#India – Farmers boycott land acquisition hearings for Chhindwara SEZ, Madhya Pradesh


Date:Jun 14, 2013
Villagers refuse to part with land; object to individual hearings, land acquisition by dubious means

Farmers and landowners protesting against land aquisition at the PWD guest house in Saunsar (Photo: Mukesh Badge)Farmers and landowners protesting against land aquisition at the PWD guest house in Saunsar (Photo: Mukesh Badge)

Around 150 farmers from eight villages in the Saunsar tehsil of Chhindwara district in Madhya Pradesh gathered at the guest house of the public works department (PWD) on Thursday and staged a protest. They were aggrieved by the individual hearing process adopted for land acquisition for a proposed special economic zone (SEZ) in the area. June 13 marked the first of the many individual hearings scheduled with the district collector to hear objections of farmers to the SEZ, which the farmers boycotted.

The process of acquisition of land for a multi-purpose SEZ developed by Nagpur-based Chhindwara Plus Developers Limited has been going on in the Saunsar tehsil of Chhindwara district since 2007, say farmers. Ramesh Kumre, land acquisition officer and sub-divisional magistrate, Pandurna,  says around 1,800 hectare (ha) of land has already been acquired in the area by following procedures under Section 4 of the Land Acquisition Act, 1894.

Around 269 farmers and other land owners in the eight villages have refused to part with 430 ha of land which is still required for the SEZ, says farmer Bhaskar Tekade of Satnoor village. In April this year, a land acquisition notice was issued to the panchayats, following which representatives from the various villages went to district collector Mahesh Chowdhari to submit their objections. Chowdhari refused to accept it, says Shyamla Sanyal, owner of a small gun-powder factory in Satnoor. “On April 30, which was the last day for submitting objections, we had to take a bus-load of people from the villages and staged a demonstration before the objection was finally accepted,” she says.

Notices were issued to the villages, asking farmers to register their objections at individual hearings scheduled on different dates between June 19 and June 22. As late as the night of June 11, farmers from three villages were issued fresh notices, asking them to attend hearings on June 13 and 14. This last move, says Sanyal, “is totally unacceptable. When we asked the land acquisition officer the reason behind the change in dates, he said that he had other appointments on the previous dates. This is no way to hold hearings on such crucial issues.”

Legal procedures sidelined

At the protest, farmers protested against individual hearings, accusing the administration of trying to divide the community. “It is illegal to call people for hearings on different days,” says advocate Aradhana Bhargava of the people’s organisation Kisan Sangharsh Samiti who is providing legal support to the agitation, “The administration should have held a public hearing under the proper sections of the law.” She also says that land acquisition by government agencies is legal only in case of lands acquired for a public purpose. “Why is government aiding a private project proponent?” she asks. The notices also said that if farmers failed to turn up on the given date, the administration would take a suo-moto decision, which again is totally illegal, she says.

Farmers at the meeting submitted a memorandum to the land acquisition officer stating that they do not wish to part with their land and that the administration should not issue further land acquisition notices to the people. It was signed by 150 farmers and other land-owners, says Sanyal.

Land acquisition officer Ramesh Kumre confirmed that the hearing had been cancelled because farmers turned up in a group instead of individually.

Deceit and coercion

Farmers complain that no legal procedures were observed in the land acquisition process. “The land acquired earlier has been obtained through dubious means,” Tekade told Down To Earth. “Mostly poor and marginal farmers were targeted through touts, and were relieved of their land for as little as Rs 40,000 to Rs 3 lakh per ha. More than 50 per cent of the farmers whose lands were taken want their land to be restored to them.”

Dubious means were used to get the consent of panchayats, says Satnoor sarpanch Reemaji Dethe. “In February this year, the gram panchayat secretary got my signature on what he said was a routine document. Since I had joined just a month earlier, I did not know the procedures and signed where he asked me to sign. Later I found out that it was a document saying that the gram panchayat consented to the land acquisition,” says Dethe.

“Farmers and small industry owners have been issued threats by the project proponents. Goons are being used to quell protests,” says Sanyal.

 

Criticised, Odisha weighs expanding scope of locals in deciding Vedanta fate #goodnews


 BS Reporter  |  Bhubaneswar  June 14, 201

Faced with flak from the ministry of tribal affairs (MoTA) and activists from Niyamgiri for its decision to limit gram sabhas to just 12 villages,Odisha is mulling legal opinion over the possibility of expanding the scope of such meetings.

“We are exploring legal angles to suggestions by MoTA on expanding scope of gram sabhas. If required, views of the law department will be taken,” said Santosh Sarangi, secretary, SC&ST development.

Defending the state’s stand to conduct gram sabhas in 12 villages on Niyamgiri hill slopes, he said, “A close scrutiny of the Supreme Court order dated April 18 would suggest it was referring to the 12 hill slope villages where the meetings were held earlier for settlement of claims under the Forest Right Act (FRA). It would not be feasible to hold gram sabhas in all villages of Rayagada and Kalahandi districts. Besides, the process would also be very time-consuming.”

Earlier, the SC&ST department had consulted the law department to interpret the order on holding of gram sabhas, citing lack of clarity.

In line with the views filed by the law department, the state decided to hold gram sabhas to decide the fate of bauxite extraction from Niyamgiri hills in 12 villages. These included seven villages in Rayagada district and five in Kalahandi district.

In his letter to MoTA, Odisha Chief Secretary B K Patnaik said: “At the time of filing of claims, neither the ministry of environment and forests nor MoTA had raised an issue before the court regarding coverage of villages over and above the 12 hill slope villages.” He added a reading of the court’s observation would make clear the reference was to the 12 hill slope villages for which affidavit was filed by Odisha. However, refusing to agree to the state’s contention, MoTA held limiting gram sabha proceedings was not in line with the order and the directions by the ministry under section 12 of FRA.

“The list of villages where rights of forest dwellers are guaranteed under FRA or where cultural and religious rights are likely to be affected, cannot be arbitrarily decided by the state government. It is to be decided by the people (palli sabha) where claims would be filed through a transparent manner so that no genuine gram sabha that has a legitimate claim is left out of the process. This is in line with para 59 of the apex court judgement,” Vibha Puri Das, secretary, MoTA, wrote to Odisha chief secretary Patnaik recently.

 

Odisha – Niyamgiri tribe’s question on Gram Sabha issue #Video


KBKNews, May 27
Under a scorching sun, after walking miles and miles in the hilly terrain, these bare feet have come here to tell the most astounding tale, if we care to hear them out: stories of human grit, resolution, revolution; stories of a resolute struggle to protect one’s dignity, self-reliance, and the ultimate provider — Mother Earth. For the more than five thousands adivasis assembled at Muniguda on the foothills of Niyamgiri on 22 May 2013, it was yet another occasion to declare to the world, on top of their voice, that THEY ARE NOT GOING TO ALLOW MINING ON THEIR SACRED MOUNTAIN, COME WHAT MAY.But, the Indian State refuses to hear that roar. It has hatched yet another plan to micromanage the interests of a company, in the form of Gram Sabha that will be orchestrated and controlled by the State itself. However, the adivasis have already announced their verdict, and have vowed not to budge a bit.

If the stupendous gathering of people suggests their unity and resolve to fight the mighty State, the unprecedented absence of police force (hardly 15 to 20 in number) during this rally could be another sly strategy of the State to suggest that ‘the State is not interfering or intimidating’.

In the previous post of KBK Samachar, we had KumtiMajhi blasting the Indian State and the company (Vedanta) for threatening and stooping people from attending meetings and public hearings. So, did the government take notice of that? Will the forces and company goons not show up if Gram Sabhas are held as well? …It will be interesting to watch that.
Here we present an excerpt of the protest rally of 22 May 2013.

 

India – Put Gram Sabhas in charge of all social sector schemes


NAGAPATTINAM, May 22, 2013

P. V. Srividya

Mani Shankar Aiyar in conversation with The Hindu in Mayiladuthurai, Tamil Nadu. Photo: B. Velankanni Raj
Mani Shankar Aiyar in conversation with The Hindu in Mayiladuthurai, Tamil Nadu. Photo: B. Velankanni Raj
TOPICS

Mani Shankar Aiyar-led committee prescribes a mechanism for panchayat control

How relevant is panchayat raj in the everyday lives of the people? What is the role of panchayat raj institutions (PRIs) in poverty alleviation and human development? Is poverty alleviation possible through a peripheral role for panchayats as conceived in various Central sector schemes?

Taking up these questions, the Mani Shankar Aiyar-led Expert Committee on “Leveraging Panchayat Raj Institutions for effective delivery of public goods and services,” which submitted its report to the government recently, has suggested that the Gram Sabha should be empowered to monitor and make decisions on all the social sector schemes — Central and State. Citing MGNREGA (Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act) scheme as the model for other schemes, Mr. Aiyar told The Hindu in Mayiladuturai that this move will remove the lacunae in the ‘last mile delivery’ of the schemes.

A panchayat-driven social sector expenditure model empowers the community with a sense of ownership as against the bureaucracy-driven, top-down model currently inbuilt in the Central sector schemes. It calls for a rethink on the way central sector schemes (CSS) on poverty alleviation are designed and the need to retrieve PRIs from the fringes to their rightful place as drivers of rural welfare.

Outcomes are not in sync with the outlays, says the report. The multifold increase in social sector expenditure has barely translated into positive outcomes. There was no tangible rise in the Human Development Indices, despite the exponential increase in social sector expenditure.

The Committee — drawing its template from the Prime Minister’s address to the Conference of Chief Ministers in 2004 that calls for a rethink on the top-down design of programmes — prescribes Activity Mapping for each CSS. Activity Mapping envisions clear delineation of “functions, finances and functionaries,’ shifting the ownership of Schemes from the line departments to elected Panchayats. The report illustrates model Activity Mapping for eight CSS to lead the way.

Grassroots devolution

When the Panchayat Raj experiment was started two decades ago, there was a certain degree of naïveté in believing that effective devolution would just happen, Mr. Aiyar recalls. “Unlike the West, with its local government experience in parishes and counties, here local government was imposed from above. We had to devolve, while the West evolved from local governments.” But, ours was the first such experiment at grassroots devolution leading to tangible social engineering, says Mr. Aiyar.

The Committee’s recommendations include a Centre-drafted model Gram Sabha law to motivate State legislation; freezing of rotation of reserved seats to two or three terms to incentivise good work and facilitate capacity building of panchayat leadership; incentivise PRIs for transparency and accountability and the States to devolve; reorient the outlook of lower bureaucracy to panchayats. The report also prescribes collateral and institutional measures such electronic tagging of funds, setting up of a National Commission for Panchayat Raj, and strengthening Gram Sabhas in PESA areas (tribal areas to which the Panchayat system has been extended by law).

The report recommends the MGNREGA scheme and BRGF (Backward Regions Grant Fund) model that locate PRIs as central to implementation. “We have wonderful examples in MGNREGA and BRGF. MGNREGA was initially worked out without a role for Panchayats. On my personal intervention and literally in a midnight, government’s amendment to the Bill, (and) a strong role for Panchayats came by. Today, it is a highly functional scheme,” says Mr. Aiyar.

While the Committee advocates strong Gram Sabhas that the panchayats are accountable to, the Bill on Land Acquisition lends only consultative powers to the Gram Sabhas.

Even as Mr. Aiyar sees no inherent conflict between intent and action, he does believe there are vested interests. ‘The Sub Committee under me strongly recommended consent by Gram Sabhas. But, there are always vested interests.” Also, most States have not legislated on powers for the Gram Sabhas.

According to the report, effective devolution leads to better outcomes, which in turn engenders political will. It was lack of bureaucratic will and not political will that has stalled effective devolution, says Mr. Aiyar. “My recommendations as chairperson of the Empowered Sub Committee of the NDC (National Development Council) were not acted upon by the Planning Commission. The Deputy Chairperson of the Planning Commission and the Cabinet Secretary are not elected and their inability to enforce their own circulars reflects lack of bureaucratic will.” The political class did not bear down on the bureaucracy like it did with MGNREGA.

“It is bureaucracy that will have to produce the methodology of devolution. But they did not. Now our report illustrates how to do it through Activity Mapping. They just have to implement it.” Recounting a personal conversation with Rajiv Gandhi in 1989, Mr. Aiyar says the former Prime Minister envisioned a generation’s time for effective devolution. “It is only 20 years now; we have five more years to realise that dream, if our recommendations are implemented.”

 

Public hearing sans public for Jindal plant in Gadchiroli


Author(s):
Aparna Pallavi
Issue Date:
2013-5-13

Affected people stage boycott, administration carries on nevertheless

http://www.downtoearth.org.in/dte/userfiles/images/0000016525-100_3536.JPG” width=”457″ height=”305″ border=”0″ />Additional collector Sanjay Dhivre, who chaired the public hearing, argues with activists who were protesting that the hearing was illegal (Photos by Aparna Pallavi)

Despite a boycott staged by 17 villages affected by a proposed iron mine project, a public hearing for it was held at Alapalli in Maharashtra’s Gadchiroli district on May 8.

Additional collector Sanjay Dhivre, who chaired the hearing, and Maharashtra Pollution Control Board (MPCB) regional officer Nilkanth Nigul, who was part of the panel, ignored repeated pleas of activists and public to cancel the proceedings in view of the absence of the affected people and various illegalities committed by the Jindal group company and the administration in holding the hearing. They also pointed out that the panel of the public hearing was incomplete as per regulations since the sarpanch and gram sevaks of the two affected gram panchayats (Gardewada and Gatta) were not included on the panel.

Activist Harshali Poddar brought to the panel’s attention a gram sabha resolution drawn up by the residents of village Damkondwahi in the Gatta gram panchayat where the project by JSW Ispat Steel Limited has been proposed. The resolution, drawn on May 1, this year stated clearly the residents were against the project and directed the administration not to grant permission to the project. The resolution was submitted to the Etapalli tehsildar on the same day for appropriate action, but no cognisance was taken, she pointed out.

Activists and residents of Dhanora and Sironcha tehsils in the district who were attending the hearing in solidarity with the project-affected people raised slogans demanding the cancellation of the hearing. However, instead of taking cognizance of the grievances, Dhivre called the police to force the activists into silence.

http://www.downtoearth.org.in/dte/userfiles/images/0000016525-100_3525.JPG” width=”457″ height=”305″ border=”0″ />Harsha Poddar and her colleague Anand are forced into silence by police personnel

During the rest of the hearing, which lasted about three hours, repeated arguments broke out between Dhivre and the activists, resulting in several rounds of police intervention, and the speakers were forced to speak while being surrounded by police personnel.

EIA lies, procedural violations

During the hearing, Poddar and Anand from the Bharat Jan Andolan pointed out that MPCB had not displayed the notice of the public hearing at the Gadrewada and Gatta panchayat offices, and that only a single copy of the executive summary of the environment impact assessment (EIA) had been made available. What is more, JSW steel had not even submitted a Marathi EIA, as required by regulations. They also trashed the claims of MPCB of having issued public notices in a local English and Marathi newspaper, saying the affected people were highly vulnerable Madia tribals whose literacy rate was extremely low and no newspaper was available in the project area.

Poddar pointed out that the EIA itself contained many lacunae. For instance, while the June 26, 2009 notification of the Ministry of Environment and Forests mentioned allotting 995 hectares (ha) to the project, the EIA mentioned an additional 213 ha of which no account was given.

The EIA also did not provide the mandatory methodology and study details used to arrive at conclusions regarding various environmental aspects like flora and fauna, drainage patterns and so on. Several groups objected to the hearing being held at Allapalli, 80 km away from the project area, and demanded it be cancelled and rescheduled to be held where the affected people could attend. Others raised objections regarding the fact that the mine was not accompanied by industry which could generate local employment.

http://www.downtoearth.org.in/dte/userfiles/images/0000016525-100_3551.JPG” width=”457″ height=”305″ border=”0″ />Anand exhibits evidence showing people in Gatta and Gadrewala had no notice of the public hearing

Irfan Khan, a resident of Etapalli tehsil where the project area is located, said the project should not be justified on grounds of corporate responsibility promises made by the Jindal group, “Government should organise for education and welfare on its own, not depend on corporate,” he said.

Some 100 bogus speakers recruited by the company, comprising rural women from Gadchiroli who were not sure why they had been brought there, and company employees were not allowed to speak at the hearing by the activists.

Administration ‘unaware’ of procedural lapses

Talking to Down To Earth after the hearing, additional collector Dhivre made a surprising statement. Whether the hearing was legal or not was none of his business, he said. “I had been asked to chair the proceedings, and I have done that,” he said.

MPCB regional officer Nigul said he had received no objections regarding procedural violations since the public hearing notice was put up. “We cannot entertain objections at the last moment,” he said. He also denied knowledge of the gram sabha resolution opposing the project.

The brazen manner in which the hearing was conducted has led to widespread public discontent in the area. MLA Namdeo Usendi of Gadchiroli has issued an objection letter to the administration regarding the issue. Local MLA Deepak Atram, who had demanded that the protest be held at Etapalli, and held a protest during the hearing itself, has also extended support to the protest against the hearing. Vidarbha Environment Action Group, which was instrumental in forcing Wardha district administration to organise a repeat public hearing for Lanco Infratech’s coal fired power plant, is preparing to challenge the hearing in court, informed Sudhir Paliwal of the group.

 


 

Tribal affairs ministry gets cracking on apex court’s order on Vedanta #goodnews


Author(s):
Kumar Sambhav S…
Issue Date:
2013-5-2

Odisha government gets a slew of orders to ensure the order is properly implemented

The ministry of tribal affairs seems to have pulled up its socks to ensure the Supreme Court’s order in the Vedanta case is properly implemented on ground. In a letter to the Odisha government on May 2, the ministry directed the state to facilitate the gram sabhas affected by the proposed bauxite mining project on Niyamgiri hills to decide—independently and in a transparent manner—the veracity of religious and cultural rights claimed by the tribal people on Niyamgiri hill. It has issued several legally binding directions under the Forest Rights Act (FRA) to the Odisha government and has prescribed a timeframe for the entire process.

On April 18, the Supreme Court ordered [1] that village councils in Odisha’s Rayagada and Kalahandi districts would decide if projects of the metals and mining giant,Vedanta, have infringed the tribal communities’ right to worship. The court made it clear that the religious rights of the tribals must be protected. It also asked the gram sabhas to consider afresh—under FRA—all other individual and community claims of the tribals.

The ministry has now asked the Odisha government to issue advertisements in newspapers, including those in vernacular languages, asking all the tribals and traditional forest dwellers in Kalahandi and Raygada districts to file claims of religious and cultural rights, along with the individual and community rights under the FRA. The ministry has also asked the state to display this notification along with the details of the SC order in all villages in the two districts irrespective of their proximity from the mining site. “This will ensure that there is no allegation of subjectivity in the selection of palli sabhas (gram sabhas) where the meeting will be finally held as per the direction of the Supreme Court,” the letter says.

The ministry has asked the state to prepare a list of all the villages near the mining site and on the Niyamgiri hills where tribal people have made claims of traditional rights. It has given the state government 20 days to prepare the list.

The selected gram sabhas will then have to be sensitised by the state with the help of independent experts working on tribal rights as guaranteed by the FRA as well as by the SC judgement. The decision on the claim will be taken by the gram sabha in presence of a judicial officer, as per the court’s directions.

The ministry has directed the state to involve non-profits in the process to make it transparent. It has also asked the state to submit the audio and video recordings of the gram sabha meetings—replete with all the resolutions passed by the village body—to it right after the meetings. A Bhubaneswar-based analyst said the ministry’s move was welcome because the company has started dividing the community. “A few people who have got some benefits from the project might try to manipulate the whole community. Rights activists are already facing problems in having access to the affected villages. The ministry’s action is certainly timely. Now it it needs proper follow-up,” he said.

Source URL: http://www.downtoearth.org.in/content/tribal-affairs-ministry-gets-cracking-apex-court-s-order-vedanta

 

Letter to President of India- Protect Rights of Indigenous People or Shoot all of them


Jharkhand Human Rights Movement
C/o-Mr. Suleman Odeya, Near Don Bosci ITC Gate, Khorha Toli, Kokar, Ranchi -834001. 0651-3242752 Email: jhrmindia@gmail.com

Ref: JHRM/PI/2013/01 Date: 01/05/2013

To,
His Excellency,
Sri Pranab Mukherjee,
President of India,
Rashtrapati Bhavan,
New Delhi – 110004
India.

Sub: Requesting to protect the rights of the Scheduled Tribes (Indigenous People of India) or to shoot all of them at once rather than excluding, discriminating, exploiting, torturing and making them landless, resourceless and beggars by alienating them from the natural and livelihood resources in the name of growth and development.

Dear Sir,

1. It is extremely painful to state that I come from an Adivasi (tribal) family, who was displaced by an irrigation project without rehabilitation in 1980 and my parents were brutally murdered in 1990. However, I was managed to survive. On 30th April, 2013, you have inaugurated a power project of the Jindal Steel & Power Ltd at Sundarpahari comes under Godda district of Jharkhand. However, it seems that the tribal people were not allowed to put their concerns in front of you. The tribal people of 11 villages had gathered near Sundarpahari to raise their voices against the power project as some of them had already been displaced during the construction of ‘Sundar Dam’ and now they’ll again be displaced by the Jindal’s power project. However, these tribals were detained in Sundarpahari police station instead of hearing their plea. The question here is do they have right to freedom of expression under Article 19 of the Indian Constitution? The police have regularly been coercing the tribals who don’t want to surrender their land to the Jindal Company. According to the Santal Pargana Tenancy Act 1949, the land is non-transferable and non-saleable, whether owned by tribals or non-tribals. But how the tribals land is being bought by the Jindal Company? Is the Jindal Company allowed to violet the rule of law?

2. The Hon’ble Supreme Court of India through a writ petition (CIVIL) NO. 180 OF 2011 (Orissa Mining Corporation Vs Ministry of Environment & Forest & Others) has said that the Section 4(d) of the PESA Act 1996 says that every Gram Sabha shall be competent to safeguard and preserve the traditions, customs of the people, their cultural identity, community resources and community mode of dispute resolution. Therefore, Grama Sabha functioning under the Forest Rights Act read with Section 4(d) of PESA Act has an obligation to safeguard and preserve the traditions and customs of the STs and other forest dwellers, their cultural identity, community resources. The Court has ordered the State Government to settle the matter with the Gram Sabha. But is the case of Jindal Company, where is the role of Gram Sabha? Why it has been undermined or put aside? Why did PESA Act 1996 not enforced in this case? Is it because the head of the Jindal Steel & Power Limited is one of the powerful leaders of the Congress Party?

3. The Hon’ble Supreme Court of India has also said through a writ petition (CIVIL) NO. 180 OF 2011 (Orissa Mining Corporation Vs Ministry of Environment & Forest & Others) that the Scheduled Tribes have the Religious freedom guaranteed under Articles 25 and 26 of the Constitution. It guarantees them the right to practice and propagate not only matters of faith or belief, but all those rituals and observations which are regarded as integral part of their religion. The Court has ordered to protect and preserve the tribals’ deity. However, in last 65 years of Indian democracy, thousands and thousands of sacred groves, religions places and graveyards of tribals were either submerged in Dams or destroyed in the name of development. These are several sacred groves and religions places of the tribal would be destroyed by the power project of the Jindal Company. However, the question is do the tribals really have the freedom of religion as the Apex Court has stated? Why is Government not upholding the rule of law?

4. The tribal people have already lost more than 23 lakh acres of land in Jharkhand in two ways – i) The major part of tribals’ land were taken away from them in the name of growth and development and ii) the non-tribals who came into the 5th Scheduled Area of Jharkhand for jobs also grabbed a huge portion of the tribal land illegally after earning huge money from the development projects and mining. Though the Article 19 (d) & (e) allows the all citizens to move freely throughout the territory of India and to reside and settle in any part of the territory of India but sub-clause (5) also emphasizes that the state can impose reasonable restrictions on the exercise of any of the rights conferred by the said sub-clauses (d & e) for the protection of the interests of any Scheduled Tribe. However, nothing has been done in this regard to protect the tribal people. Consequently, the population of the non-tribals is multiplying in the Scheduled areas and the tribal population is rapidly declining.

5. The Jharkhand Government has signed more than 100 MoUs with National and multi-National companies, who are grabbing the trabals land illegally and the government is facilitating it instead of protection the land rights of tribals. The Jharkhand Government has also proposed for two industrial corridors under the Jharkhand Industrial policy 2012. According to JIP-14 (a) State Govt. will initiate necessary steps to promote / develop two industrial corridors, namely Koderma – Bahragora and Ranchi-Patratu- Ramgarh Road, where the efforts will be made to develop the corridor with 25 KM each side of 4 laning, which means, major part of the land will be handed over to the corporate houses. If that happens then where will the tribal people go? Do they have right to a dignified life?

6. On 5 January, 2011, the Apex Court of India while hearing on an appeal (the special leave petition (Cr) No. 10367 of 2010 Kailas & others Vs State of Maharashtra) said that the tribal people (Scheduled Tribes or Adivasis), the Indigenous People of India but they were slaughtered in large numbers, and the survivors and their descendants were degraded, humiliated, and all kinds of atrocities inflicted on them for centuries. They were deprived of their lands, and pushed into forests and hills where they eke out a miserable existence of poverty, illiteracy, disease, etc. And now efforts are being made by some people to deprive them even of their forest and hill land where they are living, and the forest produce on which they survive. Despite this horrible oppression on them, the tribals of India have generally (though not invariably) retained a higher level of ethics than the non-tribals in our country. They normally do not cheat, tell lies, and do other misdeeds which many non-tribals do. They are generally superior in character to the non-tribals. The Apex Court said that it is time now to undo the historical injustice to them. However, the Indian Government has done nothing to protect them. Instead, it has been facilitating in corporate land grab of the Adivasis (tribals or Indigenous People) of India.

Since, you are the custodian of the tribal people of India, therefore, I demand for following actions:
1. To order for investigation on detention of tribals and land grab by the Jindal Steel & Power Limited in Sundar Pahari and also cancel the Jindal’s power project as it is a severe threat to the existence of the tribal people especially the Primitive tribes (Paharia) of Sundar Pahari.
2. To investigate and cancel all the MoUs signed since 2000 without consent of the Gram Sabha under PESA Act 1996 and also order for withdrawal of the Industrial Police 2012 and order the state administration to return the illegally acquired land of the tribals by the corporate houses.
3. To order for a judicial inquiry in all the cases of illegal land grabbed by the non-Adivasis in the Scheduled areas.
4. To order to stop the corporate to buy land by themselves and order the Government to acquire land under the Santal Pargana Tenancy Act 1949 and Chhotanagpur Tenancy Act 1908 for development projects with the consent of the Gram Sabha under PESA Act 1996.
5. To order the Government to enforce the rule of law i.e. Constitutional provisions, 5th Schedule Area, PESA Act 1996, CNT Act 1908, SPT Act 1949, the Forest Rights Act 2006, etc.

Indeed, it’s necessary to take the above said steps to protect the constitutional, legal and traditional rights of the tribal people. However, if you are unable to protect us, I would humbly request you to gather all the tribal people at a place and shoot them so that you’ll get rid of us and could build this nation on the graveyards of the tribal as per your dream.

The architect of the Modern India Pt. Jwaharlal Nehru’s Temples of Modern India has turned into graveyards of the tribals (Indigenous People of India). Therefore, in the next time whenever and wherever you inaugurate such development project proposed on the tribals’ land, please remembers that you are building this nation on the graveyards of the Indigenous People of India.

I believe you understand my pain, anguish and sorrow. I hope to hear your positive response. I shall be highly obliged to you for the same.

Thanking you.

Yours sincerely,
Gladson Dungdung
General Secretary,
JHRM, Ranchi.

 

Fuzzy thinking on SC Niyamgiri verdict #Vedanta


Reports and editorials on the Supreme Court verdict in the Vedanta case might have missed the mark. ARITRA BHATTACHARYA says a section of the media is even acting as apologist for the multinational.
 Saturday, Apr 27 , The Hoot.org

The April 18 Supreme Court judgement on the Vedanta’s bauxite mining project in the Niyamgiri hills has been widely reported. While some quarters and activists hailed it as a positive judgement, Vedanta and Orissa Mining Corporation (OMC) found enough reason for hope and opportunity in the judgement. Other reports underscored how local people had been given the right to decide on the operations of a global mining giant, pointed out how it was a landmark event, and underscored the power of the local tribals.

Most reports, however, failed to point out the fact that the court had, in a sense, chosen to bypass the most vexing questions relating to violations of environmental laws in the case. The SC decision, while granting the ‘right’ to decide on the fate of the bauxite mine to the gram sabhas, chose to set aside all ecological concerns and made religious rights of the Niyamgiri tribals the central plank of the judgement.

Bypassing connections

The OMC had decried the earlier 2010 order of the Supreme Court where it refused clearance to the bauxite mining project on grounds of violation of laws in the alumina refinery. The Supreme Court order, while making a note of this, said:

Petitioner… submitted that the order wrongly cites the violation of certain conditions of environmental clearance by “Alumina Refinery Project” as grounds for denial of Stage II clearance to OMC for its “Bauxite Mining Project”…the violation of any statutory provision or a condition of environmental clearance by one cannot be a relevant consideration for grant of Stage II clearance to the other.

Holding forth on the connections between the two ‘projects’— a crucial plank in the petitioner’s argument — the Supreme Court judgement made all the right noises. It noted:

Quite contrary to the case of the petitioner, it can be strongly argued that the Alumina Refinery Project and Bauxite Mining Project are interdependent and inseparably linked together and, hence, any wrong doing by Alumina Refinery Project may cast a reflection on the Bauxite Mining Project and may be a relevant consideration for denial of Stage II clearance to the Bauxite Mining Project.

The court, however, refused to take a clear stand on the issue. In the same breath, it went on to rule:

In this Judgment, however, we do not propose to make any final pronouncement on that issue but we would keep the focus mainly on the rights of the Scheduled Tribes and the “Traditional Forest Dwellers” under the Forest Rights Act.

With this, it may be argued, the judgement refused to tackle the most vexing aspect of the case; instead, in focusing on the rights of the STs and TFDs, it shifted the parameters of discourse elsewhere, away from violation of environmental laws by a part of the project.

In no uncertain terms, the judgement states that the only the state has the right to decide on the extraction of minerals. It notes:

The Forest Rights Act, neither expressly nor impliedly, has taken away or interfered with the right of the State over mines or minerals lying underneath the forest land, which stand vested in the State. State holds the natural resources as a trustee for the people.

Through the judgement, the Supreme Court has clearly defined the arc within which the local population of an area may have a say in a large-scale mineral extraction project in their area. In the event of majority of claims under the Forest Rights Act in the project area being settled, the only grounds on which local people can oppose a project they may not want is religion and culture. The judgement, in the last part, holds forth on this:

Religious freedom guaranteed to STs and the TFDs under Articles 25 and 26 of the Constitution is intended to be a guide to a community of life and social demands…Their right to worship the deity Niyam-Raja has, therefore, to be protected and preserved.

The court further observed:

We are, therefore, of the view that the question whether STs and other TFDs, like Dongaria Kondh, Kutia Kandha and others, have got any religious rights i.e. rights of worship over the Niyamgiri hills, known as Nimagiri, near Hundaljali, which is the hill top known as Niyam-Raja, have to be considered by the Gram Sabha.

The gram sabhas have been asked to arrive at a decision within three months, and the MoEF is supposed to take a final call on the matter within the following two months.

What does this shift in the parameters of the discourse hold? For one, in shifting the locus of decision-making in the gram sabhas to the domain of the cultural/ religious, the argument will now shift from verifiable facts to matters of perception.

In the coming months, local bodies in the area will have to deal with the following question: will the local deity be disturbed if mining is allowed within a 10-km radius of his/her abode? How much space, and what kind of access will be required to preserve my religious practices and rituals? As is evident, there can be no factual replies to such questions; instead, responses will be based on perceptions. Therefore, the task of any well-meaning industrialist has to be one of perception management.

In a clear reflection of this, the Economic Times editorial on April 19, the day after the judgment, pointed out:

The Supreme Court has…opened a window of opportunity for Vedanta to win over the tribal group, Dongariya Kondhs, who worship the bauxite mounds the company wants to mine…Mining companies should offer terms that elicit consent of those who stand to be displaced for the uprooting of life and livelihood as they have known them. The Kondhs in Niyamgiri can perhaps be persuaded to restrict their worship to a couple of hills, by offering them access to a better, albeit different, life.

As pointed out earlier, this editorial underscores how religious and cultural rights are a matter of perception, and how sound negotiation can persuade locals to re-look at their traditional practices.

To be sure, Vedanta is no novice at perception management. Readers will recall its “Creating Happiness” campaign, and its claims of running plush health clinics and educational institutes in the project-affected areas. Although some reports and documentaries showed how these clinics were without doctors and hardly had any health facilities, and how local educational institutes were, in some cases, merely buildings, Vedanta has continued to cultivate perceptions in and outside the project- affected area. Now, perhaps, it needs to do a wee bit more to convince the poor tribals that their deity after all will be well served by prosperity.

ET’s Vedanta plug?

In fact, a piece on the edit page of the Economic Times on April 19 makes precisely this very argument. Waxing eloquent on the prowess of Vedanta chief Anil Agarwal, the article notes:

Vedanta has somehow acquired this public image of being hostile to environment and the habitats of tribals and villagers…All this may have been due to past mistakes and a communication gap, but it is time for Agarwal to address and solve this problem. Many mining and metal companies operate in India but only Vedanta seems to face this problem on a persistent basis.

It is strange that the author can make this claim about only Vedanta facing this problem on a persistent basis in the same breath where he speaks about the shutting down of the company’s smelter in Tamil Nadu owing to violations of environmental laws.

The choice of words is also instructive, for the writer says that Vedanta has ‘acquired this public image of being hostile’— a sleight of hand suggesting that this is actually not the case; that Vedanta in fact, adheres to the highest norms of upholding rights of local communities.

The writer goes on to locate the troubles of Vedanta in the activities of hostile global NGOs. In what appears to belittle the Dongria and Kutia Kondhs, the author proclaims:

Tribals are often smarter than city dwellers. They know the advantages of proper schools, housing and a decent standard of living, and are unlikely to dismiss sincere outreach efforts.

All that Vedanta’s Anil Agarwal needs to do is “use his clout as an industrialist to win over Niyamgiri”, as the article suggests. Perhaps, the Supreme Court judgment lays the ground for this. After all matters of religion and culture, particularly when it does not happen to pertain to forces right of Centre, are not set in stone.

Irony escapes notice

Those opposed to the Vedanta project, as well as Vedanta and OMC — the project proponents — lauded the judgment. This irony, however, escaped the notice of most papers, which remained fixated on the flawed narrative of tribals halting a multi-million dollar company in its tracks. Indian Express, The Hindu, Times of India, Economic Times, The Telegraph, Hindustan Times and Mint — all reported on the verdict. In its coverage, Mint looked at the Niyamgiri verdict in conjunction with the SC verdict on partial lifting of iron-ore mining ban in Karnataka. The story suggested that the twin verdicts were a relief for the natural resources sector, but there was hope for mining companies. None of the newspapers, however, carried an editorial or opinion pieces on the judgment.

However, Ananda Bazar Patrika, the Bengali daily from the Telegraph stable, reflected on the judgment in a piece on the edit page on April 25. The article sought to underscore the SC judgment for what the author saw as the most important aspect. She noted that the judgment, perhaps for the first time, had upheld the religious and cultural rights of tribals. She noted that while tribals constitute over 11 per cent of the population, their right to uphold their traditional and religious practices had so far escaped recognition. The author, Jaya Mitra, questioned whether anyone would dare raise the issue of taking apart even a section of the Kalighat temple or the Jama Masjid in the interest of a project, while pointing out that the opposite has been the norm as far as places of worship of tribals are concerned. In the same piece, however, she noted that examples of large corporations being punished for violating environmental norms are few and far between.

What effect will Mitra’s observation hold for large projects in tribal areas across the country? Perhaps, it is imperative to mention the case of the Western Ghats here: Readers might recall that a recent MoEF High Level Working Group identified around 37 per cent of the total area of the Western Ghats as ecologically sensitive, classifying the rest of the 63 per cent area as “cultural landscape”. The operative word here, of course, is culture, and following the SC verdict on Niyamgiri, people in these areas would not have any grounds to oppose a project — however detrimental it may be to the environment — save by resorting to a religious lexicon.

 

Gujarat- Tribals demand implementation of PESA


Anti-mining movement picks up in South Gujarat, tribals demand early implementation of PESA provisions

Mining in progress in the river bed
By Ashok Shimali*

Anti-mining movement is gearing up in South Gujarat. The main slogan of the movement is, “Save river, save forest, save nature, save minerals and save our life”.
At the bank of Purana river in Kosambai village near Valod town in Tapi district, more than 10,000 peoples started an impressive agitation against rampant mining activities in Purna and Valmiki rivers. People gathered under the banner of the Adivasi Ekata Parishad. Mainly local tribals, they began an indefinite agitation on April 17, which converted into eight representatives of the Adivasi Ekta Parishad going on hunger strike, which began on April 22.

Those who took part in the hunger strike were — Lalsingh Gamit from Kosambia village; Namika Chaudhary, sarpanch of Mordevi village panchayat; Bhupendra Chaudhary, an Adivasi Ekata Parishad activist; several individuals from Kosambia village Jitendra Gamit, Rakesh Chaudhary, Gaman Gamit and Dinubhai Gamit; and Rakesh Gamit from Bahej village.
It all began on April 17 morning, when people gathered at the statue of Dr BR Ambedakar and then began a rally, which ended at Purna river, shouting slogans against mining activities.
At the protest meeting near Purna river
People who took part in the rally felt that there has been adverse impact of mining on groundwater levels, which have gone down considerably. This apart, they complained, dust particles due to mining in nearby agricultural field is affecting their farming activities. Then, there are huge blasts in the river for carrying on mining activities, which are adversely affecting the check dams built on the two rivers.
“More than 15,000 people have been affected by mining in five villages — Mordevi, Kosambia, Bahej, Dolakiya and Kumbhia”, a statement by the Adivasi Ekta Parishad said.
A local delegation met to Union minister Tushar Chaudhary, who belongs to the adivasi belt of South Gujarat, with a list of their demands. Then, on April 21 and 22, a five-member delegation met Tapi district collector Ranjithkumar and discussed the situation about illegal mining in the river stream.
Blasting in progress in the riverbed
The district collector of Tapi took action and sent SDM and mamlatadar of Valod for site inspection and discussion with agitators and leaders. All the relevant documents along with a memorandum were presented to the collector and the officials at the dharna site.
The demands included implementation of the Panchayat (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act (or PESA), 1996, provisions relating to autonomous rights to tribals over natural resources at the place where they live. The Act specifically says that without the consent of the village panchayat, no mining activity can be undertaken. The district collector assured a detailed inquiry.
The Adivasi Ekta Parishad statement said, “The agitation will spread in all the scheduled areas of Gujarat if we not receive any positive response from government authorities.”

Mamlatdar listens to demands

A memorandum addressed to the Chief Minister, the state forests and environment minister, the industries and mines minister and the tribal affairs minister was also submitted to the mamlatdar. A copy was sent to the Governor of Gujarat, who is constitutionally duty bound to safeguard tribal people‘s rights.

* A senior Gujarat-based activist with Setu, and an executive member of NGO Mines, Minerals and People.

 

#India – The Bastar Land Grab #tribalrights #indigenousrights


 An Interview with Sudha Bharadwaj

April 20, 2013

This intervew with SUDHA BHARADWAJ of Chhattisgarh Mukti Morcha was conducted by JUSTIN PODUR in Raipur on 5 March 2013

JP: As a lawyer and an activist, how do you see the relationship between legal work and activism?

SB: I see myself primarily as a trade unionist. I joined the union movement over twenty years ago, and it was the union that made me a lawyer. They felt that workers needed a good lawyer in their fight with the corporations. Our union is one of contract workers and has been striving to overcome divisions in the working class. Here, workers have a close connection with the peasants. So, we believe that working with the peasants is part of unionism.

When I got to the High Court, I found that all the people’s organizations were in a similar situation. The laws that give you rights are poorly implemented. When you fight, the status quo has many legal weapons, launches malicious litigation, etc. So we have a group of lawyers now (Janhit), and we work on group legal aid, not individual legal aid. The idea is that if you help a group, that can bring about some kind of change, create some space. I’ve also gotten involved with the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), for which I am the General Secretary in Chhattisgarh.

JP: Can you give examples of some of these struggles?

SB: We organize in the cement industry. One major corporation is Holcim, a Swiss multinational, that has taken over ACC and Ambuja, though these Indian corporations continue to retain their brand names. Holcim  has closed down its Spanish and American plants and has come here. Why? If you look at  returns on investment in this industry globally, they are 1.3%. In India, they are 13%. These multinationals have come here with deep pockets, and they have gotten a stranglehold over local administration – the ministers, the officers  of the forest, labor, mining and pollution departments – they have that capacity.

In the cement industry, there is a Wage Board Agreement that says no contract labor can be employed in the cement industry except in loading/unloading and packing, and even then they have to paid at the same rate as regular workers. But actually these multinational plants are using contract labor for all processes of cement production and paying paltry minimum wages, ignoring the law. When we take the struggle to the streets, they use the law against our workers. Ambuja in particular has been very vindictive. One of the leaders in the struggle spent 13 months in jail on a trumped charge of looting a mobile and Rs. 3500 from a Security Officer.

Look at the level of extraction. Contract workers at Ambuja get 180 Rs per day (less then $4), at ACC 200 Rs per day ($4). A permanent worker would get 700 Rs per day ($14). The Swiss worker gets 2500 Rs ($50), and the CEO gets 2.2 lakhs per day ($4400). The largest share holder Thomas Schmidheinney gets 2 crore per day ($400,000). Even getting basic labor rights is very, very tough and workers realize that the corporations are in an even more intense fight with the peasants and adivasis.

JP: And there are attempts at common struggles between workers and adivasis and peasants?

SB: There are. Our union is  a member of a platform called Chhattisgarh Bachao Andolan which has  mass organisations like the Adivasi Mahasabha, Bharat Jan Andolan, Gondwana Gantantra Party etc., and most importantly many small village community organisations which are fighting displacement and trying to enforce the PESA act and Forest Rights Acts because individual struggles are just being crushed. This is an election year, so we might see some gestures from Congress, to cash in on the simmering discontent, but usually the political representatives of all parties have been trying to buy off opposition. The CBA may have critical mass one day. That’s what we hoped when it was  founded  2-3 years ago.

JP: I’ve been trying to understand what is happening in the forest, in Bastar.

SB: Take a look at a map of the periphery of Chhattisgarh. If you overlay maps of forests, of adivasi villages, of minerals you’ll find almost perfect overlap. When Chhattisgarh was created in 2000, carved out of Madhya Pradesh, the first Chief Minister coined a phrase, he said it was “rich land, poor people ”. In the 12 years since its creation, the people have become poorer, and more riches have been discovered in the land. This state is full of minerals – 19% of India’s iron ore, 11% of the coal, bauxite, limestone, all kinds of priceless minerals.

Paradoxically to understand Bastar, that is South Chhattisgarh, the place to start is north Chhattisgarh. In the north, in Raigarh, you will enter Jindal country, you’ll see Jindal everywhere. In 12 years, in Raigarh alone, 26,000 acres of agricultural land have gone for mining and plants. Where are the people supposed to go? Inequalities have intensified.

In the late 1990s and early 2000s the Maoists came into the northern district of Sarguja and were crushed. They came from Jharkhand. They redistributed some land. There were 20-25 encounter killings of their leaders, and many adivasi people are still in jail. Surguja has bauxite. It is densely forested. The forest ministry said it was pristine jungle,  a ‘no-go’ area for mining. The Chhattisgarh government made it a ‘go’ zone, with a rail corridor and power plants. In one village, Premnagar, the Gram Sabha (village-level government) voted 12-15 times, saying they didn’t want a power plant, they argued it out in a reasoned manner. That is because in a Scheduled Area (tribal dominated) the Gram Sabha has sweeping powers. So the State government, by a notification, changed the Gram Panchayat into a Nagar Panchayat  (municipal council) and took away its powers! This is unconstitutional, of course, but the final judgment  never seems to happen and there’s no interim relief – so the land grab can proceed in the meantime. Every possible protest is thrown to the winds.

JP: What is the role of privatization in this process?

SB: Mining for companies is based on leases with land owners, not by land acquisition. Earlier  leases used to only be given to the public sector, and you could not mine unless you built a plant. Now, with Public Private Partnerships (PPP), private companies can just mine, and even if it is not for captive use. This leads to ‘dig-and-sell’, a robber-baron kind of situation.

Kosampali village in Raigarh is surrounded by a 150ft deep Jindal mine on two sides. On the third side is the river. The people of the village have only one way out, and that land is scheduled for mining too. They are doomed  to become an island.

What does the law say about this? When the mining company applies for the lease, the application asks: does the applicant have surface rights? If not, has the consent of the owner/occupier been obtained? If the answer to these questions is no, then the application should be sent back immediately to obtain those consents. But instead, the mining company writes: “consent will be obtained”, and gets through this giant loophole that says “consent may be given after lease, but before entry”. So the government comes to the rescue of the mining company. The Tehsildar (a revenue official lower in rank to the District Collector) posts notice listing out all the plots in the lease, saying – come and collect your compensation as per the Land Acquisition Act. They don’t tell people that they have a choice not to consent. Normally people take it as a fait accompli. They come and take the compensation, and their consent is then assumed. In cases where villagers take the compensation, they try to buy land in other villages, and often the local people there see them as outsiders and don’t let them settle But the people of Kosampalli are saying, “No amount of money can compensate us if you take away these last lands for mining, because we won’t be able to live here any more.”  Our legal office managed to get a stay on the mining, and it’s fixed for final hearing. Jindal’s lawyer is the son of a Supreme Court judge. He is a Member of Parliament fom the town of Puri. Once the Jindal Company, at its own expense, took all the  judges of district Raigarh on a pilgrimage.

If you’re in Chhattisgarh, you should visit Jashpur district. It’s pristine forest at the moment, but the prospecting licenses cover the whole district. A whole hill and plateau atop it called Pandrapat where the Pahadi Korva primitive tribes reside is covered by bauxite mining leases. After the elections are over, mining will start, and the forest will be devastated.

JP: Talk a bit about the politics of power in this region.

SB: Janjgir-Champa, another district in the north, is a drought-prone area. The government invested in irrigation, and got 78% of the district irrigated. But now there are plans for 34 power plants using that water. There are plans for 70 plants in Chhattisgarh, to produce 60,000 MW. The peak electricity requirement in the state is 2500 MW, and we already have 5000 MW capacity. So are we selling it to our neighbours? Well, Andhra Pradesh is planning for capacity of 45000 MW, Gujarat 45000 MW, Madhya Pradesh the same. So what is going on? I think it is not about power. It is for the mining. There are 200,000 acres of land allocated for these plants, 100,000 acres for mining. The water required for these plants is more than all the surface water we have, so we’re going to dip deep into the ground water.

This is a net transfer of land and minerals to the private sector. When the global financial crisis set in, multinationals have begun to come here and continue to make huge profits by collaborating with Indian corporations. So Tata will be the Indian face of Corus when it needs iron ore. Foreign mining might face trouble – but if you have a great Indian company mining, no trouble.

Once you understand this pressure for mining, this pressure for land – then you can understand South Chhattisgarh, that is, Bastar.

JP: Bastar, where the Maoists are.

SB: The Naxals came to Bastar in the 1980s. The area was totally neglected. It was considered a “punishment posting” for the government officials who got posted there. Exploitation was blatant and brutal, of the forest peoples and adivasis. Many of the adivasis made their living collecting tendu leaves (used for rolling bidi cigarettes). There were huge movements to get the adivasis better prices for their tendu leaves, and the Naxals built a solid base with these movements.

By 2005, according to the Director General of Police (DGP) at the time, there were 50,000 Sangham members (unarmed members of the front organisations of  the Maoists). That might even have been an  underestimate. Thus there was this a huge area where the Forest Department and police couldn’t go, but teachers, doctors, were allowed. It was after  Salwa Judum), that violence greatly increased.. And the period of Salwa Judum correlates with the MOUs and the land grab some 2200 ha were granted to Tataand a similar amount to Essar, for iron ore prospecting.

So in  Bastar the state has this predicament. They want the minerals, they even want the forests a little bit for carbon credits, but they don’t want the people. In 2005, Salwa Judum starts. It’s typical strategic hamleting, moving people out of the villages and into camps. A similar approach was taken to insurgencies in the Northeast, in Mizoram and Tripura, for example. Here, they emptied 644 villages, by the government’s admission, 350,000 people. About 50,000 were brought to the camps, and today these camps still have about 10,000 people. Some fled to neighbouring states particularly Andhra Pradesh.Where are the rest? They seem to have gone even deeper into the forest, probably 200,000 people. . They try to cultivate and live in the forest, but they are being treated as outlaws.This displacement has been  a very violent process. There are  affidavits, evidence in the  “Salwa Judum” cases filed in the Supreme Court (Nandini Sundar’s case and Kartam Joga’s case). In one block alone, the Konta block, there were 500 deaths, 99 rapes, 2000 houses burned. This was a violent, state-backed vigilante movement, and was also essentially pushed back militarily by the Maoists.

The notion  of a few Maoists manipulating people is a bit simplistic. Even in the newspapers , when they describe ambushes, they describe 700, or 1000 attackers at times. Getting 700 people to a rally is difficult for us in the democratic movement. If 700 people are going to war, they must be looking upon it like an adivasi or national liberation struggle. And it is the State that has forced them to choose one side or the other.

JP: I’d never heard it characterized that way.

SB: Yes, you could say it’s a tribal rebellion, backed by the Maoists, who are ideological. But many  ordinary people who join it see it as the only way they can save their land.

Those of us in the democratic movement, in the PUCL, we say to the state: de-escalate the violence. Let people  come back to their villages. Let there be civilian administration. Let the teachers go back. The state has moved the schools, the ration shops, even the voting machines, to the Salwa Judum camps. How can you not have rigged voting in that context?

If you, as the State, think of these people in the jungle as outlaws, you’re ultimately behaving like an occupying army. The Indian army is also here, they came a year ago. There was a rally, of 700 elected representatives, sarpanches, panches, who went to the Collector and said, we don’t want army bases here, but no action seems to have been taken on their demands.

According to international law, indigenous people have the right to say no to projects on their land. In Indian law, inherited from the British, the tribal dominated areas are called  Scheduled Areas. Under the British, they were called Excluded and Partially Excluded areas. They were administered directly by the Union Government, through the Governor, not by the State Legislature. So, it was understood that these areas were a special case. According to the Panchayat Extension to Scheduled Areas (PESA) Act, the Gram Sabha is supposed to make the decisions, it is to be consulted for all developmental projects. Even under the Forest Rights Area, it is the Gram Sabha which declares and verifies rights both individual and collective. It’s supposed to be direct democracy in the tribal areas.

So we say, let it be implemented. If the adivasis, through the Gram Sabhas, say they want a freeze on MOUs, because their experience is terrible, with iron ore going to Japan for 400 Rs/ton ($8) while locals get no benefit, not to mention all the ecological damage, then you have to convince them. If it isn’t implemented, this will get worse and worse.

The government, internationally, says there is no internal armed conflict, because it doesn’t want any international involvement, no UN, no MSF, no Amnesty International eyes here. But internally, it labels the Maoists as the ‘greatest internal security threat’.

JP: Would international attention on this conflict be positive?

SB: It would be good. The Government would  have to then worry about civilian casualties. They ought to have nothing to lose. Why not allow the international community to monitor the situation? If you don’t, you are all but admitting that what you want to really want to do is a massive ground clearing operation. When there is a virtual war going on, recognition that it is going on would be better.

There was this village, Sarkeguda. It was very strong. The villagers refused to leave when the Salwa Judum started. Finally some people were killed by the Salwa Judum, some arrested and houses burnt, so in 2006 they fled to Andhra. NGOs like Himanshu Kumar’s Vanvasi Chetna Ashram, and the Agricultural and Social Development Society (ASDS), Khamam tried to rehabilitate some of these villages as had been recommended by the NHRC. They came back in 2009 and look again at what happened on 28-29 June 2012 – another fake encounter, 17 killed, 7 of them children. Eight years after their displacement, Sarkeguda is still trying to get re-established. They are feeling like the state doesn’t want them to live there.

Young men and women fear arrest when they go to the ration shop. When they go, their rations are carefully measured so they don’t have any extra, supposedly because it would go to the Maoists. There’s this total denial of basic human needs. They justify killings with this twisted logic. Earlier 17 people were killed in a faked encounter in Singavaram. The Superintendent of Police, Rahul Sharma, was sure that  someone “was or was close to Naxals” because  tablets of  chloroquine and a bottle of dettol were found on her person!

The government shows no interest in stopping the war through negotiation. A Maoist spokesperson who was coming forward for talks, Azad, was killed. A West Bengal Maoist leader who was in negotiation with the State Government, Kishenji, was killed. They state continues their military buildup and labels all the adivasis as Maoists. There are thousands of adivasis in jail, awaiting trial. When the police go into the jungle, they go in their hundreds, they pick up all those of  a  village who have not been able to run away, and bring everyone to jail. Most of these people, who speak adivasi languages and don’t speak Hindi,  have no interpreters, so they lie in jail and wait for acquittal – which will come, because there is no evidence against them. But they are waiting in a Central Jail, their family can’t see them, the lawyers don’t want to, because they get their photos taken and become known as “Naxal lawyers”.

The government has this Special Public Safety Act (SPSA), which means any “aid” to the Naxals is illegal irrespective of their knowledge, or intention that they are aiding.. In Bilaspur, tradespeople who sell olive green cloth are being prosecuted for  “supplying Naxal uniform”. There’s a military phrase for the action of security forces in that area – “Area domination” which means “Squash them all”. It doesn’t work, What happened in Kashmir? They “rooted out the militants”, now they have boys throwing stones. There’s huge anger, and the government is  not willing to come to terms with it.

In other areas, like the POSCO affected area in Odisha, people are struggling in different ways. The entire adivasi belt from North Bengal to Jharkhand, Odisha, Chhattisgarh extending upto Vidharbha  is seeing huge struggles for land and forests, not just Bastar. And, unless the state decides to commit genocide, which is possible, this is not going to go away.

I think it’s time to rethink “rich land, poor people”. We allow private parties to dig up  the minerals, then what? Smart people don’t use up their own resources. The US still has oil, even though it was discovered hundreds of years ago. We in India are going to sell away  everything we have and cry afterwards, and we are going to violate all of our principles and the rights of our peoples to do it.

JP: How to resist this?

SB: As Marxists we have a notion of the State, of a system. Today the prospect of people getting their rights within  the system – through the executive, judiciary, or legislature – has shrunk. The system is not working. It has to change. Now, the Maoists have a strategy, they believe in the overthrow of that system. But democrats like us, we are confused. Some of us believe that we can transform the system through elections. The Chhattisgarh Mukti Morcha has a flexible approach to elections. We’re not against elections and use different methods of contesting or opposing a particular candidate or supporting a particular candidate depending on what strengthens our organisation, but we don’t believe that they will change the system. In these elections where lakhs of rupees are spent even on village-level elections, and crores on MP or MLA elections, ordinary people trying to get heard among all this money is like giving a philosophy lecture in a disco. It’s ridiculous. The media is corporatized. While the media covered Anna Hazare, he had a huge movement. Then they just turned it off.

I watched how they dealt with the Occupy movement in the UK. They were frozen out, shut out of the conversation, isolated, and after some time, their tents were removed. It was a smart strategy. And the Indian state is no less smart. It’s very clever. Look in the Northeast, in Kashmir, in Bastar, in Gujarat. People are excluded, compartmentalized. We can’t get our act together.

As CMM, we refuse to remain silent on events in Bastar like the fake encounters or the adivasis languishing in jails,  just to be in the good books of the State. Some people say, armed movements invite repression. But all movements invite repression. They killed our leader Comrade Shankar Guha Niyogi in 1991, and workers have died in police firings in 1977, 1984 and 1991. Today our activists face the risk of being booked under the Chhattisgarh Special Security Act for this eminently democratic work. (http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/article2497776.ece). Still, we keep trying to work legally, democratically, and do mass mobilization, express solidarities, try to widen the circle.

Justin Podur is a Toronto-based writer and professor at York University, currently a visiting professor at Jamia Millia Islamia in Delhi. His blog is www.killingtrain.com and twitter is www.twitter.com/justinpodur