In an inversion of the system, people in Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh are fighting the government to get the law enforced, writes RAJESH SINHA
THE CRPF camp in a village school off Bundu, barely 30 km from Ranchi, the Jharkhand capital, is the only visible sign of government for miles. But its writ doesn’t run. The CRPF men stopped going to the villages about a month ago.
A Maoist living in a hut within striking distance of the school feels this is a result of the State suffering reverses in Lalgarh (West Bengal), Orissa and Dantewada (Chhattisgarh). “We have never seen the government take interest in this area or its people,” says the rebel. “We only have unpleasant experiences with the government officials who come to harass us or make money in the name of non-existent development work,” he says. “The government wants to clear these forests of the original inhabitants and hand over all the riches of our resources to big industrial houses and multinationals,” he adds, “We will not allow this. We shall fight them tooth and nail.
There can be no acceptance accorded to Maoists who take law in their own hands, challenge the authority of the State, levy ‘taxes’ and generally break the law in several other ways. But neither can acceptance be accorded to a government that also frequently breaks the law and conspires with the rich and powerful against the poor. These strong words find credence in Chhattisgarh. Land claims filed by the villagers in many parts of the State under the Forest Rights Act (FRA) are nowhere near any settlement. With no proper resettlement and rehabilitation policy in place, tribals get a pittance as compensation, losing land and livelihood for ‘development’ that benefits others.
Until February 2010, Chhattisgarh had given land rights to 2,14,633 families out of the 4,86,101 claims filed. A larger number of claims — 2,71,468 — were rejected. In areas like Dantewada, where villages lie abandoned as people have been forced to move to Salwa Judum camps, the FRA has become infructuous. Those who refuse to move are branded Naxalites. Caught between the Naxalites and the police, several hundred Adivasis have walked to Orissa or Andhra Pradesh. There are other shortcomings as well in the government claims. As in Jharkhand, the land rights given in Chhattisgarh for 1-2.5 acres are far smaller than traditional land holdings. Community rights granted over forest land, for an entire village in Chhattisgarh, averages seven hectares, which is far more than the 1 acre that is granted in Jharkhand.
People who resist the State are branded Maoists
There are other ways in which rules have been brazenly flouted. According to the FRA, the claims of families are to be decided by the Gram Sabha’s Van Adhikar Samiti (Forest Rights Committee). However, its decisions are rejected at the sub-divisional or divisional level by the state. During the claim verification process, meant to be done by representatives from the forest department, the revenue department and the village committee, the forest department functionary coerces villagers into agreeing to his assessment. In Kantartoli panchayat, though 368 applications were filed, only nine were approved, according to Nawal Sai, chairman of the VAS. No community land rights have been given. The land was measured by a forest department representative.
The most blatant violation is of the legal obligation that the government may not start the process for acquiring land till the process of settling claims under FRA is over. This has been given a complete go-by. In Salka village near Kantartoli, the villagers filed applications under FRA over a year ago. Though there has been no word about their applications, the village land has been acquired for a power plant and Rs 1.5 lakh in compensation distributed to a majority, says Ram Dayal, the husband of sarpanch Madhu Shukla. The power plant has been stalled thanks to resistance in other villages in the area.
There is resistance and opposition, but the villagers are wary of becoming “too active”— after all, it is easy to be branded a Naxalite. People are on the backfoot after what happened to Binayak Sen and Himanshu Kumar. Sen was jailed and freed only after the Supreme Court intervened. Himanshu Kumar’s office was destroyed and he finally had to flee.
It is easy to be branded a Naxalite and people are scared. This is an achievement the Chhattisgarh government is proud of. This approach of suppressing democratic protest helps the Maoists.
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