Vedanta mining: amid Tribal ministry’s protest Odisha fixes Gram Sabha dates


Bhubaneswar, July 5, 2013

 The tribal busy at a paddy field at the foothills of Niyamgiri Hills in Kalhandi district of Odisha. In the background Vedanta Aluminium factory can be seen. A file photo: Arunangsu Roy Chowdhury.

PTI

The Hindu The tribal busy at a paddy field at the foothills of Niyamgiri Hills in Kalhandi district of Odisha. In the background Vedanta Aluminium factory can be seen. A file photo: Arunangsu Roy Chowdhury.

Ignoring objections by the Union Ministry of Tribal Affairs, the Odisha government on Friday announced dates for conducting Gram Sabhas in 12 villages of Kalahandi and Rayagada districts to decide fate of the proposed bauxite mining for Vedanta atop Niyamgiri Hills.

“We have decided to hold Gram Sabha in 12 hill slope villages as per the April 18 Supreme Court order. While Gram Sabha will be held between July 18 and August 19 in seven villages of Rayagada district, similar exercise will be done between July 23 and 30 in five villages of Kalahandi district,” Odisha’s ST and SC development minister L B Himirika told reporters in Bhubaneswar.

To a question, Mr. Himirika said the state government had earlier decided to hold Gram Sabha in 12 limited villages and it would implement it. “We are going by the Apex Court’s order,” Mr. Himirika said sidestepping a question on the MoTA’s objection.

On April 18, the Supreme Court order asked the state government to hold gram sabhas to decide the fate of Vedanta’s plan to mine at Niyamgiri.

“We need at least 50 per cent attendance to conduct a gram sabha. One-third of them should be women. If quorum is not achieved, the gram sabha will be cancelled and conducted later,” Rayagada district collector Sashi Bhusan Padhi said.

Meanwhile, Odisha’s Advocate General (AG) in a report supported the state government’s decision in 12 hill slope villages of Niyamgiri. The state government had sought Law department and AG’s views on objections raised by MoTA.

Earlier, Union Minister of Tribal Affairs V Kishore Chandra Deo had said that limiting Gram Sabha proceedings to only 12 villages was not in accordance with the Supreme Court order dated April 18 and directions issued by the ministry under Section 12 of Forest Right Act (FRA).

Mr. Deo had also written a letter to Governor S C Jamir seeking his intervention in the matter, saying the areas where gram sabhas are proposed to be held fall under Schedule V categoty.

“The list of villages where rights of forest dwellers are guaranteed under the 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 which 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, had written to the state chief secretary recently.

The Ministry clarified that it had received several claims under FRA for various rights, including religious and cultural rights claimed over Niyamgiri forests and sacred areas from villages over and above the 12 villages selected by the state government.

It shows that Niyamgiri forests are shared by not just 12 villages, but many other villages in Kalahandi and Rayagada districts too share religious and cultural rights over Niyamgiri, the ministry observed.

Referring to Para 53 and 54 of the Supreme Court (SC) judgement, the MoTA letter said, “Such observations cannot be interpreted to assess the number of villages that need to be considered for recognition and vesting of claims under the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Right) Act-2006.”

The Supreme Court in its order had directed the state government to complete Gram Sabhas within three months to get the mandate of the local people regarding the mining project.

The judgement had also called for considering all claims on community, individual, cultural and religious rights of the local inhabitants.

 

#India -‘Tribals turn extremists because states are too busy making money from land’


 Down to Earth
Date:Jun 13, 2013

The world’s largest democracy is facing a surge in tribal uprisings. The recent killings of Mahendra Karma and other Congress leaders in the Bastar region of Chhattisgarh  has prompted the government to address issues of land dispossession and socioeconomic deprivations of tribals. These are the key issues that have been precipitating recurring violence across various parts of the country. Union Minister of Tribal Affairs Kishore Chandra Deo speaks to Sonum Gayatri Malhotra about the obstacles hindering effective governance of tribal communities in Schedule Five areas and how to overcome them. Edited excerpts from the interview

Kishore Chandra DeoKishore Chandra DeoTribals of Bastar are protesting against the provisions of the Fifth Schedule. With elections nearing, they are demanding tribal autonomy in the district as provided under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution. Do you think the Sixth Schedule is working better in protecting tribal rights?

The Fifth Schedule of the Constitution has no dearth of laws in protecting the tribal rights. Bastar’s demand to introduce Sixth Schedule provisions in a Fifth Schedule area is not pragmatic and is definitely not well thought through.

Hypothetically, introduction of Sixth Schedule in Fifth Schedule areas would need a statutory amendment to the Constitution. This is an interminable process. Moreover, amending the composition of the Constitution is a process that first needs to be addressed by the Union Ministry of Home Affairs. The Union Ministry of Tribal Affairs is relatively a new ministry, which came into existence 12 years ago. Before that, scheduled tribes came under the purview of the home ministry. Unfortunately, not all powers have been transferred to the tribal affairs ministry yet. This is a problem. I have limitations as a Union minister. I can only guide the governors of Schedule Five states to evoke their discretionary powers and inform the President of the situation.

But there is confusion over the role of governors in Schedule Five areas. In 2009, then President Pratibha Patil said that the Fifth Schedule devolves special responsibility on the governors in administering scheduled areas and ensuring peace and good governance among tribal communities. But recently, Assistant Solicitor General (ASG) Fouzia Mirza in her submission to the Bilaspur High Court said that a governor under the Fifth Schedule has no discretionary power. Based on her submission, the court dismissed a petition challenging constitutionality of the Tribes Advisory Council and powers of the governor under this schedule. Tribal rights activists have now approached the Centre seeking Presidential reference to the Supreme Court on interpretation of the Fifth Schedule.

The case was recently brought to my notice in response to letters I had sent out to all governors holding posts in Fifth Scheduled states.

The powers exercised by the governor especially under the Fifth Schedule are discretionary powers. The governor is not only the administrative and executive head of the state but also represents the Centre at the state. Fouzia Mirza has got it wrong. I am sad that an ASG, a top government official, erred on such a critical matter.

Most scholars and opposition parties also think that governors are of partisan nature, considering they have never evoked their powers given under the Fifth Schedule. Former governor of Odisha M C Bhandare had said “governors’ role constitutionally exists on paper but actually there is no existing support on ground”.

It is time governors started taking responsibility and invoked the powers which have been conferred on them under the provisions of Article 244 under the Fifth Schedule. It is time for a wake-up call. We are talking about the most marginalised sections. If the government of a state is not directing laws to benefit scheduled tribes, it is the role of the governor to intervene and set things right. When the Constitution was being framed, it was decided that a representative would ensure equality for indigenous communities that would protect them from the burgeoning globalising expansions and secure their fundamental rights. That’s why the governor is not bound by the aid and advice of the Tribes Advisory Council but can direct executive orders in his own discretion.

M C Bhandare has done wrong by not doing anything for the tribal communities of Odisha, where mining has been a critical issue. Constitutionally, the governor is to administer, legislate and execute directives for Fifth Schedule areas. Implementation of development programmes are channelled through the state department, however, the governors can direct laws for areas inhabited by scheduled tribes.

I am ready to take charge of the Fifth Schedule states that have seen governors neglecting their duties. The nodal ministry can empower to assign themselves the powers that have been conferred under the Fifth Schedule for the peace and good governance in tribal regions.

Don’t you think the contentious conflicts between ministries have only imploded to create mistrust among the tribals towards the government? In the latest such instance, the Union environment ministry headed by Jayanthi Natarajan has sought dilution of power of the gram sabha

Today, the growing mining sector is the main threat in Schedule Five areas. This has shaken the confidence and faith of the people in these regions in our democratic system. In many cases, powerful lobbies are trying to encourage mining in a flagrant violation of Constitutional provisions. The variant ideologies of ministries seem to have stemmed from market incitement. Ministries are working at cross-purposes. This is a turf war, lamentably in a social sector which is the most unfortunate.

Fifth Schedule areas in Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand are governed by the Panchayats Extension to Scheduled Areas (PESA) Act. Such areas are meant to be lightly policed. But the government’s emphasis on policing and militarism is evident. Your comment

Deployment of forces in areas inhabited by tribal communities is sending out a message that can only provoke disorder other than what is desired. Sending military or paramilitary forces to these areas will not help contain the uprisings as these are not merely law and order problems. Having said that, one should address the core issue of these uprisings; these areas do not have adequate development. Basic human amenities like food, drinking water and healthcare are lacking. It is the duty of the state government to develop the regions responsibly in accordance with the communities’ requirement.

Most people from the tribal communities end up joining extremists’ movement because the state is too busy concentrating on how to use land in the most profitable way. Lashkar-e-Toiba is funding the Naxalite Movement. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has alleged that the biggest internal threats to the country are its tribal communities. Inevitable alien militant forces triggering hostility in Fifth Schedule Areas, especially bordering states, is bound to undermine the very national integrity.

Sonum Gayatri Malhotra works with Centre for Policy Research, Delhi

 

Interviewee:
Kishore Chandra Deo

 

Maoist violence is not a mere law and order problem: Tribal Affairs minister


Deo said the government needs to be sensible about development in tribal areas, rather than allowing industries to exploit the rich natural resources of these areas

Nupur Sonar

June 10, 2013

The mangled remains of a vehicle at the site of Maoists ambush in Bastar where the Congress partys convoy was attacked. Photo PTIThe mangled remains of a vehicle at the site of ambush in Bastar where the Congress partys convoy was attacked. Photo PTI

Speaking at a press conference  held on the occasion of the launch of his Ministry’s new website, Tribal Affairs minister  said that Maoist violence is a deeper problem and cannot be treated as a mere law and order problem.  “There is rampant exploitation of tribals and the lack of development is also a part of the problem,” he said. The lack of development in these areas is the reason for such attacks, he said, while laying emphasis on the need to get to the root cause of the problem.

In the wake of the 25 May Maoist attack on a Congress convoy in , Deo said that at a time when the tribals are caught between the cross-fire of the paramilitary forces and the Maoists, all tribals cannot be painted with the same brush.  “It is really unfortunate that today,  in democratic India a tribal has no choice. He has to choose between the security forces and Maoists,” he added.

Deo said the government needs to be sensible about development in tribal areas, rather than allowing industries to exploit the rich natural resources of these areas. “Where in India have tribals benefited from mining activities? The impoverished have only become further impoverished,” he said while stating that whether or not his cabinet colleagues were for this kind of development, he is strongly opposed to it.  “This kind of development is a clear violation of our social obligations.”

Tribals are not our enemy but civilians of the country and our paramilitary forces are the ones who are trained to fight the enemy. But Salwa Judum is the biggest threat to peace.  Keeping young tribals in concentration camps and depriving them of their rights is not the answer. It is the worst thing that can happen”, he said.

An all party meeting to fine-tune the state’s policy on tackling Maoist violence is scheduled for later today

 

#India – Face to Face: Kishore Chandra Deo, Union Mininster for Tribal Affairs and Panchayati Raj


 

Akash Bisht Delhi

A five-time MP from Araku (ST) constituency of Andhra PradeshKishore Chand Deowas first elected to the Lok Sabha way back in 1977. He also served one term in the Rajya Sabha and was a member of the Congress Working Committee.  He was sworn in as theUnion Minister for Tribal Affairs and Panchayati Raj in 2011 and has also been a chairperson of several important parliamentary committees. In the wake of the cold-blooded murder of tribals in ChhattisgarhHardnews spoke to the veteran politician

 

Q | On May 17, eight tribals, including three children, were killed by the security forces in Ehadsameta in Bijapur district in Bastar region of Chhattisgarh. This comes nearly a year after 17 innocent villagers were killed in cold blood by the security forces in Sarkeguda.

Last year, when it happened in Chhattisgarh, I had raised the matter with the appropriate authorities and had taken it up with the then Union home minister and also written to the state government. I can only say that this is most unfortunate because if innocent tribals start losing their lives in this manner then it will only create more resentment among them. This kind of action will further drive them into the arms of the extremists. I have said time and again that, to understand the reasons for the extremist problems, we have to get to the roots of it. I want to reiterate that the problem in these areas cannot be treated merely as a law and order one. The problems at the grassroots are far deeper. We have recognized the problems and created an Integrated Action Plan (IAP) for selected tribal and backward districts.

Exploitation is one of the biggest problems staring at tribal populations in these areas. The threat of mining is severe. If we talk about development then the UPA believes in inclusive growth and it means that the process of development should take along people from the poorest, exploited and marginalized sections of society.

Recently, I came to know about the exploitation of tribals in Mahan Coal Fields (Singrauli) in Madhya Pradesh. I got feedback from the locals that the district administration and main functionaries of panchayats have been manipulated by private miners. I am told that merely 15-20 people of the gram sabha had passed contrived resolutions. This was against the directions from the panchayati raj ministry that the gram sabha meetings have to be video recorded. It also goes against the directions of the tribal affairs ministry that community rights have to be recognized. A contrived gram sabha not allowing community rights to the tribals goes against every constitutional provision. This is the first time I was hearing that tribal communities do not want their rights. This is their mainstay and basic source of their livelihood; that is why I sent guidelines and circulars defining what community rights and resources mean. Thus, when such situations arise, you have such unfortunate events like what happened in Chhattisgarh.

Probably, it’s one of those incidents where force was used to tame the people, but this will only polarize people against the State. After all, the State has to gain the sympathy of the people and they have to realize and recognize their rights. The security forces have to be within the perimeters of the existing laws and if you keep flouting laws and conventions then this is what it will result in. This is very sad.

Q | It has been reported that the post-mortems of the dead tribals were being conducted in the open.

It is not only gory, it is inhuman and this is not the way you deal with your own citizens. Health and law and order are under the jurisdiction of the state government. This doesn’t mean that I am trying to play politics; these things have happened under Congress governments too. I have not spared my own party governments and chief ministers. This is not a party matter and is above politics. These situations, when they develop, become a threat to our nation’s security. It is beyond party matters. The states will have to take up the responsibilities and security forces have to restrain themselves when it comes to dealing with innocent people.

It’s no excuse to say that they were being used as human shields and hence they massacred them. Why were they being used as human shields? You have to go into the causes for that. Once you understand that then you can get to the root of the problem. I have discussed this with the present home minister and he understands this very well. He was totally in agreement with me that this is not the way to handle such situations. I will again be writing to the chief ministers, the home minister and environment and forests ministry. If mining clearances are given without the consent of tribals then you will only be antagonizing them. 

Q |There were protests and anger after the gangrape of a young girl in Delhi, but not many spoke about Soni Sori and how she was tortured and sexually assaulted by the Chhattisgarh police.

I was the one who took up her case. It was raised in the Rajya Sabha by an MP. There was an instance when AIIMS refused to admit her despite a court order. I ensured that she was admitted to the hospital and given proper treatment. We need to create awareness among people about their rights.

 

Q | There are reports that Operation Green Hunt is still being pursued by security forces.

If there are any such reports then I will take it up with the appropriate authorities. I am not opposing that certain operations need to be carried out in certain areas, but there has to be some cause. Going around in a trigger-happy mood and shooting innocent people is not the way to go about it.

 

Q |What role do these gram sabhas and panchayats play in tribal areas? Recent reports suggest that there has been an increase of 25 per cent in centrally sponsored schemes but India still ranks very low in the Human Development Index. The scenario is worse in tribal areas.

They play a very vital role in these impoverished regions and if gram sabhas are allowed to play their role, they will do it. The problem is similar to what I mentioned earlier in Mahan Coal Fields. The tribals wanted to file claims under the Forest Rights Act but their claims were not accepted by the local authorities. If you want to empower people, gram sabhasmust be held regularly. I have sent circulars and they need to be video recorded. Video recording is no big deal today and there are cameras available everywhere. Twenty years back they could have said that it is a utopian idea, but that is not the case now. This is to prevent contrived gram sabha resolutions; if people are allowed to play their roles, half of our problems will be solved.

Panchayati raj is a state subject and every state has its own Panchayati Raj Act. My job is to raise awareness, issue guidelines and monitor. Officially, guidelines have been issued. For instance, they need to hold four gram sabhas every year. I would be happy if they have 40, but they have to be genuine. If the state governments do not comply then there is very little that one can do. This year we have launched the Rajiv Gandhi Panchayati Raj Sashakti karan Abhiyan (RGPSA); this is demand-driven. The annual budget allocation for the panchayati raj ministry is Rs 300-350 crore. I have got Rs 6,200 crore from the Planning Commission for the Five Year Plan under RGPSA. That makes it close to Rs 500 crore annually. The Union ministry for rural development has agreed to give one per cent of its annual allocation because most of their schemes have to be implemented and channelized through the gram panchayats. It may be only one per cent for the rural development minister, but for me it is nearly Rs 1,000 crore, as his annual budget is Rs 99,000 crore per annum. So, in total, it makes Rs 1,500 crore a year which is substantial as compared to what I was getting earlier.

I am ready to give funds to strengthen the panchayati raj infrastructure. I have put some conditions and they have to comply with provisions of the 73rd and 74th amendments of the Constitution. First, they will have to hold elections within six months as prescribed by the Constitution. Then, they will have to devolve their funds, functions and functionaries and hold gram sabhas regularly. I have evolved this marking system where I will be marking them according to these constitutional provisions. States that will comply will get funds accordingly, and since all state governments want funds, so, I think. I will be able to convince them.

Another important thing is that I am not thrusting these funds for any specific purpose. One state may say that they have sufficient panchayat ghars and they don’t want money for that but they want money to pay salaries. I have asked them to give me plans and, based on the requirements, I plan to give them the money. The Union communications ministry has promised that they will give broadband connections to 2,46,000 panchayats in the country by 2014. In fact, they have already done it for 50,000 panchayats. In remote and tribal areas, where there is no power, we will have solar systems. So, the states that need money for computers or solar equipment, I will give them money. We have four software systems that many states are using and six more software systems have been developed and people are being trained. Once the training is over then the state governments will have 10 software systems to use. There will be social accounting and e-governance, and everything that is going on in these panchayats will be documented. This will help us monitor these schemes and take them forward. 

Q | Which are the states that are doing well?

There are certain states that have been doing well but nobody has devolved all the 29 items that are in Schedule 5 of the Constitution. Some states comply with 12, some with 14. States like Kerala, West Bengal, Odisha and Karnataka have been doing very well. In the last couple of years, Haryana has been lagging behind, but now it is performing well. I have started a trend of giving awards for the best performing states. Now, we are also giving awards to specific panchayats for good practices. All this is to sensitize them and give them incentives to make them aware. Recently, there was a Commonwealth Conference for local bodies in Uganda. Unfortunately, the ministry of external affairs made the urban development ministry as the nodal ministry, although the Commonwealth was keen that we participate. I wanted to send some panchayati raj representatives to the conference to give them a sense of empowerment.

 

Q |What about states that are performing below your expectations?

We have not made a list of that. Jharkhand is one such state that hasn’t had elections in 12 years; they had elections when Arjun Munda came to power. The elected representatives are there but what will they do if you don’t give them any funds or devolve any functions? I had written to the chief minister and had gone to Ranchi. Ultimately, the call has to be taken by them.

Another example is Jammu and Kashmir. They had elections after 12 years, but no functions have been given to these elected representatives. No funds are given to them for whatever reasons. They said that because of Article 370 they are not bound by the 73rd and 74thamendments. I said fine, they must be having a Panchayati Raj Act of their own so they should devolve powers according to that. That is not happening. In my state, Andhra Pradesh, there have been no elections in the last two years — hence, there are nopanchayats. So, whom do you talk to? I have been writing to them and there is a constitutional requirement that they have to do it in six months. Besides, this is a Congress-ruled state.  

Q | In north India, panchayats are feudal in nature and Dalits and minorities have no say in them. Similarly, in tribal areas, tribals have no say and local bodies are easily bought off by big business and multinationals. How do you counter this?

Gram sabhas have a special role to play in these areas under statutory provisions within the Panchayat Extension to Scheduled Areas (PESA) Act. This was enacted by the central government in 1996. Fifteen years have passed, but, unfortunately, out of the nine scheduled states, only three have made rules. Six have not even done this and they have made their own rules. According to PESA all state governments have to amend their Panchayati Raj Act to see that they are compliant with PESA, but they have not done so. According to PESA, gram sabhas will not be in the panchayat level, but it will be held in every habitation. This is a clarification that I have sent to all state governments of the scheduled states.

Ultimately, they have to take the call. By empowering the gram sabha, we can give the people the role, however indirect it may be, to partake in the process of governance and development. This is one way to draw tribals into the mainstream and to make them feel that they are part of governance. This should get them out of these threats of taking to extremist ways.

In the scheduled areas, even if multinationals buy the panchayats, they cannot enter since there are constitutional provisions and safeguards under Article 244 and the Fifth Schedule. Constitutional safeguards and provisions cannot be overridden by resolutions of gram sabhas or panchayats and even by the devious methods deployed by the state government to flagrantly and blatantly overcome constitutional safeguards. This is totally illegal.

Governors have special powers, so I have written to governors of all scheduled states. I received a reply from the governor of Chhattisgarh. I have written to the governor of Odisha arguing that constitutional provisions have been totally violated in the case of Vedanta. It is a scheduled area and Vedanta is a private company which has no locus standi there. I have written to the governor of Andhra Pradesh who chose to abdicate his powers and rights and I had to take other action.

If you take the case of the Orissa Mining Corporation which is registered under the Companies Act, 1956, these are corporations that can’t take land in Schedule 5 areas. Irrespective of that provision they give land on lease to private companies like Vedanta. This is completely against the provisions of the Constitution. In recent times, there have been a number of cases where shares have been disinvested in such companies. Article 244 of the Constitution can only be amended by Parliament in the manner prescribed in Article 368 of the Constitution. Hence, by disinvesting and taking this surreptitious route, are they not subverting constitutional provisions and bypassing the authority of Parliament?

I have sent a letter based on the Supreme Court ruling on Vedanta. The Supreme Court, in its order, has mentioned about Article 144 (1), but they have not gone deep into the matter. Probably, the counsel who was arguing this case didn’t raise this. The counsel was from the ministry of environment and forests. By the time I became minister, it was too late for the tribal affairs to get involved in this case. But I did raise a lot of hue and cry and I saw to it that an affidavit from my ministry went to the Attorney General who gave it to the Supreme Court. That is the reason why they have made my ministry the nodal authority for looking at the Forests Rights Act and PESA compliances in the Vedanta case.

 

#India- Dealing with Maoists


The Maoists want a military conflict as it brings more adivasis into their fold. The Indian state‘s best bet is in ensuring that it wins over the aam adivasis to its side.

May 25th’s condemnable attack by the People’s Liberation Guerrilla Army, which ended up killing and injuring over 50 people from Congress politicians to migrant adivasi labourers, cannot be understood without recognising the Maoist party’s explicit political aims. These aims include zero tolerance for any competing political force in the party’s area of armed influence. Also, as stated often by male members of the party’s non-adivasi leadership, the polarising hardships created by military conflict are desirable since they hold the opportunity of swelling the party’s ranks.

But to make deeper sense of the attack, Indians must also acknowledge the routine stymieing of democracy and governance in adivasi India— the context that nurtures the current avatar of India’s four-decade-old Naxalite rebellion.

If the Indian establishment wishes to effectively end such attacks in the long run, it cannot sidestep a hard look at why it stands so discredited in the aam adivasi’s eyes across central and eastern India. If  “democratic values” are what are at stake, as leading politicians argued in the wake of the attack, their parties must also act to uphold and defend such values in numerous adivasi blocks where the Maoists neither challenge the writ of the state nor hold out the threat of political assassinations.

Here are some specifics dos and don’ts:

1. Implement land rights safeguards: From the adivasi bonded labour agitations in neglected western Orissa to the struggles against losing land and livelihoods for mining and industrialization across the bauxite, coal and iron ore-rich tracts of central and eastern India, land is at the heart of much of the ongoing violence adivasis suffer. This despite clear safeguards in the Constitution, dedicated land alienation laws and the atrocities act, all of which are meant to prevent and redress adivasi displacement and dispossession. Existing constitutional and legal provisions have to be seriously implemented to address this growing crisis.

2. Fast-track the Forest Rights ActFrom the adivasi perspective, the 2006 Forest Rights Act (FRA) was arguably the most meaningful legislation of independent India. It overturned colonial notions of the state as owner of the forest, and recognised adivasis and other forest-inhabitants as rightful cultivators of forest produce and key actors in forest conservation. But states have been reluctant to cede control— as per the government’s latest status report (April 2013), under 50% of land title claims filed by villagers in Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Maharashtra and Orissa have resulted in titles. On the ground, this translates into deliberate neglect. In a mid-May interview with one of the columnists, residents of a Gond village in Orissa’s forested coal belt said they had filed FRA claims in 2010 but there was no administrative action to process them. Instead, forest officials had been making rounds of the village with officials of a private mining company. The other important aspect of the law—giving adivasi communities the right to market their forest produce—has been implemented in only a handful of villages across India.

3. Stop criminalising legitimate spaces of expression and protest: A wide spectrum of non-violent adivasi movements today exist on the ground, agitating on multiple issues including forced displacement, the loss of access to natural resources, the absence of meaningful economic and social rehabilitation, below-minimum wages, government liquor shops and indebtedness. Many of these struggles get little public or media attention. The state’s common reaction is to throttle and intimidate such agitations, often through outright physical assaults or by filing criminal charges against protestors, including those of Naxalism. In Chhattisgarh, such non-violent movements have had to coalesce under a single banner hoping for strength in numbers, given the perennial fear of imprisonment under the state’s harsh Public Security Act.

4. Pay closer attention to justice: The criminal justice system as it exists today is loaded against the adivasi. On the one hand, there is little recognition for crimes—from police atrocities to cheating and forced displacement—committed against the adivasi. NHRC’s April visit to Chattisgarh reinforced this principle of zero culpability when it did not recommend criminal charges in any of the questionable encounters that killed adivasi villagers. On the other hand, adivasis are routinely picked up and imprisoned, spending years in a hostile system they can make little sense of. Court proceedings often take place in a language they do not understand, the official legal aid system takes little interest in them, and private lawyers who can get them bail are beyond reach. This April, a year after a committee was set up to examine cases of adivasi prisoners, its head and former bureaucrat Nirmala Buch said she did not know if the Chhattisgarh government had acted on the recommendation that prosecutors not oppose bail for 110 adivasi undertrials in the 235 cases the committee had examined. Undertake a dedicated review of adivasi undertrials, and act on its findings. Create a distinctive legal aid program for adivasis with funds from the Tribal Sub-plan budget. Institute criminal charges on adivasi complaints.

5. Hold businesses accountable: Among the leading violators of human rights in India’s adivasi belt are businesses, in particular mining corporations who have made an unparalleled entry into these areas over the past decade. This presence will only expand in the coming years, but there is alarmingly little attention by the state on the profound implications of this for vulnerable communities on the ground. Corporate misdemeanours range from intimidating gram sabhas, falsifying records, fixing public hearings, nurturing land speculation and alienation, bribing politicians, the bureaucracy and the district media to facilitate violations, sapping natural resources including groundwater, and polluting without any notion of having to pay for it. All of these are open secrets through various levels of government. Yet a blind eye is turned since the consequences of these violations are primarily borne by adivasis. Businesses operating in adivasi areas need to be held to a code of conduct with clear principles of responsibility and accountability.

6. Address the head-on policy collision between mining and adivasi rights: There is a nascent but overdue debate within government on how mining in its current form is incompatible with the constitutional provisions for adivasis. V Kishore Chandra Deo, the most engaged Tribal Affairs Minister India has seen in a long time, has repeatedly pointed to the crisis of confidence and trust in adivasi areas mining is causing. He took this position most strongly in a letter on April 4 to the governors of all adivasi-populated states, men of power who have routinely ignored their constitutional mandate of ensuring ‘peace and good governance’ in adivasi areas. Deo’s concerns over mining have been publicly seconded by his colleague Jairam Ramesh. It is no coincidence that these are the only cabinet members who spend time in adivasi areas and see the damage on the ground first-hand. What is the larger strategic plan for our mineral resources and where might we draw the line on the social and economic costs adivasis bear for our extractive industries? Give these questions the seriousness they deserve, even though they are difficult ones to ask, when spoils from mining enrich individual MPs and MLAs across party lines, and bankroll electoral campaigns.

7. Engage, don’t exclude: Through a series of executive orders, the current government has shrunk the legitimate powers of gram sabhas in adivasi areas to participate in decisions over matters that affect them, from developmental and mining projects to diverting and destroying forests. None of these rollbacks were run by locals or justified to them. They orders came in response to high-level lobbying, and often after explicit PMO directives. The effective message to adivasis is that their participation is irrelevant, or an irritant. Dedicated area development funds in adivasi areas such as the Integrated Action Plan are imbued with a similar scuttling of participatory norms. IAP funds, hundreds of crores of rupees, are entirely controlled by 3 district bureaucrats, violating the legal mandates of local communities and elected panchayats. What proportion of IAP money and energies were spent to engage communities in key challenges like creating accessible and meaningful healthcare in their area?

8. Don’t patronise the adivasi: Adivasis are not our ‘backward’ siblings but full and equal citizens confronted with, and living through enormous inequality and injustice. Recognize that adivasi societies are home to deep and distinctive traditions, which add to the diversity India takes pride in. They also possess an evolved ecological awareness, acquired over generations of managing their environments and livelihoods— knowledge systems that arguably rival those of the most celebrated “development experts”. If the rest of India has the humility to listen, adivasi communities might hold valuable policy insights on how we could avoid replicating the fate of China, which has gravely damaged its environment on the path to economic progress. Incidentally, adivasi societies also possess better sex ratios than some of India’s most developed areas including South Delhi and South Mumbai. Don’t look down on adivasis for “staying aloof from the meanstream [sic] of modern society”, as one government document on Malkangiri’s IAP put it. The fundamental issue seeking resolution is not adivasi difference, but mitigating the inequality and injustice that compromise democratic values for them at every turn.


Chitrangada Choudhury is Research Fellow, Centre for the Study of Developing Societies. Ajay Dandekar is Professor, Central University, Gujarat.

 

Press Release – Unending Spiral of Violence: Darbha


PEOPLE’S UNION FOR DEMOCRATIC RIGHTS

PRESS RELEASE

31st May 2013

Unending Spiral of Violence: Darbha

The People’s Union for Democratic Rights (PUDR) notes with concern the sad loss of 30 lives in the Maoist attack on the “Parivartan Rally” of Congress Party on 25 May 2013. This is the latest in the series of killings, big and small, in the ongoing undeclared war that the Indian government is waging against our own people. Many of the victims of this war are poor adivasis killed in operations by the security forces, that the government assiduously attempts to hide from the public at large. But, as in the present instance, ruling party functionaries, security forces personnel and Maoist cadres have also lost their lives.

Since 2005, the PUDR and a number of civil liberties organizations have been consistently alerting the public to this escalating war against the poorest of our citizens. Between May 2012 and May 2013 there has been a six to eight times increase in the number of security forces operations being carried out in the Bastar division of Chhattisgarh. In every district no less than 10-15 operations were already being carried out each month. These are being conducted away from the prying eye of the media and civil liberties activists and civilian access to these areas is severely curtailed. On 17 May, ten days before the attack on Congress leaders, nine persons including three children were killed by the security forces in the village of Ehadesmeta.

While PUDR sees the killing of two people who were taken into custody in this instance as an act that cannot be justified and against the rules of war, there is a need to speak out about the role of parties such as Congress and BJP in launching Salwa Judum, which was designed to terrorise the adivasis of Bastar. Congress leaders like Mahendra Karma, the BJP led Chhattisgarh government and the UPA government patronized this murderous enterprise until it was declared illegal by the Supreme Court of India. While Salwa Judum may have formally ended, the elements which comprised the SJ including its leaders and handlers in the security establishment were either incorporated in the ongoing operations as regular forces or some of them chose to switch from being ‘hunters’ to ‘running with the hares’ with impending state assembly elections due in November. In any case, every attempt to prosecute those guilty of the heinous crimes had been frustrated by the governments in power. So the carnage that took place on 26 May was something, unfortunately, waiting to happen.

The governments have plainly connected the continuation of the ongoing war with the prospects of growth in national income. None other than Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh declared Maoists to be the single biggest internal security threat in 2006. Speaking to IPS probationers on 24th December 2010, he also explained the reason for the war: “Naxalism today afflicts the Central India parts where the bulk of India’s mineral wealth lies and if we don’t control Naxalism we have to say goodbye to our country’s ambitions to sustain growth rate of 10-11 per cent per annum.”

All doubts were laid to rest when government actions confirmed the verbal declarations. In Saranda forest of Jharkhand, once the Maoists were forced to pull back, the Forest Advisory Committee of the Ministry of Environment and Forests began clearing proposals of mining corporations to take over forests for non-forest use. It led Minister for Rural Development, Jairam Ramesh, to complain on 7 February 2013 that “I have been at great pains to counter Maoist propaganda that the Saranda Development Project is a ploy to benefit private mining interests. This Forest Advisory Committee decision is a huge setback and very retrograde” (8 February 2013, Indian Express, Delhi). The Union Tribal Affairs Minister Kishore Chandra Deo complained to Hindustan Times (17 May 2013) that “my permission [is] not required nor my opinion is sought in matters relating to tribals. My voice goes unheard”.

On the other hand, legislations and constitutional provisions meant to safeguard tribals are being thrown to the winds. The fate of the Forest Rights Act (FRA), the showpiece legislation of UPA-I, ostensibly promulgated for empowering forest dwellers, is a case in point. Quite apart from its poor implementation, the core issue of Gram Sabha’s “consent” for non-tribal use of tribal land has been diluted not just in the name of “linear projects”, but in the Congress-ruled Andhra Pradesh the government has concluded that under the FRA, Gram Sabha consent is required only to permit mining of minor minerals whereas major minerals such as bauxite and iron ore etc are outside their jurisdiction. Supreme Court’s latest order on Niyamgiri Hills narrows down the jurisdiction of Gram Sabhas by reducing and restricting the definition of impacted area to a radius of ten kilometers, when it is a known fact that livelihood and lives are affected across a much larger area.

It is this continued attack on lives and livelihood of people, threat of displacement from forest areas, dilution of FRA, PESA and complete indifference to Sixth Schedule compounded by the increasing restrictions on public protests, arbitrary laws to prosecute those who oppose their dispossession and bans on political opinion that is responsible for the civil unrest that pervades our society. It is this government that places the requirements of Foreign Direct Investment above the needs of our own people, and which attempts to ram down this “development model” with the barrel of a gun, that is at fault.

As the war is being scaled up it is also turning ugly. PUDR, therefore, urges all people to bring pressure on the ruling parties at the Centre and the nine state governments currently carrying out this war, to de-escalate the militarisation of this region and show a commitment towards dialogue. We hope that the deaths of 30 persons in the present instance and of hundreds of people in the past eight years are sufficient reason for people to recognize the absurdity of this war.

In the meantime, we ask the Government of India to shed its policy of deniability and accept that it is engaged in an internal war. And we ask both sides to abide by the rules that govern war by declaring its commitment to common article 3 of Geneva Convention and Protocol II, which applies to non-international armed conflict.

Asish Gupta and D. Manjit

(Secretaries)

 

Naxalism in Chhattisgarh is a fallout of Salwa Judum: Tribal Affairs Minister


naxalites

By ET Bureau | 30 May, 2013,

 

What you have seen in Bastar over the last two weeks - starting with Sarkeguda and then this massacre - is nothing but chain reaction to Salwa Judum, says KC Deo
What you have seen in Bastar over the last two weeks – starting with Sarkeguda and then this massacre – is nothing but chain reaction to Salwa Judum, says KC Deo
What you have seen in Bastar over the last two weeks – starting with Sarkeguda and then this massacre – is nothing but chain reaction to Salwa Judum, says Tribal Affairs Minister Kishore Chandra Deo

Do you need to rethink the strategy against Naxalism after Bastar? 

All this is the fallout of Salwa Judum. I had opposed the movement since Shivraj Patilwas home minister. What you have seen in Bastar over the last two weeks – starting with Sarkeguda and then this massacre – is nothing but chain reaction to Salwa Judum.

Do you think the government should change its strategy? 

How? All along they have been taking police action. I have been saying that we need to take action wherever there is a law and order situation but the stress should be on developmental activities

The government has many schemes, like Integrated Action Plan… 

These have shown results in some areas but there is the need to involve people in decision-making. Present schemes put all power in the hands of DMs, district forest officer and the superintendent of police.

How should the government approach the Naxal problem? 

Development should precede combing operations. I come from a Naxal-affected area. One part of my constituency, Parvatipuram, had this problem. The only way we could tackle it was by first building roads, then supplying drinking water and then all other facilities followed. While constructing roads, you must provide security so that you can tackle the Naxals.

You seem to differ with your colleague Jairam Ramesh who termed Maoists as terrorists…

I wouldn’t go to that extent. They are extremists, yes. Their actions are of an extremely undemocratic nature.

Congress is talking about a nexus between the corporates and Naxals… 

That’s true. Some private firm employees were caught with money which had to be paid to Naxals. But after those news items we found nothing. Why was there no probe? Corporate houses pay protection money.

Interviewed by Nidhi Sharma

 

#India – Salwa Judum’s record: 99 allegations of rape, not a single FIR


by  , First Post

When the Supreme Court in 2011 banned the Salwa Judum, a state-sponsored tribal militia propped up to counter Maoists in Chhattisgarh, it ordered the state government to investigate and register FIRs against all alleged criminal activities of the Salwa Judum.

In addition to allegations of murder (500 cases) and arson (103 cases), 99 affidavits were submitted to the Supreme Court accusing the tribal militia of rape. Women have been victimised by the Salwa Judum says the lawyer. AFP Women have been victimised by the Salwa Judum says the lawyer. AFP Two years after the judgment, the state is yet to register its first FIR against the Salwa Judum for sexual violence. “Where ever there is a war, women are the most vulnerable. In the Salwa Judum case itself there are affidavits in the Supreme Court regarding some 99 rapes and the court has to decide what to do about them. I personally had taken up the cases of six women that had not been registered by the Superintendent of Police. They had filed a private complaint and given their statements before the Magistrate. But ultimately they had to take back those statements under pressure and were not able to pursue them,” says Sudha Bharadwaj, Bilaspur-based advocate and General Secretary of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) in Chhattisgarh. Expressing her disappointment to instances of the system’s unresponsiveness to injustices against tribals, Bharadwaj says, “When people have tried to raise issues in court, they have often been victimised. Cases of human rights violations have been pending before the Supreme Court, the High Court, the National Human Rights Commisssion (NHRC) years. Even in the recent Sarkeguda Judicial Enquiry, people have given their affidavits but nothing has happened so far. Unfortunately our institutions are failing people.” On 25 May, Mahendra Karma, the architect of Salwa Judum, was among the 28 people who were gunned down in a brutal attack by Maoists who opened fire on a convoy of Congress leaders while they were returning from a political rally. A recent statement issued by the PUCL condemning the cold blooded attack on unarmed political workers of the Congress party and as “unacceptable” and “reprehensible” draws attention to the ongoing cycle of violence in the state. “Under no circumstances can acts of brutality be justified, even if they be in response to equally heinous and brutal acts unleashed by the security forces, as we are seeing presently in Chhattisgarh, as recently as the killing of eight innocent tribal villagers in Edasmeta village of South Bastar on 17 May and 18 May, 2013, or in response to the brutalities committed by the vigilante Salwa Judum founded by the deceased Mahendra Karma,” reads the PUCL statement. Speaking about the apprehensions of tribals about fresh military operations by the government following last week’s attack, Bharadwaj says, “The Chhattisgarh PUCL has condemned the attack by Maoists in no uncertain terms. However, our great concern is that the only response we find from both the State and the Central government is of stepping up militarisation. While we totally appreciate the concerns on the law and order front, the basic democratic issues of the people of this region have to be kept in mind, they have to be addressed. Otherwise, it will be impossible to de-escalate this violence, to reduce the alienation of the tribal people.” A big concern that has now is the danger of displacement due to further militarisation of the region, says Bharadwaj. “In the course of the hearing of the Salwa Judum case, the NHRC had recommended that all internally-displaced persons should be rehabilitated in their villages. We seriously fear that with increased militarisation there might be more people fleeing. This should not be the case. Counter-insurgency operations should not become ground-clearing operations,” says Bharadwaj. Humanitarian medical agencies such as the MSF and Red Cross which are already operating in Bastar should be given free access to the region to provide medical care in order not to risk “criminalising an entire population”  she adds. “That will lead to serious collateral damage. A lot of innocent adivasis will get killed.” Urging for better sense to prevail, Bharadwaj refers to the government’s own reports that have argued at looking at left-wing extremism as more than a crisis of law and order. “The recommendations of the Expert Group of the Planning Commission on Left Wing Extremism, the Report of the Ministry of Rural Development, the NC Saxena Report on implementation of forest rights, and the recent letter of the Union Minister for Tribal Affairs Kishore Chandra Deo all speak very strongly about the importance of implementing PESA and the Forest Rights Act in its true spirit, about empowering the Gram Sabhas, about the need for taking people in confidence before mining or industrialization, and how these are the underlying issues which are feeding Naxalism. If they are not addressed, and people continue to be displaced or criminalised, it will result in further spiraling of violence,” says Bharadwaj.

 

Villagers’ bid to decide Vedanta project fate puts Niyamgiri hills on radar


By Nitin Sethi, TNN | 10 May, 2013
NEW DELHI: The villages of DongriyaKondhtribals around Odisha‘sNiyamgiri hills are set to become a flash point again, with the Centre and the state government along with civil society groups planning to converge on the site of the proposed Vedanta bauxite mine. Emboldened by the Supreme Court order, the villagers are to decide the fate of the Vedanta project and take a call whether the venture would affect their religious and other rights.

The tribal affairs ministry has moved with alacrity to order Odisha to ensure the tribal group can vote freely. It has asked the Naveen Patnaikgovernment to ensure all villages, which express their rights in the contentious zone, are identified and given the opportunity to decide the project’s fate.

Civil society groups too have begun to mobilize their own resources – experts and manpower – to make sure there are third party observers at the site, which has been turned into a fortified and well policed zone by the state government ever since the row erupted.

Battle-lines have been drawn among the Centre, Odisha government and corporate interests over the high-profile project. The interpretation of the rules and the court order has started in earnest within various quarters of both central and state government. One section has begun pushing an interpretation of the apex court order that would reduce the number of tribal village councils that would get to decide the venture’s fate.

Another set within the government has tried to interpret the law and the SC order to suggest that the tribal gram sabha can only put forth claims about their rights – religious or otherwise – but they would have to be settled at a higher level, where the state bureaucracy wields power and influence.

Any curb on gram sabha powers through interpretation of the law or restricting the number of gram sabhas that do get to vote is expected to be as critical as the freedom with which the village councils do get to meet finally amid heavy state ‘bandobast’ and the judicial monitoring that the apex court has ordered.

The extra-ordinary promptness and enthusiasm shown by the tribal affairs ministry in this case has as much to do with the apex court’s verdict as the ministry’s need to be seen aligned with the drift of the Congress leadership on the case. After it had come out standing by the PMO in favour of dilution of the Forest Rights Act (FRA) — something the environment ministry had used to finally step back in favour of partial dilution of tribal rights over forests — the tribal affairs ministry is bound to pounce on this one single case to prove its credentials.

Environment minister Jayanthi Natarajan had scored a point or two with the Congress leadership by deftly handling the case, using the rather innovative ploy of religious rights to defend the UPA’s decision to block Vedanta’s mining rather than the regulations that empower tribal gram sabhas to reject projects that impinge on their forests. Using the latter defense would have spelt trouble for the government that has allowed several other projects on forestland without seeking similar gram sabha clearances.

The occasion of Dongriya Kondh tribals voting has presented tribal affairs minister Kishore Chandra Deo the opportunity to reassert his primacy over the FRA, a UPA pro-tribal promise he had earlier led from front in the party to get through Parliament.

 

#India- Shut all mines in tribal areas


DNA Special

Tuesday, Apr 9, 2013, 3:00 IST | Place: New Delhi | Agency: DNA

Tribal minister shoots letter to 9 guvs seeking cancellation of leases.

Union tribal affairs minister V Kishore Chandra Deo has asked governors of nine states to invoke their special powers to revoke lease agreements and MoUs signed between state governments and corporates to extract mineral wealth in tribal areas.

Pointing out that power lobbies were disregarding land regulations, he castigated the Congress-ruled Andhra Pradesh government. The union minister, who is also from Andhra Pradesh, said the higher echelons of power in the state were themselves trying to brazenly distort not only the law but also  constitutional safeguards against the interests of tribal and other forest-dwellers.

In an identical letter written on April 4 to the governors of Bihar, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand, Maharashtra, Odisha, Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh and Himachal Pradesh, the minister even linked indiscriminate mining activities to national security by propelling the Left Wing extremism.

He even went to the extent castigating his own government saying the insensitivity to the plight and problems of this entire population is the greatest challenge the nation is facing at present.

“The main threat today is the mining in Schedule V areas which has shaken the confidence and faith of the people in the region in our democratic system.”

He has reminded governors that Article 244 of the Constitution vests not only independent legislative authority on them but also allows them to restrict any law of parliament or state legislature from its implementation to a scheduled area in their states to protect rights of tribes and marginalised sections.

“The governor may repeal or amend any Act of parliament or of the legislature or any existing law which is for the time being applicable to the area in question, when good governance or peace is distributed due to issues related either with land or money lending,” writes the minister.

He further told governors that they are not bound by the aid and advice by the council of ministers under these circumstances.

The minister further urged the governors to use their executive powers and revoke lease agreements which are proving a threat to peace and good governance in these areas.

“I would like to emphasise the fact that the leases and MoUs are mere arrangement s/agreements between two parties and are not exactmetns of either assembly of parliament,” he said.