The alienated are rising

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Faulty implementation of the Forest Rights Act, meant to give tribals land security, is stoking rebellion in Jharkhand, reports Rajesh Sinha from Ranchi

Voicing dissent Driven to despair, Palamau tribals take to the streets to get their collective voice heard by a callous administration

IN KERADARI block of Jharkhand’s Hazaribagh district, 1,300 acres of about 1,400 acres that have been given to a corporate house is forest land. Not one villager in the area has yet been given any “patta” or piece of land under the Forest Rights Act (FRA), says activist Dayamani Barla. In contrast, the government has rushed through MoUs (memoranda of understanding) with corporate entities, awarding them nearly two lakh acres, much of it forest.

Many have not even heard of the FRA, even within 30 km radius of Ranchi. A few who have, are awaiting the administration’s response after filing their applications over a year ago. They are routinely and regularly called 30 km away for meetings that do not happen because one or the other government functionary is unable to attend.

The net effect of the government’s approach would, instead of securing the tribals and forest dwellers in their habitations, uproot and displace a large section of these people. This, without meaningful resettlement or rehabilitation, because that policy is still not in place. According to human rights activist Gladson Dungdung, the plans for land would displace approximately a million people.

Moreover, Operation Green Hunt is on in areas where the government has promised land to industrialists: not in Palamau-Latehar region, a Maoist stronghold, but in areas like Singhbhum.

This state of affairs has created widespread misgivings and spawned a spate of protests in the region. As a tribal at a meeting on the issue said, “The government is entitled to carry out this Green Hunt to eliminate the Maoists, but why is it trying to evict us from our land?”

Barely a day passes without a meeting or demonstration by those already displaced and others likely to be. Mithilesh Dangi, a campaigner against displacement and whose village is a victim of this developmental process, says those who oppose or protest are often branded Maoists and put behind bars.

Maoism is only the most extreme of the outcomes of government policy. There are several different organisations and banners under which people are getting organised.

As things stand, if there was unrest already due to years of neglect and exploi – tation, the government’s “developmental measures” seem set to add fuel to the fire. The widespread impression is that the compensation offered is paltry and does not reach everyone. The struggle against displacement has spread across the state. Slogans like “Loha nahi anaj chahiye”(We want grains not iron), “Jal, jungle aur zamin hamara hai” (Land, forest and water belong to us) and “Jaan denge, zamin nahi denge” (We will sacrifice our lives but not land) are being raised.

Past experience weighs heavy on their minds and it has created deep distrust in the policies and promises of the government and the corporate houses:

 About 30 years ago, in Piparwar, Hazaribagh, around 20,000 people were displaced during the acquisition of 16,000 acres by Central Coalfields Ltd. The villagers were resettled in another area with 0.05 acres per household — although villagers allege about 30 percent of the displaced did not get even this — and jobs were provided to 950 of them. The CCL considered its duty done with this, while the people whose livelihood had centred on agro-forestry now became part of the “developed economy” as daily wagers living in slums.

 Last year, an all-India fact-finding team comprising six democratic rights organisations cited the instance of those displaced by the Chandil dam. They visited Gangudih colony, a rehabilitation centre of the Chandil dam, one of 12 such centres for the 116 submerged villages. The project started in the 1970s. The resistance was brutally suppressed by police firing in 1978. Though the dam was completed in 1984, the canals are yet to be fully dug. The first rehabilitation promise was made in 1990 when the displaced families were offered Rs 20,000 for construction of house and Rs 50,000 for purchase of alternative land. In 2003, this was modified to Rs 50,000 for construction of a house and Rs 75,000 for purchase of alternative land. Till 2008, less than half the displaced families had received the rehabilitation package.

 According to the Annual Report 2004- 2005 of the Union Ministry of Rural Development, Jharkhand topped the list of Adivasi land alienation in India with 86,291 cases involving a whopping 10,48,93 acres.

 According to the Planning Commission, less than 50 per cent of the entire displaced population has been rehabilitated. Walter Fernandes, former Director of the Indian Social Institute, Delhi, says less than 20 per cent of them have been rehabilitated. Tribals, just 8 percent of population, comprise 40 percent of the six crore displaced persons in the country;

Clearly, provisions of the Forest Rights Act are just empty promises here.

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