SUKMA: An outsider moving beyond 15km from the Sukma collectorate premises ostensibly comes under the watchful eyes of the forces and the Maoists -- both pitted against each other in the virtual war zone of Bastar. An indication reflecting the cautiousness (or say suspicious) they nurture in the trouble-torn hostile areas.
Along the red corridor that span the ten states, the outlawed CPI (Maoist) remains most active in Chhattisgarh, but the real terror zone spread across the sparsely populated restive Sukma district, some 450 km south of Raipur.
Carved out of the restive Dantewada in January 2012 in south Chhattisgarh, Sukma regularly remains in the news often for the wrong reasons. Equivalent in size of the nation of Brunei, Sukma’s scattered population with 45 people per sqkm is close to developing countries like South Africa and Belarus. The area that remained the epi-centre of left-wing extremists for over three decades has emerged as the new headquarter of Naxalites. This tribal heartland repeatedly witnessed the impact of violent episodes unleashed by the rebels resulting in high casualties of jawans despite thousands of troopers deployed in the district. The Maoists have apparently gained strong footprint in south Bastar exploiting the persisted disillusionment among tribal population deprived of development and the dense forested inhospitable hilly topography turning as their safe hideouts.
Sukma has one of the best forest cover in the country with over 65 per cent (2776 sqkm) area but instead of tourists, it has now become a safe haven for the rebels who take advantage of the porous borders with Telangana and Odisha. It emerges as a big boon for their liberated zone.
The underlying idea to create separate district of Sukma was to bring the people closer to the administration and ensure development in the difficult terrain. But the move received a jolt when three months later the district collector Alex Paul Menon was abducted by the Maoists on 22 April, 2012 and kept in captivity for 12 days.
Five years later, the only effective visibility of the government remains along the 80 km long highway that extends till Konta, the southernmost part of the district, and the vast swathe of the district still beyond the reach of the administration. And movement along the highways in interior areas can be blocked by the Maoists any day.
The Maoists hold sway in over 300 remotely located villages predominantly with tribal population where the rebels’ writ runs. The villagers outwardly regard the Naxals as their mentor. With the necessities of the tribes remaining quite limited, the district administration is not loaded with much pressure on demands from the masses. So the administrative buildings are rarely seen buzzing with activities.
The health, education and other basic amenities though existing are in need of greater attention. From just five doctors for the 25 million inhabitants when Sukma was created there is some improvement in the medical services with three community centres, 13 primary health centres being set up. Doctors’ strength in recent years risen to 24 but the vacancies still for 18 remain. However, rarely will one find an official portal admitting the poor state of the system.
In Sukma where the literacy is below 50 per cent, the government website remains candid about pathetic education attributing the causes to scarcity of good teachers and those recruited leave the district the moment they find an opportunity to move out
Not everything is bad here!
The district’s sex ratio at birth is surprisingly better than other regions, as Sukma has 1017 women for every 1000 males. Also, the district has an efficient Public Distribution System which is accessible to every tribal hamlet in the district