulbani) is probably the worst connected district of Orissa, with large tracts of dense and open forested areas. One way to connect it would to the mainstream is to have a railway line from Lanjigarh Rd in Kalahandi cutting across the district, touching Boudh on the under construction Khurda Rd - Balangir line and then go across Mahanadi to Talcher.

The attached map shows these districts are surrounded by large tracts of dense and open forested areas, and partly explains why the naxalites and Maoists are able to make them their base.

(NOTE: Phulbani is now called Kandhamala)

(Note: The lines in red are the ones that are needed to bring rail connectivity to the Kandhamala, Nayagarh and Malkangiri districts and criss-cross the big connectivity gap in the heart of Orissa. The crossed segments are already approved but progressing very slowly.)

Dear Prime minister: As an economist and a world leader you must know that lack of connectivity, entrenched forest and mountainous areas together with a different population base is a recipe for the sprouting of troubled areas. This is true all across the world; from J& K and North eastern areas of India to caucuses in Asia. While one cannot and should not get rid of the mountains or the people, the problem can be solved by making the areas well connected and bringing development. The Indian government is doing that in J & K and in the northeast; but has mostly forgotten about the similar areas in Orissa, Chhatisgrah, and Andhra Pradesh, which are the favorite bases of the naxalites and Maoists.

Sir: We would like you to pay the same attention to these areas in terms of connectivity as you do to the North east and J & K. In particular we would request that following be done in a war footing within the 11th plan.

(i) The Vijaywada-Ranchi highway that passes through many of these areas be completed.

(ii) Broadband connectivity be brought to these districts with adequate access locations.

(iii) Two Railway lines, parts of which have already been sanctioned by the Railways but are progressing slowly, are completed and made operational. Those lines are:

a. Khurda Rd – Balangir (passes through Nayagarh and Boudh) – This line was sanctioned in 1994-95 is progressing very slowly.

b. Bhadrachalam Rd (Andhra Pradesh) – Malkangiri – Jeypore – Nabarangpur – Junagarh – Lanjigarh Rd – passing through Kandhamala – Boudh – Angul – Talcher – Bimlagarh: Several segments of these lines are approved but progressing slowly. Those segments are Junagarh – Lanjigarh Rd and Talcher – Bimlagarh. Angul – Talcher is operational.

(iv) With the above lines operational, development should be brought into Kandhamal, Boudh, Gajapati, and KBK districts (including Kalahandi and Malkangiri) through 1-2 Rail factories and public sector units that can use the steel and aluminum and power produced in abundance in Orissa.

Sir: You may be advised by the Indian Railways, which has no qualms in taking profits made from Orissa to its other projects outside Orissa that the cost of the above lines would be too much, but let me point to some data.

(a) As per the calculation in Indian Railways is scheduled to make profit of 2679.72 crores/year from its operations in Orissa. If 1500 crores of this money (the rest may go to Indian Railway's current plans for Orissa) is put into Orissa, in just 2-3 years the above mentioned lines could be completed.

(b) While we do not begrudge IR related developments in the rest of India, we would just like to point the following to counter the common IR retort (including one given by the Railway Board chair to an Oriya-American gathering in Canada earlier this year – please see ): The Indian Express article at says the following:

That Bihar has been one of the top beneficiaries of Railway Minister Lalu Prasad Yadav's largesse in the last four years is no secret. Now, armed with an 18-page brochure, his ministry is going all out to drive home the point that Bihar bagged railway projects worth Rs 52,323 crore during his term.

Sir: We are very happy for Bihar and also for the regions benefitted by the IR's other 11th plan grand plans such as the freight corridor, metro rails and high speed rail corridors, none of which touch Orissa.

But shouldn't immediate attention be paid to bringing connectivity to the backward, forested, badly connected areas of Orissa that includes the trouble spots of Kandhamala and Malkangiri. This is especially puzzling when IR makes a lot of profit from Orissa (details at and spends only a small part of it in Orissa. We understand that redistribution of profits and tax collections across regions of a country are normal, but does it make sense to take from the poor (Orissa) and give to the rich, especially when this act creates chaos with the poor (Kandhamala, Orissa).

Sir: We sincerely hope that you will now see the common thread running through the several large scale violent events in Orissa in 2008 and address the key issues of lack of connectivity and development in these areas.



1. Estimated profit Indian Railways will make from Orissa in 2008-09:

Zone in Orissa Total Route Kms Route kms in Orissa Estimated Orissa's proportional
2008-2009 share of the profit
profit in 2008-2009
(in crores)

ECOR 2430 1607 3077.15 2034.97 crores

SECR 1599 51 2529.89 80.69 crores

SER 2577 589 2467.88 564.06 crores

Total 2247 2679.72 crores

2. One of the earlier planning commissions has noted in

"Railways have always played an important role in economic development and rapid social transformation in all parts of the globe. It is one of the key economic infrastructures. However, it is most unfortunate that in a poor and backward state like Orissa, development of rail networks has received much less attention of the Central Government in the post-independence period. There are as many as seven districts like Boudh, Kandhamal, Deogarh, Nayagarh, Kendrapara, Malkangiri and Nabarangpur out of the 30 districts of the state, which do not have any railway line passing through them. In the year 1998-99, the density of railway route length per 1000 sq. km of area in Orissa was only 15.03 km as against 42.66 km in West Bengal and 19.11 km. at all-India level".

3. The tribal population percentage of the KBK districts are as follows: Malkangiri 58.36% ST (+19.96% SC), Rayagada 56.04% ST (+14.28% SC), Nabarangpur 55.27% ST (+15.09% SC), Koraput 50.67% ST (+13.41% SC), Nuapada 35.95% ST(+13.09% SC), Kalahandi 28.88% ST (+17.01% SC), Sonepur 22.11% ST (+9.5% SC), Balangir 22.06% ST (+15.39% SC). Two adjacent districts also have high tribal population. They are Kandhamala 51.51% ST (+18.21% SC) and Gajapati 47.88% ST(+8.77% SC).

4. The literacy rates in the KBK districts are abysmally low. Malkangiri 31.26%, Nabarangpur 34.26%, Rayagada 35.61%, Koraput 36.2%, Nuapada 42.29%, Kalahandi 46.2%, Balangir 54.93%, Sonepur 64.07%. Two adjacent districts also have low literacy: Gajapati 41.73% and Kandhamala 52.95%. The state average is 63.1%.

5. Population below the poverty line in southern Orissa (of which KBK is a part) is reported to be 89.17% of the people according to the 1999-2000 NSS data and 72% of the families according to the 1997 census.

Chitta Baral
Professor and Chair
Department of Computer Science & Engineering
Arizona State University

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