Bastar collector makes risky visit to Maoist stronghold, spends night in tribal hamlet

Express News Service
RAIPUR: The tribal inhabitants of a remote Maoist stronghold in Chhattisgarh’s Bastar district had a surprise guest when the district collector decided to spend a night in their village to get first-hand knowledge of the ground situation. Rajat Bansal, a 2012-batch IAS officer and the Bastar district collector, travelled on a bike and then trekked through hostile terrain for a few kilometres to reach Koleng. The hamlet, adjoining Odisha border and located at a distance of 45 km from district headquarters Jagdalpur, has a population of over 300.

The village is located in Darbha block, which had drawn nationwide attention after the Red rebels eliminated several top leaders of the state Congress in an attack in 2013. As the Maoists continue to pose threat in the region, security forces had advised Bansal not to venture into the area during late evening hours. However, the Collector had his own plans and he reached the village at around 3 pm accompanied by a small team.

Never in their wildest dreams had the villagers imagined that they would be hosting the district collector. It was a sheer surprise for them as Bansal was the highest-ranking civil administrator ever to visit their village since Independence. Bansal is said to have keen interest in understating the pressing needs of the region which is symptomatic of three-decades of violence unleashed by the outlawed CPI ( M a o i s t ) i n s o u t h Chhattisgarh. During his around 24-hour stay, Bansal relished tribal cuisine, tried his hands on their traditional musical instruments, engaged in local sports, participated in an awareness rally and interacted with villagers.

“We also wished to understand the choices that the local tribals make as the situation is turning away from the purported ideological leaning towards the banned outfit in the area,” the collector said. Bastar-based journalist Dharmendra Mahapatra said the villagers told him that collector enquired about their needs and whether they are able to access welfare schemes launched by the government. “Instead of engaging mediators, he was more inclined to get the first-hand information from the ground regarding the reach of administration,” said the scribe.