'BLAST BINAGUNDA' - AN EXPERIENCE

 

BY E. Z. KHOBRAGADE
(IAS - Retd., Founder - Sanvidhan Foundation & Founder President of MOF )

Binagunda-Kuokodi are historical villages. They find place in survey of India map. These are located in Abujmad, the den of naxalites. The tribe living in this area are called Bada Madias, the most primitive of all tribes. 

It is a cluster of 6-7 villages with around 140 families. To reach the village Binagunda, we have to go to Aheri-Allapalli-Bhamragad-Laheri and then Binagunda-Kuokodi. The distance is about 200 km from headquarters Gadchiroli. This cluster is almost cut off for 8 months. The BILT makes the road motorable for their purpose to extract and transport bamboos. The primitive tribes earn livelihood on the wages earned through bamboo cutting and the tendu patta collection. They used to do shifting cultivation. Their existence is mainly on forest. They are away and ignorant of the normal rural life of plain area, what to talk about urban life. But now certain changes in their lifestyle are being seen.

Twenty eight years ago, as Sub Divisional Officer of Aheri, I saw them with not enough clothes, including children and women. Now young girls and women wear sarees. This change is not only with the time but due to exposure & education in Ashram schools, mixing and interaction with the outside people and more important the dedicated efforts in the execution of Government Schemes for tribal welfare, despite many odds and particularly the naxal threat. 

Bringing socio-economic and cultural change among the Bada Madia is a time-taking process. Little has been done. Much more requires to be done. As SDO Aheri, I used to go atleast once in a year to these villages. I had 4½ years tenure in naxal-affected sub-division Aheri.

I remember, Mr. Lalfak Zuala, the then Tribal secretary, had visited Binagunda sometime in 1986-87. Being SDO of the area, I called on him at the Allapalli forest rest house. While talking about the visit, he asked me, “Mr. Khobragade, tell me who is responsible for the plight of the primitive tribes. Even after 39 years of Independence, we in Government could not do much for Madia’s well being. They are still in ab-origin condition”. I said, “I am responsible as SDO and sir, you are responsible as secretary to Government”. Suddenly, I realized that I should not have said so. But Mr. Zuala expressed his deep concern for tribes. Mr. Ratnakar Gaikwad (IAS) ,the first Collector of the newly created Gadchiroli district had really worked for the betterment of tribes. Because of his concern and untiring efforts, the district started progressing in all developmental sectors. Dr. M.L. Gautam & Mr. A.M. Khan need to be remembered for their contribution towards tribes welfare. These officers are even remembered today. 

In March 1989, the then Chief Secretary, Mr. Sukthankar, along with Mr. Godbole, Secretary Finance, visited many places of Aheri-Ettapalli-Dhanora & Gadchiroli Tahsils for 3 days. Then Collector, Mr. A.M. Khan, IAS, gave me an opportunity to accompany the Chief Secretary in his car and share the experiences. The special action plan for Gadchiroli district came in action thereafter. A senior’s regular visit to such difficult area is of great encouragement and motivation to subordinates.

After my nomination to IAS in April 2003, it was my modified posting as CEO, ZP Gadchiroli and second innings to the district. In ZP, we focused on health, education, rural development schemes. ‘Kuposhit Balak Dattak Scheme’ was taken up on priority. A team of doctors was sent to Binagunda-Kuokodi Fodewada area. They carried bathing soaps and demonstrated how to bath with soap. It was an unique experience to doctors and tribal both. There is ample water in river but tribes do not take regular baths, hence they suffer from skin diseases. The study by Doctor’s team revealed that there is a need of Health Centre in the pocket. Tribes have to travel down long distance on foot to Laheri PHC. The obvious question, why could not we build an ANM centre at Binagunda-Kuokodi-Fodewada. The DHO and EE (works) said the ANM centre at above places are already sanctioned, 4-5 years ago and funds also available but despite repeated tenders no contractor is coming forward to execute the work. The contractors are not accepting these works, being difficult area but more important is for threat from Naxalites.

Now, we firmly decided to build ANM centre at Binagunda Kuokodi and Fodewada and also to construct Anganwadi center at few places in the cluster i.e. Kuokodi, Fodewada, Permalbhatti & Pungasur. My officers advised me not to take risk of executing the work departmentally. As a procedure we published the tender. None responded. It was a work of 7.45 lacks. Constructing Health Center at Binagunda against all odds was not only a challenge to Z.P. administration but it was need of time to provide better and regular health services to the primitive tribes of the area.

Knowing fully well about the difficulties we may face, the decision was taken to execute the work departmentally, placing the funds at the disposal of BDO Bhamagad and field execution by Sectional Engineer, Mr. Dhankute. We were required to transport material i.e. sand ,bricks ,cement ,steel and manpower from Bhamragad to Binagunda. The locals were not ready to work. This major hurdle and obstruction was from naxalites. However it was our determination to do it strategically, initial start in Nov.03 and completion by May 4th. Mr. Dhankute deserves all praise for his willingness to accept the responsibility and to discharge successfully, against the odds and even the threat from naxals.

I was told that “Shivanna” is the leader of Naxal dalams operating in the areas. He was the same person I had met at Chandrapur jail, Shivanna was released in exchange of safe release of kidnapped MLA. As planned the work initially commenced in November 2003.

Meanwhile, on news item regarding ‘Malnutrition’ at Binagunda, Hon’ble High Court, bench at Nagpur, admitted the PIL No.2685/2003. In reply, we mentioned about our efforts to construct ‘ANM Center’ at Binagunda besides, i) Vasti Shala, Mahatma Phule Hami Kendra, for education. ii) Anganwadi/Mini Anganwadi Centers at few places. iii) Shifting and rehabillation of these tribes in plane area. The Hon’ble high court directed that District Collector to visit Binagunda Village and area weekly and report progress.

In compliance, we planned our visit to Binagunda Fodewada and Kuokodi on 8th may 2004. Collector, CEO, and few more officers started from Allapalli at 0930 hrs, and reached Laheri at 11.30 am. We were escorted by Dr. Dorje, IPS, taking care of road opening and personally monitoring security and protection coverage to all in convoy. We had to wait at Laheri for further road opening clearance from Mr. Shirish Jain, IPS. Collector and CEO were talking to the village people of Laheri about the problems. We got clearance of road opening and started our journey for Binagunda.

We were about to reach Binagunda within 10 minutes. Dr. Dorje, IPS got message on wireless that 2 kms ahead of Binagunda on way to Fodewada, the road opening search police party in charge Devaji Madavi got injured in mine blast and firing by naxalite. It was our first job to take care of the injured policeman, providing medical help and security also. We rushed to Binagunda. Dr.Dorje and party went to the site, brought the injured at Binagunda. In convoy, we had Tata Sumo Ambulance with doctor’s team and medicine. This helped to a great extent.

At Binagunda we interacted with the tribals, about their rehabilitation and other problems, seen the progress of construction of ANM Center etc. We spent two-three hours talking with people. Now, it was not safe to go to Fodewada and Kuokodi because of mine blast incident. We decided to return back and reached Allapalli  in the evening and then to Gadchiroli. I must mention that Dr. Dorje and Shirish Jain IPS performed extremely well, protected all, cared for injured. 

The next day there was headline in newspaper. In fact, it was a visit to villages by Collector and CEO for development purpose. It was not an anti-naxal operation. Mine Blast and firing by naxalites was certainly a dangerous act terrorizing the administration. The blast could have been on the vehicles of Collector, CEO, other officers and police party. This type of incident was first of its kind in the history of Gadchiroli district. This further restricted our visits and touring. Already Collector and CEO both were under 'Y' grade security since February 2004 due to killing threat by naxalite. After this incident, we were put under 'Z' security.

The good part of the whole episode was that, we could build ANM Center at Binagunda which was pending for last 4-5 years. We planned, we succeeded in the mission.

As CEO ZP Gadchiroli, I was more satisfied with my contribution to make the things happening to provide health facilities at place like Binagunda the so-called den of naxals. This was an achievement. But unfortunately, the unpleasant and demoralizing part was that we have not heard of any word of appreciation for the job we did at Binagunda, neither the word of caring and consolation in ‘Blast Binagunda’ incident from those who mattered in administration nor any talk about the development of most neglected area and primitive tribes of Gadchiroli district.

 

(E.Z. Khobragade is a retired IAS officer who has worked at various posts such as SDO, CEO, Collector in government services. He has worked diligently to inform citizens about various government schemes. Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar and his writings have been a major inspiration for him through all these years.)

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