Why the Prime Minister’s Rural Development Fellows Scheme Volunteers should buy Life Insurance

On 13 September 2011, Union Minister for Rural Development Jairam Ramesh announced a brave initiative called the Prime Minister’s Rural Development Fellows Scheme. The Ministry of Home Affairs has identified 60 districts as Left-Wing Extremism (LWE) affected areas, in lieu of which the PMRDF plans to ‘deploy’ around 180 Fellows comprising of working professionals from private organizations and fresh graduates from fields of law, management and medicine to assist the District Collectors in better civic administration for the Maoist/Naxalite ‘infested’ areas.

The Ministry of Rural Development plans on rewarding the Fellows handsomely. For the 2 year contractual agreement that the Fellows will be working in these areas, each will be paid Rs. 65,000 per month for the first year and Rs. 75,000 the next.

Besides waking up late to the developmental agenda for these zones, the MRD’s official website makes no secret of the fact that PMRDF is launched with the hopes of weaning the influence of the Naxalites amongst the tribal villagers. It’s a tough task to eliminate from public memory the fact that the Naxalites re-distributed more than 3,00,000 acres of forest land amongst the tribal villagers in Dandakaranya(covering parts of Orissa, Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh) over the course of their revolution.

I’m not skeptical about the PMRDF. If anything, my respect for Jairam Ramesh has notched higher every time he has walked the tight-rope of sustainable development with a lot of sensitivity to its ramifications on human rights. As Union Minister for Environment and Forests he protected the villagers of Orissa from Posco’s forced land acquisitions, prevented large-scale environmental degradation and displacement of the Kondhs in Orissa due to unbridled mining and saved the people of India from a harmful, genetically modified brinjal. For all that and more, the people ought to be proud of Ramesh for steering our ‘growth-story’ in the right direction.

But I have serious misgivings about the success of PMRDF. The timing couldn’t be more wrong.

Due to the pressure exerted by various groups of human rights activists and public intellectuals, the Home Minister had earlier maintained that the Government is always ready for ‘peace talks’. After several overtures on behalf of the Naxalites to drop weapons and come to the table, the Home Ministry had a sudden change of heart and went in an over-drive with “rendering the Naxalite movement headless”. With fake encounters of two senior politburo members, Cherukuri Rajkumar and Koteswara Rao (alias Kishanji), not only has the Government lost all its credibility, but also an opportunity to mediate with the “gravest internal security threat” toIndia. And if the CPI (Maoist) Central Committee’s latest press release after Kishanji’s encounter is anything to go by, the Naxalites consider Jairam Ramesh a collaborator of the Home Minister’s agenda too.

In such a climate of hostility, the PMRDF is nothing short of a suicide-mission. It’s alright to say that the working professionals and graduates who’ll be employed in these conflict-zones have squat to do with the decades of dispossession suffered by the tribals and are coming in as Good Samaritans, and thus we must expect, nay, demand immunity for them from the violence prevalent in the LWE affected areas. In the event that they’re caught in the cross-fire between the State and the Naxalites, it would be arrogant to support the Government’s plan for on an all-out offensive on the Naxalites. (Just a thought – Can the Indian State be so callous that the PMRDF has been engineered in a fashion to sway public opinion in the government’s favour in the event of guerilla attacks?)

This is war. You don’t start re-building the battleground right in the middle of the war. I hope that the 180 individuals who’ll be selected for the Fellowship know what they’re getting into. I personally love this idea of committing two years of your life in an exercise of nation building the way Gandhi saw village-level independence and be handsomely paid for it too; when was the last time fresh graduates felt so valued in a government job then a private one? But I don’t see myself going there anytime soon. As long as this ‘threat’ persists, which even Jairam Ramesh identifies as a socio-economic crisis emerging out of government apathy for decades, it is not only dangerous, but also insensitive to tread on this path considering the degree of distrust between the tribal villagers and the government. Never the less, I would be the happiest person if proven wrong, to see the civil administration successfully ‘winning hearts and minds’ of our tribal communities. Until then, if you’re heroic enough to participate in the PMRDF, you might as well buy yourself some Life Insurance. It’s just good sense.

My two cents: Chidambaram and Ganpathy really need to sit down over a bowl of ant chutney and have a heart-to-heart.

(The descriptions Naxal and Maoist are used inter-changeably in the article. The Maoist struggle as we know it today, has its origins in 1960s Naxalbari, a small village in Darjeeling, Paschimbanga.)

    • Dipak Bhendarkar
    • January 13th, 2012

    Where is the Life secured? What’s happening in the urban areas? Is life safe there? We should not forget that Baba Amteji has sacrificed life for the empowerment of left wing affected peoples and now his son is on the same path. Had amteji covered his life through life insurance that time? He Worked there without any fear . I am not against life insurance everybody should have it. But just saying it in this regard is unwise. I am confident that government has an idea about this and all Fellows would be covered with life insurance. I appreciate those who are ready for accepting challenges.

    • Hi Dipak,

      I have expressed concerns over a government policy that will be employing mostly urban citizens to work in those conflict-areas…for Naxalites and their supporters there, these volunteers are as good as government agents/officials, and they might be apprehensive of allowing them to come into their villages to run their administration…there is a lot of distrust between the tribal villagers on one hand and government officials and private citizens/organizations on the other, as recent history has clearly shown how agricultural land is acquired by a proxy to be turned over for industrial purposes.

      The security issue is only a consequence of such a scheme, but what needs to be addressed is why shall be there a security issue in the first place. And that will only be answered once the government is honest about having talks with the Naxalites.

      If i haven’t been able to express a solution in the article, let me attempt one here…what i think will be productive, is to allow an alternate privatization for these areas…the Indian Constitution already has provisions empowering village level Panchayats to administer their villages as institutions of self-government for purposes of economic development and social justice, and everything that can possible come under the umbrella of administration…a Panchayat should be empowered to have an overruling effect for village level decisions made on administration over the Parliament or any State Legislature, thus allowing them the freedom and opportunity to run their local administration…once this becomes successful, something like the PMRDF will be welcomed in villages to allow them to share knowledge and learn.

      Until then, the PMRDF will only be the Govt. of India versus the Naxalites.Of course i would love to see that the government has been successful in implementing the scheme with local support, but im conscious of the fact that it might back-fire.

    • Dipak Bhendarkar
    • January 14th, 2012

    Dear suraj,
    Empowering the local self organization like Gramsabha ,panchayats is important.The things should be taken into consideration in this regard are :-
    1.PESA Act provisions needs to be implemented strictly and Regular and adequate flow of resources needs to be ensured to Gram sabha,panchayats.And also these bodies may be given legal power.
    2.Forest act need to be implemented properly.
    3. Transparency is important into the deals of land acquisition by
    private/public sector undertakings in the tribal areas.Consent
    of the Gram Sabhas, which is mandatory and should be taken into consideration in the event of transfer of tribal land.

    • Hi Dipak,

      I agree with everything you just said. But the question is, are our governments following that? And what happens when the government makes it a policy to dispossess poor villagers and tribals of their ancestral lands and deprive them of their forest based livelihoods?

      It must take a lot of abuse for someone to stand up and hit back. Successive governments have committed monstrous acts of cruelty and deprivation, and they have now created a monster, judging whom is not a luxury we can afford being considerably well-off.

      The way to resolve this conflict is not by getting in civil society members to carry on developmental work in such tense times, but to organize the civil society to pressurize the governments to agree to peace talks with the Naxalites.

      Otherwise think Cuba!

    • Dipak Bhendarkar
    • January 14th, 2012

    Dear Suraj’ji,
    We are all bounded by the Indian constitution. There may be some
    Lacuna in the system and system can be changed by the way of
    Getting into the civil society. I think development is required and
    It can be brought by supporting the government. Government has
    Taken good initiative of deploying pmrdf,infact this could have been
    Done much before. peace talks with the Naxalites must go on as
    It is the part of democracy. Both development and peace talks
    must go side by side and for that support to government is

    • Yes we are all bound by the Constitution…and if the Parliament is our temple, isn’t it but natural to expect our high-priests to exemplify the highest standards of the model they preach? And what happens when the priest is the devil? Devotees are bound to hit back.

      I love the idea that we live in a secular and democratic country, Dipak…we all enjoy the freedoms it promises us…but the world as we know it, leaves much to desire, which cannot be rectified by a Parliamentary law.

      Aristotle once said – Law is reason without passion. I think it is time for the government to show some compassion.

    • soham vaidya
    • January 16th, 2012

    wow can,t believe i’m actually typing this but for the first time i completely agree with your views .. obviously the scheme itself looks enticing and we finally get to do some good for the country and get paid well for it , but its not worth risking your life for a couple of grand and the hope of achieving something with a very little chances of success … you can call me a coward for thinking this way , but i dont think its worth the gamble , not in the current senario atleast.

    • Hi Soham,

      criticizing this scheme, not wanting to be a part of it and telling more people about it is not an act of cowardice, it’s protest…Hundreds of Americans shifted base to Canada permanently during the 60s and 70s not because they were cowards, but they were resisting the government’s draft for an immoral war…our government is selling the PMRDF to citizens under the guise of more ‘benevolent’ intentions…and its not about the danger…many urban radicals/sympathizers join the Naxalites in their struggle forsaking the threat to life…what they are going in is for an idea of change…the government’s idea of change is good, but too late and at the wrong time…i’m doubtful if PMRDF will be welcomed in those areas…i’m of course not a cynic, like i said before, i would love to see the scheme effecting a change of heart amongst the villagers and Naxalites, where again the important thing will be the willingness of the villagers to allow such participation.

  1. Obviously there are risks involved, but here is the matter of choice. It is just due to the risk factor that the remuneration has been kept high otherwise we know fellowships just provide subsistence allowance.The real motivation of candidates will be tested when Naxals will warn the fellows about activities.
    Residing in Jharkhand I get regular news of LWE areas. LWE is not merely a bunch of Leftists. Extortionists threaten people in the garb of Naxalites and they are responsible for many killings that occur there. The real motivation of candidates will be tested when Naxals will warn the PMRDFs about their activities. Moreover, there is a chance they will see PMRDFs as Police informers or Government Agents or Neo-Liberal Policy Promoter.

    • It’s more than about an individual’s choice. I’m not saying that you should make an informed decision about it and then go ahead…i am saying don’t go at all! It will most definitely antagonize the Naxalites and the tribal villagers, that members of civil society who were until sometime back supporting the idea of ‘talks’ with them, have suddenly joined the government in this initiative to run their villages…allow them to develop their models of governance to be self-dependent, which they’re already in the process of doing, and then after some cease-fire, something like the PMRDF will probably be welcomed to enhance their capacity…i am just saying one thing; talk to them first, reconcile the different narratives of history, which will bring closure, and then bring in the developmental agenda…

      You will probably have a better understanding of the situation since you’re from Jharkhand and also work for CIL…I would like to hear more about it from you.

  2. Thanks for considering me proper to comment on this thread. I am observing this opportunity (read PMRDF) as a chance to work for the betterment of this Nation. Of course, this involves danger. Yes, it does and fellows may loose their life. But sometime, it has to start. People of Maoist infested area truly want development and it can happen only when security and innovative development vanguards (PMRDFs) march together to make a difference. A difference in India’s destiny. A difference in rural governance. Yes, it is all about the difference and it is for the people who are with difference and wish to leave an impression over the Indian dream.
    I do get regular updates on Maoist-violence in the local news. This may deter a person from going for this scheme. Most of criminals have worn the garb of Naxalites and collect levies by threatening the contractors. The whole business amounts to around 15 billion rupees and also they are supported by anti-national forces like Pakistan Intelligence and Chinese Intelligence. In many villages, residents have registered their willingness to get rid of this disease. It will all be possible when intelligent people act with courage to make their lives better and dignified. Expecting your sooner reply.

    • Hi Aman,

      you clearly speak of two exclusive kinds of people – Maoists/Naxalites and villagers…there doesn’t exist any clear demarcation between these people, as quite often, in places like Chhattisgarh, villagers are known to have spray-painted their walls with ‘Naxal Aao, hamein bachao’, i.e, wherever there are disenfranchised people, they join the Naxalite struggle…

      Also, please refrain from using the expression ‘Maoist-infested areas’…infestation suggests a deadly disease, and so the government must ‘purify’ such places to wipe out the disease…this is how the government introduces a language of genocide within our daily-speak…

      I just attended a lecture by Arundhati Roy at St. Xavier’s, Mumbai last Friday …are you acquainted with her point of view? I personally admire her for understanding the issue with a lot of compassion. When i asked her about her opinion on the PMRDF, she had a more dystopian opinion of it then i do – she said that the end goal is again to ‘train’ these villagers and drive them out of their lands…

  3. Not only me but most of Indians know the respectable Arundhati Roy for her controversies.The only way authors can live in News is by controversies and she knows that perfectly. I know she had lived with Maoists for sometime and had written a long essay on displacement of tribal population which earned her a great deal of publicity. At one time where she denounces government’s stand on Maoist/Kashmir matter, at the same time she describes Anna as ‘Not so Gandhian.’ or she writes “I’d rather not be Anna.”. At one time while she justifies Maoists taking Arms, she terms the JanLokpal bill regressive and Anna “Not so Gandhian”.

    Mr Jairam Ramesh spoke last week in a function held in MV college, “For the last 50 years, government has been insensitive to the needs of the tribal people.”. Everyone is admitting the failure of government in these areas. And that is what PMRDFs are recruited for. To bring the development. To bring empowerment of tribal women. To provide economical freedom to the tribal population. To bring the dream of Indian democracy a reality. To bring government at door. To bring peace.

    I disagree with your claim that villagers themselves write off their wall with ‘Naxal Aao, humein bachao’. First and Foremost, with the telecommunication encroachment growing in India, Televisions and Mobile phones have shown the villagers a life different than they are living, something out of the milieu. The villagers are now disturbed due to the Naxal violence which has claimed many lives of their own family members. They want roads and electricity. They want to improve their conditions. They want to earn more money. They want to enjoy freedom. Freedom from violence, Freedom from threatening, Freedom from extortion. You can see from the present happenings in WB. A number of people who were initially Maoists have surrendered and a lot of them want to but they are afraid of the post-surrender happenings.

  4. Aman, i am a little concerned with the fact that you very easily pre-suppose the materialistic desires for our 700 odd million rural Indians. That is exactly the idea that the govt. is finding it hard to wrap their brains around – as far as most of the tribals are concerned, our culture is not only alien, but undesirable to them…they do not yearn for a piece of pie from India’s growth story…they are utterly happy living their forest-based livelihoods…has industrialization bombarded us so much with advertising gimmicks, that we have forgotten of how simple life was for our parents before 1991?

    Their motto is simple: live and let live. is it so hard for our govt. to allow them this freedom? it is about a matter of choice, and its time we realize that it’s their choice.

  5. You contradicted your own statement by stating ‘your’ (Yes ‘your’) views on likes and preferences of tribal population. It is really difficult to ascertain the needs of the population. Well, before we talk on those lines, let me put some of my points :

    I was expecting this question early. I agree with your motto of “live and let live.” I’d request you to think more on the lines you are thinking already. Yes, life was simpler before LPG came in 1991. But if you think more you will recognize that you are underestimating the importance of technology in our lives. If LPG would not have been adapted by GOI, you and I wouldn’t have been talking and shaping each others’ view. I guess you remember telephone was considered luxury by GOI. Sensationalist media has, of course, is a blot on media. But look how more participative people have become in Indian democracy that within just 6 months time the ‘Anna Hazare’ movement reached every home. And now, Political parties are throwing corrupt and criminals out of their parties. The involvement of technology has increased irrigation facilities and has facilitated agriculture. It was technology which brought Green and White revolution to our motherland.
    Yes, we do have some basic flaws in our laws, even after independence we have kept almost thirty five thousand laws same as Britishers complied them. Our land acquisition bill is of 1894, however few amendments have been made but still it always places the land owner at a disadvantage. But that doesn’t mean that technology and democracy are not desirable. ‘Everything depends on everything else’. Peace in India depends on things happening out of India. India was rich in past and had cultural abundance incomparable to any other country. But, you know how important lack of technology played its role in shackling this country.

    It is not USA that will wipe out its primitive population. It is India where we treat them as Scheduled and have reservations for them everywhere, from top educational institutions to even Parliament. India has always tried its best to include those people in mainstream and many have already come in. You will witness it if you come to Jharkhand. Tribal people are not what they are posed to be. Many of them have developed and have become empowered. 8 out of 14 LokSabha seats are reserved for Tribals. Even we have accepted our Tribal Chief Minister.

    Thanks for reading this long piece. I’d like to know your feedback.

    • I totally agree with the part about the modern technology making our lives easier and simpler. But can we agree on the simple fact that even today, just like in Australia, there exist vast numbers of tribals who are averse of folding into ‘modern’ India…they are self-sufficiently living their organic existence…there’s no concept of greed, acquisition, power etc…how come we don’t admire that more often? It is as much their fundamental right to live in the forests of Jharkhand, Orissa, Chhattisgarh, AP etc. as it is yours and mine to live in our homes in cities…

      The worst part is, it’s not only that the cops and CRPF are accused of violently grabbing their lands, but they have institutionalized rape as a weapon in these areas…how can such injustices go by without anyone picking up arms there?

      I still am not in much favour of the Revolution, if and when it comes. but the best solution is to give them justice by rehabilitating them, give them jobs, promote agriculture and most importantly, punish all those responsible for this menace severely…and i’m talking about our bureaucrats!

      What reputation does Arjun Munda enjoy in Jharkhand by the way?

      P.S. : By the way, the USA did ‘wipe out’ their primitive Native Indian population, and very humiliatingly…

  6. Sorry for late reply. The answer for the above paragraph may lie in these videos:

    and other videos related to these.

    Arjun Munda is the Chief Minister of Jharkhand and in the democracy Chief Minster is nonetheless a king of the area and he enjoys every power and privilege as granted by the Constitution of India.

  7. It just looks like ANI has taken the liberty to editorialize the villagers’ story of actually protesting against the ruling govt.

  8. To accept a change in belief is not an easy task. It needs evidence, patience, listening and most importantly time, TIME.

  9. Dude just finished the interview and group discussion in Raipur. Quite surprised to find that the quality of candidates was quite low. Will let you know if I get through… but chances look slim…

    • Hi. I’d love to hear more about your experience of the whole process, who were the people involved, what’s the job description and such…Would appreciate it if you and your friends would be willing to share your thoughts on the PMRDF!

    • Sunil Kumar
    • February 26th, 2012

    The salary is good enough to join as per career is concern, which also includes the opportunity to do for the nation in great way.. I am strongly agree!!!!

    But, My question is:
    What would be for all fellow’s after 3 years of contract?????.Is there career is secure.?

    Govt. must hire fellow’s on permanent basis. A contractual Fellow can’t work with open-minded, & hence, he can’t give 100% for the nation.

    This job must be regular basis. Otherwise, creamy/Intelligent people will not join this job. This is fact, & real truth.

    • Hello Sunil,

      I would like to know what you think about the political/social-consequences of this scheme.

      Do you believe at this time, when a considerable number of villagers/tribals in the “LFE-affected” zones are actually finding support and help from the Naxalwadis in their struggle to hold on to their homes, lands and environment, a Govt. sponsored programme to run the local administrations will be welcomed by them?

      Thanks a lot for sharing your views.

  10. Very well put. And I hope that the fellowship is a success. But I can’t help but appreciate how the government has been upfront about their ‘deployment’ to maoist affected areas. The point is clear. They’re going to help one side win the battle. And to recruit the young and motivated is always good strategy.

    • Sagar Raikwar
    • November 9th, 2013

    Hello. I am Sagar Raikwar. I have applied for PMRDFS for year 2013-14.
    Paper is going to be conducted on 15 dec 2013.
    Please suggest me about the paper pattern , Sections included in the test and more useful information about the exam.
    Thanks with regards.

  11. Dear Sagar,

    I am not the right person to be asking for the PMRDF preps, I am just a keen blogger on the subject. You should get in touch with Aman Bhardwaj who is a PMRDF fellow since 2012. He’s the guy listed above who has shared his experiences.

      • Sagar Raikwar
      • November 9th, 2013

      Thanks for your directions suraj….

    • Sarath
    • February 5th, 2014

    Dear Suraj,
    Thanks for the insightful post. Is there any way I can contact you? Perhaps your E-Mail address? In case you are not comfortable sharing your ID, could you drop me a mail? My ID is ‘sarathc90@yahoo.com’. I have just been selected for the PMRDFS. I have stumbled across your blog and it has obviously captured my attention. Would be great to talk with you. Thanks.

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