Work as PMRDF
After graduating, Mahesh briefly joined a well known NGO working against corporate mining and displacement in Andhra Pradesh. But his heart lay with the people of Gadchiroli.
He wanted to go back to his roots, to his people and serve them with all the knowledge and experience he had acquired. Therefore when the Prime Minister’s Rural Development Fellowship (PMRDF) opened up in 2011, he applied for it. Mahesh was one of the youngest to be selected for this most coveted fellowship and chose to go work in his home district was working as a PMRD fellow in the tribal regions of Gadchiroli since 2011. His commitment to work as a PMRD fellow was appreciated by the then-district collector of Gadchiroli.
Even the District Collector of Gadchiroli, Abhishekh Krishna, said that Mr. Raut often visited interior areas in the Aheri division for his work. “His work has been the best among all other PMRD fellows who work under me,” said Mr. Krishna.
Lalsu Nogoti, an elected district council member from Bhamragad in Maharashtra while speaking about the work of Mahesh Raut as a PMRD fellow said:
“He first came to us as a part of the PMRD [Prime Minister’s Rural Development] fellowship in 2013. He would visit every village with other government officials and meticulously note down grievances and parallelly also research on several village and state-level policies that could come to our rescue. His work in the formative years helped us build our struggles in the coming days.”
Being targeted for working and talking about indigenous rights is not new for Mahesh. In 2013, while visiting villages as part of his PMRDF, Mahesh was detained and questioned by the police. The Minister of Rural Development of the time, Mr. Jairam Ramesh himself intervened on his behalf and he was released because there was no evidence against him.
“As a PMRD Fellow, I often visit these interior areas. On June 20 also, I went to visit these villages one by one. Harshali, who is studying the environmental threat caused by the proposed mining projects in this area, also accompanied me to these villages. At around 9.00 a.m., we reached Kovunwarsi and decided to take a nap at the house of the village Patil. At 10.00 a.m., a team of C-60 came to the village and arrested some people. They asked for our identity cards and told us to proceed with our work,” Mr. Raut told The Hindu. “When we were returning to Allapalli in the evening, the police stopped us and took us to the Pranhita Police Headquarters where they questioned us for more than 30 hours,” he added.
“For whatever it is worth, I associate myself fully and wholeheartedly with the sentiments expressed in the attached statement, ” the erstwhile Minister, Mr. Ramesh said in support of Raut.
Former PMRD Fellows released a petition supporting Mahesh, an excerpt of which is below:
To put matters into perspective, Mahesh has neither attended the Pune Elgar Parishad nor was part of the organising committee. So it’s a pertinent question to ask how Mahesh has been named as an accused in this case. Neither was he named in the primary charge sheet nor was there any order from the competent court to search his premises. All the action against Mahesh is solely based on a complaint from a private individual. Since 2013, the police has constantly harassed Mahesh and recently they also confiscated his passport as well.
Raids on his house and detention had become very common for him in last few months because of his tireless work with Bharat Jan Andolan, an organisation started by late B.D Sharma (IAS). Mahesh has been instrumental in mobilizing people for participative decision making in areas affected by mining projects and has been constantly raising voice for the people’s welfare. His work on PESA and FRA has been noteworthy and acclaimed by then District Collectors and State departments under Government of Maharashtra. Moreover, he was actively involved in the process of deepening democracy through strengthening Gram Sabhas in the tribal areas. How can a person working to deepen democracy be ‘anti-state’ as claimed by state security agencies? Development often means taking sides of people and taking collective action for people’s betterment within the ambit of law and constitution.
We strongly believe that the recent arrest of Mr. Mahesh Raut under UAPA by Government of Maharashtra has been done haphazardly and wrongfully on many accounts. We see this hasty police action as the State Government’s response to increasing exertion of oppressed class against sustained caste atrocities in the state. This act would definitely be seen as an atrocity by the State on the larger mass of people who have reposed their faith on young change agents. We are proud of Mahesh’s contributions to work towards raising and consolidating voices of the least heard population of our country; therefore, we strongly condemn the arrest of Mr. Raut.