Purulia and Bankura are among the most underdeveloped districts of West Bengal. They are located in the western part of the state and share a common border with Jharkhand. Both districts have been prone to Naxalite movement in the past. The killing of a CPI (M) leader in December 2007 by the Maoists had revealed that these movements had not ended in the related districts. Even prior to local level elections in the Purulia district in 2008, the CPI (M) leader Ganapati Bhadra was gunned down by the Maoists in Bomragara village.
The reason underlying these movements can be examined to discover if there are any viable solutions to counter them. These districts include forests, hills (the Ayodhya hill being the most prominent) and semi-fertile land. As a result, the villagers cannot rely totally on agriculture as these lands are not able to produce every type of crop like other districts in West Bengal such as Burdwan or Nadia. Till the late 1990s, a huge number of people, particularly in Purulia, suffered from malaria due to the forest environment. Most of the villages do not have electricity as compared to the developed districts in South Bengal, like North and South 24 Parganas. The education level in these districts, especially Purulia, is also very low, and the literacy rate is much lower than the West Bengal average.
While so far these districts had no industries, there has been a recent proposal for the development of iron and steel and cement industries in the district in the near future. Although the Santhals of the district tried to develop mixed-cropping practices by cultivating corn, millet, okra, and jute, lack of adequate rainfall has always placed the farmers at risk. Previously they suffered even more when they only cultivated paddy.
Purulia and Bankura, therefore, has seen much frustration and dissatisfaction in the youth who were easily mobilised by the Maoists to break bridges, destroy railway stations and generally affect the peace and solidarity of the region.
The entry of the Maoists from the border districts of Jharkhand and Orissa was neither anticipated nor prevented in the early 1990s. Especially the villages of Silkabad, Urma, Kantadih, Kharbera, Ghatbera, which falls within the tribal belt of these districts, should have been safeguarded after information about Maoist activity in the area became public. Initially when they entered the district after having encounters with the security officials in the border areas, they discarded their uniforms to carry out their operations.
After facing Maoist attacks for more than 10 years, the police in these districts had identified the villages where more security is required and the local police stations where such security has been provided includes Bandwan, Barabazar, Jhalda, Boro, Khoshila. The check posts between Purulia, Dhanbad, Ranchi, and Bokaro have also been strengthened.
The development of Bankura and Purulia districts should be the primary consideration for the government. It takes time to develop any district which does not have adequate infrastructure.. Besides, the security system of all these states which have faced Maoist attacks in the last 15 years requires collective action. The state governments of West Bengal, Bihar, Jharkhand, and Orissa should create collective security staff which shall be maintained by collective funds. Special security is required at the transit points near Nepal from where the Maoists have entered. India should enhance its arrangements with Nepal on sharing intelligence regarding the movement of Maoists along the border. This was proposed in the India-Nepal Joint Working Group Meeting held in 2004.
Lastly, planning is required for using the non-fertile and waste lands of the districts to develop industries. The decentralisation of industries had reduced pressure on urbanised areas of most states in India and if it can be extended to the tribal and backward districts of West Bengal, the existing separatist movements can definitely be weakened. Hopefully, Bankura and Purulia will again regain the peaceful environment that existed before the Maoist movement spread into these districts.