THERE IS one final silent piece in the escalating Naxal violence that has gripped the country: neo-liberal land grab and tribal rights. It is no coincidence that a majority of the Naxal leadership today is from Andhra Pradesh. According to journalist N Venugopal, the roots of this go back to the Telengana Movement of 1946-51, which was abruptly withdrawn by the Communist Party. In the Andhra Second Five-Year Plan (1956), 60 lakh acres of surplus land was identified. Yet by the time the Land Ceiling Act was passed in 1973, and enough concessions had been made to rich landowners, the State said only 17 lakh acres of surplus land was available, and it distributed only four. Land, livelihood and liberation was the clarion call then. Still driven by that unfulfilled aspiration, most leaders today are from the families of the ‘46 – ’51 movement.
EAS Sarma, former Commissioner of Tribal Welfare and former secretary, Expenditure and Economic Affairs, unlocks the real heart of the matter. “I am totally against violence of any kind and a firm believer in democratic process,” says he. “But Left extremism is a secondary issue. How many tribals even know there is a government? Their only experience of the State is the police, contractors, and real estate goons. Besides, the Fifth Schedule of the Constitution grants tribals complete rights over their traditional land and forests and prohibits private companies from mining on their land. This constitutional schedule was upheld by the Samatha judgement of the Supreme Court (1997). If successive governments lived by the spirit of the Constitution and this judgment, tribal discontent would automatically recede.”
Mr Sarma is probably right. Human rights activists have long argued that the real intention of the Salwa Judum in Chhattisgarh was to capture tribal land — brimming-rich with minerals — and hand it over to private companies. The fact that 600 tribal villages have been evacuated in the last few years gives credence to this theory. If tribals no longer live on that land, the inconvenient Fifth Schedule of the Constitution will not apply.
Given that the Supreme Court directed that the Salwa Judum was to be dismantled, perhaps, Operation Green Hunt is the second lap. In any case, whether for ill-intention, poor execution, or unplanned collateral damage, there is much to fear in the impending operation.
In the meantime, we would all do well to read the Fifth Schedule of the Constitution.