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


 Down to Earth
Author(s): Sonum Gayatri M…
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

 

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.

 

Panel for ban on mining in 37 % of Western Ghats #goodnews


PRISCILLA JEBARAJ, The Hindu

Identifying 37 per cent — or about 60,000 square km — of the Western Ghats as ecologically sensitive, a high-level panel has recommended that “destructive” activities such as mining, thermal power, major construction, and some hydel power projects should not be allowed there.

However, the panel was silent about any restrictions in the remaining 96,000 square km area, thus creating the perception that it had diluted earlier recommendations that the entire Ghats should be declared as an eco-sensitive area.

The panel, headed by space scientist and Planning Commission member K. Kasturirangan, which submitted its report to Environment Minister Jayanthi Natarajan on Wednesday, was initially set up to review the more stringent recommendations of the Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel (WGEEP) headed by ecologist Madhav Gadgil.

The Gadgil report had wanted the entire area of the Ghats to be graded into three levels of eco-sensitive zones, each of which would have different restrictions. It had faced uproar from State governments and industries which were alarmed by the curbs on development in almost 70 per cent of the biodiverse range of mountains spanning six States.

The new high-level panel has taken a different approach. Taking advantage of Dr. Kasturirangan’s connections with ISRO, it has used satellite data to produce a far more detailed database, with a resolution of 24 square metres as opposed to the 9 square km used by the Gadgil report. It then used remote sensing technology to distinguish between “natural landscapes” and “cultural landscapes” which include human settlements, fields and plantations.

It recommends “a prohibitory regime on those activities with maximum interventionist and destructive impact on the environment” on about 90 per cent of the area of “natural landscapes”. The four major restrictions in this area would be a total ban on fresh mining and a five-year phase-out of current mining, a ban on thermal power, all “red” category industries, all townships and any construction above 20,000 square metres. Hydel power projects will be allowed subject to certain conditions, in stark contrast to the Gadgil recommendations, and a small window of hope has been provided for the future of the controversial Athirapally hydel power project in Kerala. Also, the land-use change restrictions recommended by the WGEEP have been discarded.

Explaining that restraints cannot be imposed on areas where people already live and work, the report argues: “It is not wilderness area, but the habitat of its people, who share the landscape with biological diversity. It is not possible to plan for Western Ghats, only as a fenced-in zone, with no human influence.” Instead, the report called for incentivising green growth in the “cultural landscape” areas.

After submitting the report, Dr. Kasturirangan said the next step must be to focus on the biodiversity that is still left. “It is imperative that we protect, manage and regenerate the lands now remaining in the Western Ghats as biologically rich, diverse, natural landscapes. We have reached a threshold from which we cannot slip further,” he said.

WGEEP panel member and TERI executive director Ligia Noronha feels this is not the right approach. “The Western Ghats are not just about what is left. We should be protecting the whole of the Ghats. That is why we wanted a gradation of zones, a more nuanced approach to eco-sensitive zones. [The Kasturirangan panel] seems to have gone back to the mindset of carving out certain protected areas, rather than keeping the whole ecosystem in mind,” she says.

However, Kasturirangan panel member Sunita Narain, who also heads the Centre for Science and Environment, said that their report was actually “implementable..Senior Environment Ministry officials quietly agreed, expressing the hope that the “more sensible” recommendations would attract less opposition from the States.

Ms. Narain also pointed out that the Kasturirangan panel had left the ball firmly in the Central government’s court.

“We want to ensure effective protection right now, not in ten years’ time,” she said.

 

#India- Tribal affairs ministry against MoEF move to dilute forest rights Act #CSR


 

MoEF notification on 5 February says linear projects such as roads, canals wouldn’t require gram sabha consent
Liz Mathew   |  Neha Sethi  ,           First Published: Fri, Mar 29 2013. 10 28 PM IST, livemint.com
 
The clearance of such developmental projects shall be subject to the condition that the same is recommended by the gram sabhas, according to the text of the forest rights Act. 
  
New Delhi: A move by the ministry of environment and forests (MoEF) to exempt promoters of so-called linear projects such as roads, pipelines and canals from seeking the consent of village councils in forest areas will likely be a non-starter unless the government moves to amend the forest rights Act (FRA).
MoEF issued a notification on 5 February that such projects, including power transmission lines, wouldn’t require the consent of gram sabhas, or village councils. It acted in the face of criticism over the delay of many infrastructure projects for want of environmental approvals.
But the measure won’t have any constitutional validity until FRA is amended, an official in the tribal affairs ministry said, indicating a possible face-off between MoEF and his ministry.
The person did not want to be identified given the sensitive nature of the ongoing debate within the government.
The tribal affairs ministry has raised its concerns in a letter to MoEF asking it to revise the 5 February notification.
“The concern of this ministry is that it be made amply clear that the rights of FDSTs (forest-dwelling scheduled tribes) and OTFDs (other traditional forest dwellers) on forest land proposed to be diverted must get recognized and vested under the FRA (without any exception) before forest clearance is granted to any such proposal,” said the letter, a copy of which was reviewed by Mint.
The 5 February notification, posted on the MoEF website, states that the decision was taken after consultations with an inter-ministerial committee. However, the tribal affairs ministry contends that it hadn’t been consulted.
The matter was raised at the last meeting of the cabinet committee on investment, but no decision has been taken. “The matter is still unresolved,” said the official cited above. The cabinet committee on investment has been set up to speed up the clearance of big infrastructure projects and is headed by the Prime Minister.
A top environment ministry official said he wasn’t aware of the reservations of the tribal affairs ministry. “The notification that we issued was done after consultation with the tribal affairs ministry, then why will they have a problem?” said the official, who requested anonymity.
The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006, stipulates that projects such as schools, hospitals, anganwadis (child and mother care centres), fair price shops, electric and telecommunication lines, tanks and water bodies, water pipelines, rainwater harvesting structures, minor irrigation canals, vocational training centres, roads and community centres require the permission of village councils.
“The clearance of such developmental projects shall be subject to the condition that the same is recommended by the gram sabhas,” according to the text of the Act.
While clearance for projects is given by MoEF, and the tribal affairs ministry doesn’t play a role in that, it comes into the picture if there is a dispute over gram sabha approval or if “someone contests the clearance given”, said the tribal affairs ministry official cited in the first instance.
In such cases, the tribal affairs ministry will have to go by FRA, the official said.
Clause (11) of FRA states that the tribal affairs ministry is the nodal agency for the implementation of its provisions, the same person said. That’s why the Act will have to be amended for the notification to come into effect, he said.
“How can a memorandum or a notification from a ministry repeal an Act passed by Parliament?” the official said.
The MoEF official cited above said nothing was done by the environment ministry on its own. “It was only after a meeting that the Prime Minister had with both the environment minister, Jayanthi Natarajan, and the tribal affairs minister, V. Kishore Chandra Deo, that it was decided to issue the notification,” the official added.
To be sure, it was unlikely gram sabhas would oppose development projects such as roads, electric transmission lines or drinking water pipelines. FRA, one of the United Progressive Alliance government’s landmark items of legislation in its first term, was passed by Parliament in 2006, said the second official.
Only the nodal ministry, in this case the tribal affairs ministry, can issue fresh guidelines or notifications amending the rules.
“However the tribal affairs ministry has not yet issued any such notification that calls for changing the provisions in the Act,” the same official said.
Tushar Dash, a researcher with Vasundhara, an Orissa-based not-for-profit organization that’s working on forest rights and conservation, said a group of states and non-governmental organizations had raised the issue of the dilution of tribal rights with the tribal affairs ministry earlier this month.
“We had told them to intervene in this matter and make sure that the forest rights Act does not get diluted,” Dash said, adding that if the tribal affairs ministry had written to the environment ministry, then it was definitely “a good move on their part”.

 

 

#Guajarat- Mithi Virdi N-plant environment impact assessment report ignores plight of project affect


February 28, 2013

Sreedhar

By Ashok Shrimali* 
In an authoritative move, top environmentalist-scientist R Sreedhari, managing trustee of the Environics Trust, Mines, Minerals and People (MM&P), has asked Union environment and forests minister Jayanthi Natarajan to urgently cancel the environmental public hearing due to be held on March 5 for the proposed nuclear power plant off Mithi Virdi in Gujarat. Sreedhar believes, the hearing is being held against the backdrop of “non-compliance of key aspects of the terms of reference (TOR) prepared by the Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) meeting, held on February 14, 2011 for the proposed Mithi Virdi Nuclear Power Plant.” The TOR was handed over to the Engineers India Limited (EIL), who have prepared by the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report for the proposed plant. Sreedhar says, the public hearing has been announced by the Gujarat Pollution Control Board (GPCB) in direct contrast to the policies of your government and the TOR specified by your industry – that prime agricultural land should not be used for industrial purpose. “The location of the site with 78 per cent of double cropped land for the plant not only indicates the lack of sensitivity in the choice of area for acquisition but also that the state and the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd (NPCIL), which has undertaken the project”, he points out, adding, “This would put more people to risk, as settlements would be too close to the nuclear plant.”
The senior activist-scientist says, ”Your Government has repeatedly emphasized the need to identify non-agricultural lands for industrial development and this exercise is more like a fait-accompli. The EIA report does not talk about the impacts of taking away such a huge proportion of prime agricultural land, but on the contrary presents a denigrating attitude towards the farming activities and the farming communities.”
Sreedhar quotes the EIA report on the impact on land to prove his point: “The impact on land environment during construction phase shall be due to generation of debris/ construction material, which shall be properly collected and disposed of. There will be no accumulation of drainage on the higher elevation side as the site will be graded. A garland drain network is developed to collect and route the drain water towards sea. No impact is envisaged due to the same.” 
The EIA report goes on to add, “All wastes generated are segregated as solid and hazardous wastes and collected together for disposal. All such wastes will be transported to authorized disposal agency. Accordingly, there shall be no additional load on land environment during operation phase of the project.” 
Further: “For establishing soil characteristics within the study area, soil samples from 10 locations were collected and analysed for relevant parameters. The soil of the proposed site is silty loam type. At present, most of the land is under cultivated and sparse scrub vegetation also exists in the study area. However, with the introduction of the project, the land use pattern of the area will improve with neat and clean project buildings, lawns and gardens. The area in the exclusion zone around the project will be developed into a green belt as per the requirements of Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) and GPCB. This will further improve the aesthetic and land use environment at the proposed project site.” 
Pointing out that he does not go into “the gross inadequacies of the entire EIA report and such flimsy statements that are being made in the name of scientific and technical studies and defended by none other than NPCIL”, Sreedhar emphasizes, “If there were specific issues we would have offered it as our submission during the public hearing, but to conduct a public hearing without even adhering to the minimum TOR fixed by the government is a mockery of the process, and hence we seek your intervention to cancel this public hearing and issue strictures to the GPCB for its lack of oversight. The reality is the EIA has not even identified who will be impacted and what will be impacted and to what extent and is a generic document will some data which has neither any use to local understanding or implications.”
Sreedhar says, “One of the issues clearly pointed out in the TOR and is fundamental to any dialogue with public is to know the project affected people (PAP) and the resettlement and rehabilitation (R&R) plan. The point number (xiv) in the TOR states,‘Application of R&R policy may be described. Project affected persons should be identified and rehabilitation and resettlement plan should be prepared.’ The section on R&R in the EIA report is totally hypothetical and does not even say how many households would be affected.”
Sreedhar further quotes from the EIA will to suggest how it is “very obvious” that “a fraud is being played on the public in the name of public hearing”.

The EIA report states: “Preparation of a detailed R&R plan is taken up for compensation to the PAP in line with the National Rehabilitation and Resettlement Policy – 2007 and in consultation with Gujarat State Government for the PAP. Discussions are being held with district collector /commissioner of the concerned area for compensation for land and landed properties.
“The NPCIL policy envisages a special focus on the creation and up-gradation of skill sets of landless persons and other PAPs, who are dependent upon agricultural operations over the acquired land, and for the rural artisans e.g. blacksmiths, carpenters, potters, masons etc., who contribute to the society together, to improve their employability. With the help of district administration, the essential inputs containing lists of land losers and PAPs are being prepared. NPCIL is committed to establish requisite system for organizing vocational and formal training and education for all such identified persons and extend full assistance to them to become eligible for seeking employment with the project proponent or any other organized sector. NPCIL is committed to implement the R&R package as per the mutual agreement with the State Government.” 

Comments Sreedhar: “Given the fact that these have yet to be accomplished, why are the NPCIL and GPCB in such a hurry to conduct the public hearing without providing the necessary basic information for a meaningful public hearing? We sincerely hope that you will be seized of this, as you have done in issues of environmental importance and natural justice and order the cancellation of this public hearing and instruct the proponent to furnish at least the basic information relevant to the people.”
Sreedhar further quotes a judgment of the High Court of Himachal Pradesh, in CWP No 586 of 2010 along with CWPIL No. 15 of 2009, which pronounced certain guidelines, which should not be violated. These are:
“a) The HP State Pollution Control Board shall ensure that consent to establish is not granted just for the asking. Even at the time when consent to establish is granted the HP State Pollution Control Board, MoEF/EAC shall verify the facts stated in the project report and they shall also indicate to the project proponent what are the para-meters and the laws which the project proponent will have to comply with keeping in view the nature of the project.
“b) The statement made by the project proponent shall not be accepted without verification. It shall also be made clear that if any statement made by the project proponent is found to be false the permissions granted shall automatically stand cancelled.
“c) The Pollution Control Board shall ensure that whenever any public hearing is held, the people of the area are well informed about the public hearing and they are also informed about the benefits and the illeffects of the project. The Pollution Control Board must have its own machinery and own scientists who should give an independent opinion on the pros and cons of the project. These shall also be placed on the website of the PCB.
“d) In future whenever any studies are being carried out by any project proponent while preparing the EIA reports, the study shall be carried out only after notice to the State Pollution Control Board, MoEF/EAC in case the project requires clearance at the central level and also to the inhabitants of the area where such studies are to be carried out and project has to be established. Notice to the public shall be given in the same manner notice of public hearing is given.”

Based on this, Sreedhar, who has sent copies of the letter to all concerned officials of the Gujarat government and the Government of India, concludes, “The NPCIL and GPCB must go back to the drawing board and conduct authentic studies, inform people and then become eligible to conduct the public hearing, until which time no permission should be granted to them including the 21 ha of forest land being sought by the agency.”*Ashok Shrimali is Ahmedabad-based social activist working with NGOs Setu and Samata, and is executive member, Mines Minerals and People (MM&P)

 

Land rights activists angered as India’s forest act undermined #humanrights


The government’s decision to allow major infrastructure projects to go ahead without obtaining consent for forest clearance paves the way for the violation of village land rights, say rights groups

Matthew Newsome

Friday 15 February 2013

guardian.co.uk

The living tree root bridges of Cherrapunji, Meghalaya, India - 2011

—-

Land and tribal rights in India have been dealt a new blow after the government announced last week that major infrastructure projects will be exempt from obtaining consent for forest clearance from tribal communities living in the forest, a decision that undermines the importance of the country’sForest Rights Act.

 

Tribal and forest rights activists say the decision by India’s ministers leaves village councils (gram sabhas) powerless to reject the building of roads, railways, transmission lines, canal systems, pipelines or other projects that potentially violate their land rights.

 

“This is serious breach of trust and a huge step back in ensuring the dignity and survival of traditional forest-dwelling people across the country. Forests are going to be cleared to make way for a particular kind of economic development; it will adversely impact communities and the environment,” said Dr Swati Shresth, from the Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment.

 

The decision was adopted at a meeting convened by prime minister Manmohan Singh and attended by environment minister Jayanthi Natarajan and tribal affairs minister V Kishore Chandra Deo. “The ministry took a decision that, subject to [the] Forest Rights Act, there will not be requirement of consent of each of the gram sabhas through which such linear projects such as roads, canals, pipelines, transmission towers etc pass,” said Natarajan.

 

The 2006 act is a landmark piece of legislation recognising the rights forest-dependent communities have over the landscape they have traditionally inhabited. It mandates that forest dwellers cannot be resettled unless their traditional rights have been recognised. It is seen as the single most important piece of legislation protecting and preserving the country’s biodiversity and the rights of tribal groups. By no longer gaining the consent of communities, the government stands accused of effectively overturning key provisions of the act.

 

“All traditional forest-dependent communities can be impacted including those who might have procured rights under the FRA and those who are still struggling for its implementation in their area,” said Shresth.

 

In 2009, the ministry of forests and environment (MoFE) made the consent of affected forest communities mandatory for all projects that would destroy forests. The move was in response to the attempt by British mining company Vedanta to clear swaths of forest in Orissa state belonging to the Dongria tribe. Last week’s announcement effectively revokes the 2009 order.

 

However, the government rejects claims that it is diluting rights in the name of streamlining big business, saying it will continue to enforce the provisions of the act “where there is significant impact on lives and livelihoods”.

“The proposed changes will enable land grabbing and the violation of rights of traditional forest dwellers, and sends a clear message that rights granted under the FRA are not inalienable, but subject to the whims of the government of the day,” said Shresth.

 

Such concerns were expressed to the prime minister’s office in a letter signed by a coalition of international forest rights movements. “We believe that it is against the democratic principles to make centralised decisions about the extent of social impact worth considering while diverting forests over which individuals and/or village community may have ‘inalienable’ forest rights vested through FRA. Overriding of such processes can lead to the danger of assuming that all rights can be monetised and negotiated,” it said.

 

Activists say this move will allow industry to build roads or canal systems for mining projects to transport extracted minerals to the refinery.

 

“The only objective is mining access. Mining companies need six road highways and optical fibre installations. Tribal communities don’t want this, and don’t want their precious forests replaced by these. The only beneficiaries of this amendment are the mining companies. This is about GDP, not about the rights of India’s tribal communities,” said Sanjay Basu Mullick from the All India Forum of Forest Movements.

 

The order threatens the area’s biodiversity, which risks discrediting India’s status as the current chair of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity and of the Nagoya protocol, and the implementation of these international obligations on sustainable use and protection of biodiversity.

 

Against a backdrop of sluggish economic growth, government ministries have been lobbying the MoFE to exempt major infrastructure projects from FRA obligations. The country’s national highway authority took the MoFE and the ministry of tribal affairs to the supreme court in January, seeking FRA exemption for projects. According to the authority, 101 infrastructure projects had been frozen due to clearance delays.

 

“The move is part of a larger endeavour to restore investor confidence by a government facing general assembly elections in 2014. Various environmental protection rules have been seen to be responsible for a slump in the growth rate,” Shresth added.

I

 

#India-Union Tribal Affairs & Panchayati Raj minister, May your tribe increase #tribalrights


From a soft-spoken, easygoing politician, KCS Deo has emerged as a combative, ‘activist’ minister for tribal affairs.
Bhavdeep Kang

January 17, 2013, Issue 4 Volume 10

Photo: Shailendra Pandey

VYRICHERLA KISHORE Chandra Suryanarayana Deo — Kishore to his friends — has upset many during his tenure as Union Tribal Affairs & Panchayati Raj minister. For those who dismissed the soft-spoken, easygoing political middleweight as a “sweet nothing”, the “activist” minister’s relentless crusade for tribal rights and trenchant (albeit politely worded) criticism of party and Cabinet colleagues comes as a surprise.

On tribal rights, Kishore has taken on his own government, countering repeated attempts to dilute the Forest Rights Act (FRA) with a volley of letters to Cabinet colleagues, chief ministers and governors. His role has been crucial at a time when various government agencies have been seeking to set aside the provisions of the Act, which demand consent of the tribal dwellers before diverting forestland for infrastructure or industry.

Given his seniority — he is 65 and a sixterm MP — he might have expected highprofile portfolios. Panchayati Raj is regarded as second string and Tribal Affairs is a relatively new ministry; earlier clubbed with Home, then Welfare, then Social Justice, it was given independent status in 1999. Kishore is the fourth minister to hold the portfolio and the first to give it teeth.

Kishore implicitly believes mining in tribal areas is the biggest challenge faced by forest dwellers and the root cause of Naxal insurgency. “All of us are talking about left-wing extremism. The PM has described it as a threat to national security. People must wake up and realise that this is due to the neglect and extreme exploitation of forest dwellers,” he says.

Forest Activism
7 April 2012
Writes to AP governor on ‘illegal’ mining leases
24 May
Writes to CMs on FRA, also to governors on special powers
28 June
Writes to Naveen Patnaik on Kalahandi
August
Amends rules to give FRA teeth
29 September
Cancels AP mining leases, writes to AP CM
Octobe
States objection to NIB overruling FRA/PESA
19 November & 7 December
Writes to Jayanthi Natarajan on FRA
January 2013
Sets up board to fix fair price for forest produce

Kishore is not opposed to mining, per se, but firmly believes that forest dwellers ought to have a share in the proceeds of mining, a decisive say in the pace and manner of mining and a right to forest produce. What he does not say on record (but conveys in his letters to the Minister of Environment and Forests) is that the Forest Department is the biggest hurdle in securing justice for tribals.

He fired his first salvo on behalf of forest dwellers last April, in a letter to Andhra Pradesh Governor ESL Narasimhan, demanding that leases granted to the AP Mining Development Corporation (APMDC) in violation of the FRA be cancelled. When he did not receive a response, he shot off a letter to CM Kiran Kumar Reddy cancelling the leases in exercise of his constitutional powers as Tribal Affairs minister — a first.

In his letter to Narasimhan, he points out that Vishakapatnam district, where APMDC has been granted mining leases, has become a hotbed of Maoist activity. The killings by extremists, he adds, have to do with the bauxite mining lobbies.

Kishore did his homework before taking on the AP government. First, he secured the Attorney General’s opinion on whether the governor had the power to cancel the leases granted by the state government. The AG concluded he did. Despite the legal go-ahead, Narasimhan chose not to take on the government. Kishore waited five months, then sent off a letter cancelling the leases: “By virtue of the powers vested in GoI vide Clause 3 of Vth Schedule of the Constitution… hereby directs the AP government to cancel the mining leases to APMDC immediately and report compliance.”

At the time of writing, compliance has yet to be received. The PM may well have to arbitrate between the minister and the CM and the results of that exercise would have immense significance. The PM is said to have reservations about Kishore’s leftof- centre leanings.

Meanwhile, Kishore busied himself with drawing Environment Minister Jayanthi Natarajan’s attention to the fact that her ministry made it a “practice of ignoring the FRA when diverting forestland for large projects”. He wrote: “I’m anguished to find that even five years after its enactment, the Forest Advisory Committee (FAC) continues to ignore this law’s existence.” The prior, informed consent of the gram sabhas is a mandatory requirement for diversion of forestland under the FRA and this provision is being blatantly flouted by governments.

He referred in particular to the clearance given by the MOEF to the Lara Thermal Power Project in Raigarh of Chhattisgarh, even while acknowledging that the mandatory gram sabha certificates had not been obtained! “Why is it (FAC) misleading the public into believing that these projects are in compliance with the law when they often are not?” he asks.

In a follow-up letter to Natarajan last month, he referred to the Niyamgiri case: “Proceedings are pending in the SC in regard to the proposed mine by Vedanta in Niyamgiri where people are seeking to argue that they can bypass, ignore or undermine the FRA in the name of advancing a project.” It behoves the government to take a clear stand that upholds the law and the rights of the people, he maintains.

Kishore has been urging state governments to take the FRA seriously. In a letter to all the CMs, he pointed out that community rights to pastures, water bodies and minor forest produce were not being given recognition; that tribals who sought to claim land rights were being given a fraction of the area to which they were entitled and claims were being rejected without assigning a reason. “As a result, forest dwellers are facing eviction or harassment by the authorities,” he wrote.

No issue is too small for Kishore to take up. Earlier in 2012, he wrote to Odisha CM Naveen Patnaik on Jamguda, a small tribal village in Kalahandi. The gram sabha had decided to harvest flowering bamboo, which (having flowered) would otherwise be destroyed. They proposed to sell it at 30 a pole and so earn about 1 lakh but the forest authorities refused to allow them to transport the bamboo. This random abuse of power, he said, “goes against our professed adherence to rule of law”.

Far more than his activism on tribal rights, his alleged description of AP Pradesh Congress Committee chief Botsa Satyanarayana as a “land, liquor and mining don”, in a letter to Sonia Gandhi, made a big stir. Kishore denied having written a letter. Correct, but only technically, sources say. It was an 11-page report, not a letter. And it severely criticised the functioning of the state government in general and the CM (and Botsa) in particular.

Kishore’s view on Kiran Reddy and Botsa are well-known, so the leak did not come as a surprise. It did, however, leave many wondering how this blunt, outspoken man had managed to fly below the radar for most of his four-decade-long political career. Given his distaste for lobbying, it was perhaps not surprising that he made it to the Cabinet only in 2011.

Last June, he took on the then home minister P Chidambaram over the massacre of 17 civilians in Chhattisgarh, saying his acceptance of the state government’s version that they were Maoists was “illinformed”. “By killing 17 innocent tribals, you are creating 1,700 Maoists,” he warned.

He was to take on Chidambaram as finance minister as well, when he opposed the National Investment Board’s reported attempt to bypass the FRA. While he didn’t do so directly, he said he would insist on the implementation of the FRA and the Panchayat (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act. The UPA stood for inclusive growth and so, no development project could be more important than the livelihood of millions. If the two laws that offer protection to tribals were an obstacle to development, then the Tribal Affairs ministry could well be wound up.

One of his first initiatives after taking over was to amend the FRA rules, because some of them, he says “were against the spirit of the Act”. Manoeuvring the amendments through the bureaucracy took him a year. Currently, his big project is setting a minimum procurement price for minor or non-timber forest produce, so that tribals don’t get shortchanged on their bamboo, herbs, etc.

Like his Cabinet colleague from AP, S Jaipal Reddy, he enjoys a reputation for probity. Both come from privileged backgrounds; Kishore is from the royal family of Kurupam. Apart from that, they are at polar ends of state politics, coming from different regions. Neither has ever openly expressed an opinion, but it is widely accepted that while Reddy, who hails from Telangana, sees little alternative to bifurcation of AP, Kishore is opposed to it.

Nor does he have a soft corner for Jaganmohan Reddy. In fact, in his letter to the governor, he even took on the late YS Rajasekhara Reddy, duly deified by the state Congress (even as the Centre claps his son in jail), for having betrayed “our commitment to the cause of the STs” in granting the mining leases, which was “a flagrant violation of our Constitution”. When it comes to tribal rights, Kishore doesn’t believe in holding back.

letters@tehelka.com

 

#India- Costly push to mega projects


Author(s):
Sugandh Juneja
Issue Date:
2013-1-15

Cabinet Committee for Investment may dilute environmental and forest clearances

DESPITE concerns from civil society groups, the Union Cabinet gave in-principle nod for setting up a Cabinet Committee for Investment (CCI) on December 13. Introduced as the National Investment Board (NIB) by the Union finance ministry earlier this year, CCI is being set up for expediting clearances for mega projects with investment of above Rs 1,000 crore. CCI will be chaired by the prime minister and comprise members from various ministries as decided by him.

Setting up of the committee is in line with the recommendation of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG), released in May this year, on augmentation of coal production. “There is a need to constitute an empowered group along the lines of Foreign Investment Promotion Board as a single-window mechanism with representatives of Central nodal ministries and state governments to grant the necessary clearances…,” the report says. The idea has been picked up by the finance ministry, which alleges green clearances are holding up the country’s infrastructure development and growth.

An analysis of clearances granted by the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) during the 11th Five Year Plan shows the finance ministry’s allegations do not hold water. The analysis by Delhi-based non-profit Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) shows that the ministry granted many times more environment clearances than planned for the 11th Five Year Plan in key sectors like thermal power, coal and non-coal mining, cement and iron and steel. About 200,000 hectares of forestland was diverted during the period for these sectors. “Where is the question of green clearances holding up growth? MoEF is granting way more clearances than required, disregarding environment and social issues. What is needed is institutional reform in MoEF to make  the clearance process stronger, transparent and accountable. Otherwise, more institutions like CCI will come up and further dilute the process,” says Chandra Bhushan, deputy director of CSE.

JAYANTHI NATARAJAN An investment board will only promote investment, while MoEF has to protect the integrity of environment
JAYANTHI NATARAJAN,
UNION ENVIRONMENT MINISTER

In October, Union environment minister Jayanthi Natarajan wrote to the prime minister expressing concern over setting up of such a body. “When a minister…,” she wrote, “acting upon the expert advice of officers, takes a decision, there is absolutely no justification for an NIB (now CCI) to assume his/her authority, nor will the NIB have the competence to do so.” She also stated that no one has the right to set up a project just in the name of investment. Her concerns, as pointed out in the letter, stem from a fundamental difference between NIB and MoEF: the objective of an investment board will be to promote investment while that of MoEF is to protect the integrity of the environment and protect forests, wildlife and forest-dwellers.

During a discussion in the Lok Sabha in November, K P Dhanapalan, an MP from Kerala, also said that CCI may dilute clearance procedures. “This may aggravate environmental issues and hence needs to be carefully thought through,” he said. During the discussion, Finance Minister P Chidambaram clarified that CCI will only deal with large projects that give a fillip to the economy. “The committee will monitor these projects and will advise the ministries concerned…,” he explained.

P  
CHIDAMBARAM Cabinet Committee for Investment will only deal with large projects that give a fillip to the economy
P CHIDAMBARAM,
UNION FINANCE MINISTER

The Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) has welcomed CII. “We hope the committee helps the industry get state clearances also in a faster and time-bound manner as maximum clearances are required at the state level,” FICCI president R V Kanoria said in a press release.

Meanwhile, civil society groups are opposing setting up of CCI. Greenpeace and Bengaluru-based non-profit Environment Support Group (ESG) have initiated online campaigns against it. “Setting up of CCI is undemocratic, dangerous and against the national interest,” says Leo Saldahna, coordinator at ESG. Shilpa Chohan, Supreme Court lawyer, says till the time CCI does not overrule the decision of a ministry and is just an administrative body to look into delays, it may prove to be a positive step by bringing together different departments on a single platform.


Source URL: http://www.downtoearth.org.in/content/costly-push-mega-projects

 

DNA investigation: Sardar Sarovar Project hit by illegal mining


Published: Saturday, Oct 13, 2012, 8:44 IST
By Sandeep Pai | Place: Indore | Agency: DNA

Rampant illegal sand mining across the Narmada valley on land acquired by the Narmada Valley Development Authority (NVDA) from oustees of the Sardar Sarovar Project (SSP) is not only threatening the delicate ecological balance of the area but could also reduce the project life of the dam.

While truckloads of sand is being mined without any permission, the activity also contravenes the Narmada Water Disputes Tribunal Award of 1979, which expressly states that land acquired for the SSP may be used only for agriculture or for reservoirs.

The project life of the SSP, meant to irrigate 18 lakh hectares of land in Gujarat, 75,000 hectares in Rajasthan and 37,500 hectares in Maharashtra, is expected to be reduced because the mining is in the dam’s submergence areas, environmentalists say.

The illegal mining started after the collectors’ of the Badwani, Alirajpur, Khargone and Dhar districts in MP gave out mining licences on government lands adjacent to the NVDA’s acquired land. The licences were granted once in 2009
and again in 2011, for a period of two years.

The mining contracts are themselves a subject of debate as the government lands also lie in the submergence areas on both sides of the Narmada River. But more dangerously, illegal miners are now blatantly breaching boundaries of assigned mining areas, extracting sand instead from areas acquired by the NVDA.

In response to a Right to Information application, the NVDA has stated that it has not leased any land. “Thus, any mining activity on their land is illegal,” says social activist Medha Patkar, who has repeatedly raised the issue with the ministry of environment and forests (MoEF) over the last two years.

Over 100 complaint letters were written during the same period by individual villagers and by panchayat representatives to police officers and district collectors. However, no action has been taken.
At least half a dozen gram sabhas have passed resolutions stating that prior approval of the gram sabha has not been obtained for the mining activity. The resolutions all state that the sand mining should be stopped.
Activists estimate the loss to the exchequer to be about Rs100 crore per year. In 2011, after a complaint about illegal mining in the submergence areas of SSP, the collector of Badwani conducted an investigation in two villages — Pendra and Barda — and recovered Rs3 crore in fines from illegal miners. “If we calculate for even 40-50 villages, the amount of revenue loss would exceed a few hundred crores per year,” said Srikant, an activist with Narmada Bachao Aandolan (NBA). As many as 192 villages are directly impacted by the SSP.

The collector’s report even named members of the sand mining mafia of the Badwani district, but no prosecution was initiated.
One complaint by the NBA to Union minister for environment and forests Jayanthi Natarajan in August said the government is on one hand spending crores of rupees for “catchment area treatment” that is mandatory as per the environment clearances issued to the SSP, and on the other hand is a mute spectator to hundreds of truckloads of mud, the topsoil discarded by sand miners, is being thrown into the reservoir. This could seriously affect the lifespan of the project, the NBA complaint pointed out.
A visit to the villages shows complete disregard for rules and the environment. In Perkhard village in Dhar district, huge heaps of top soil and even trees uprooted by miners have been thrown into the river. Large tracts of land acquired by the NVDA have turned into trenches due to unabated mining.

In Chottabarda village in Badwani district, DNA saw several trucks ferrying tonnes of sand. “On one side we have the Narmada and on the other we have these huge sand mining trenches. When the rains came this year, an entire settlement of fish workers was not able to move out – they were surrounded by water on all sides,” said Dayaram Yadav, former sarpanch of Chottabarda.

Villagers who protest are threatened, even assaulted, say villagers. “When I tried to stop the miners, they tried to strangle me,” said Om Prakash, from Piplav village in Badwani.

Complaints sent to the central government’s Narmada Control Authority and the NVDA were just forwarded to district collectors, to which the standard official response has been that no illegal mining is underway.

Afroz Ahmed, NCA director, said that whatever complaints he got were forwarded to the NVDA. “I have not received any reply from NVDA despite reminders,” said Ahmed. On his part, joint director of NVDA AK Khare simply denied that any illegal activity was going on. “All allegations are false,” he said.

Minister stops fresh Vedanta bid to mine Niyamgiri hills


NEW DELHI, ET, 18TH April: Environment and forests minister Jayanthi Natarajan nixed yet another attempt by Vedanta to get Niyamgiri bauxite mines in Odisha that Rahul Gandhi had stood up against, saving the Congress and its scion some blushes.

On Tuesday, she ordered that the preliminary nod given by her ministry to the expansion of Vedanta’s aluminium refinery, which the company had claimed would source 150 million tonnes of bauxite from Niyamgiri mines in Lanjigarh, be held in abeyance which effectively puts the project on hold.

The environment ministry had earlier cancelled the forest clearance to Vedanta for mining Niyamgiri hills for violation of green norms and hauled up the company for expanding the linked aluminium refinery without mandatory environmental clearance. It asked the company to file an application afresh for the expansion of the refinery. Vedanta went to the Supreme Court against the ban on mining.

Alongside, the company filed a fresh application for expansion of the aluminium refinery. But without a word on the existing rigmarole over Niyamgiri mines, the company said it would source 150 million tonnes of bauxite from the Lanjigarh mines.

Disregarding the fact that the ministry had rejected Vedanta’s bid for Lanjigarh mines, the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) division of the ministry gave preliminary nod to the project asking it to go ahead and hold a public hearing on the project based on the EIA report. The report of the company too did not mention, as required, that the claimed source of raw material was bound in legal disputes.

Sources said Natarajan stepped in when informed and put the preliminary nod given by her officers to Vedanta on hold. The public hearing now stands cancelled till the ministry takes a final view on the case.

The EIA report of Vedanta accessed by TOI reads, “Orissa Mining Corporation will ensure supply of bauxite, which is main raw material for the alumina refinery, to the tune of 150 million tonnes from Lanjigarh bauxite deposit located in Niyamgiri hill ranges and other deposits around the plant.”

Interestingly, the company, as per its own documents, had got the scientific and environmental data generated for the assessment report even before the terms for gathering such data had been set by the government. The studies normally are carried out only after the environment ministry informs the project developer about the scope of such research.

The assessment report is put before the affected people in public hearings as per green laws. Approval in the public hearings and addressing concerns raised is essential for all projects. The Orissa government had put out the date for Vedanta’s public hearing based on these flawed reports.

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