Sunday, August 27, 2006

Tribal renaissance

By seeing through the hypocrisy of industrial houses that want to acquire their land by fair means or foul and the government’s pathetic rehabilitation package meted out in the name of industrialisation, tribals of Orissa and Chhattisgarh have demonstrated that they cannot be ignored any longer, writes Abhinandan Mishra.
The recent revolt by Kalinganagar tribals against poor compensation for the land acquired for establishment of a steel plant is the upshot of a renaissance taking root in the tribal belt of the country.
After the Kalinganagar uprising against industrialisation, tribals of Rourkela and Bastar have also started a revolt against the poor package meted out to them by government and industrial houses.
The renaissance among tribals of Orissa and Chhattisgarh appears to be spontaneous as political parties and politicians and even leaders of non-governmental organisations surfaced at a later stage ~ after the killing of 13 tribals and the chopping off of the hands of five tribals. There was no Medha Patkar or Anna Hazare to champion their cause.
The plan of a big industrial house(Tatas) to establish a Rs 10,000- crore steel plant at Lohariguda in Bastar is also facing tough tribal resistance.The industrial house proposes to acquire land in 10 villages which would uproot at least 250 families.They have been assured of a house site of 3,000 sqft for each family, water and road connectivity and compensation between Rs 50,000 and Rs 1 lakh per acre as compensation.
Jobs have been promised to one person per family by the industrial house which has told the government it would invest two per cent of the profit on the area’s development.The public sector National Mineral Development Corporation (NMDC) had also planned to set up a steel plant at Nagarnar, twenty kilometres from the Jagdalpur divisional headquarters. The foundation stone for the project was laid four years back and the land of the tribals was acquired by the corporation for the project. Tribals have been dispossessed of their cultivable land by the corporation which had promised “peripheral development” of Nagarnar.In the last four years, there has been no development. Contrary to the NMDC’s promise, neither have schools nor hospitals come up in the area.Tribals of Nagarnar are also opposed to the proposed steel plant now.
Another private sector company (Essar) had entered into a memorandum of understanding with the Chhattisgarh government for setting up a steel plant at Bastar.
Tribals of the area have declared they would not give their land for the steel plant. One more private sector company had signed an MoU for another steel plant in Bastar four years back. After resistance from land holders, the group backed out. Tribals are holding their jan adalats (people’s courts) at different places, including Belar, Nagarnar and Lohariguda and passing resolutions such as, “We will not give our valuable land, whatever may be the price”.
The tribals feel betrayed by the non-implementation of the commitments made by the government and the industrial houses in the past.“We would not like to be cheated again,” said Laikan Vaghel. “The government had made a commitment to give Rs 5 lakh a year to the nagar panchayat of Nagarnar, but not a single paisa has reached us so far,” he said, adding, “We want to reclaim our land”. The tribals have genuine reasons to complain. In the process of land acquisition, the mandatory consent of the gram sabha is not taken. This happened in the case of Nagarnar. During investigations, panchayat employees confirmed that the pages from the register of the gram panchayat’s special sabha of Kasturi had been “removed”.
“I do not know who tore off the pages missing in the proceeding register,” Lakhan Singh, panchayat employee of Kasturi panchayat told the divisional commissioner(now the post is abolished), while giving details about irregularities in the acquisition of land for the Nagarnar steel plant.
Rahuraj Devangan, panchayat employee of Bamhani panchayat, said while elaborating on the proceedings of the gram sabha held for land acquisition: “I did not write the proceedings. Seven pages are missing from the register. I do not know how these pages disappeared and who removed them.” There are similar statements made by employees of the panchayats in several villages where vital pages from the registers were missing.
The pages were removed as they carried objections from the tribals and an impression was given outside that the villagers had consented to the land acquisition. Tribals of the area are illiterate and the lowest-grade employees of the Panchayati Raj bodies who maintain office records of the panchayats come under the influence of agents of industrial houses to manipulate documents to suggest the entire “gram sabha” had given its approval for construction of the plant and land acquisition. Tribals had filed affidavits to claim they had been obliged to accept cheques even though they had not consented to land acquisition.
The tribals appeared to have taken lessons from past mistakes committed by their elders and seem to have realised that their ignorance should not be taken for granted in the name of industrialisation by the government or big industrial houses.

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