Ground Report

Denial of Forest Rights for Coal Mining

By Gladson Dungdung

28423730_10215085753994716_1990727530848263365_oOn 18 June 2020, the Indian central government initiated the process for auctioning 41 coal blocks[1] for commercialisation. These coal blocks are located in different states within India and most of them fall under Fifth Schedule areas. The Indian government claims that their decision to auction these coal areas is a big step[2] towards making the country Atmanirbhar Bharat (self-reliant) in the energy sector. The government envisages an investment of 33,000 crore, which would create 2.8 lakh jobs including 70,000 direct and 2,10,000 indirect jobs. Presently, India produces 60.40 million tons of coal per annum (2018-2019), and the new initiates would be adding 15 percent to it.

However, coal auction has opened the flood gate for the private sector, which will suppress the rights of the people mostly the Adivasis, who comprise the indigenous Peoples of India. As of now, the public-sector undertaking companies have monopoly over the coal production in India. The ECL, BCCL, CCL, WCL, SECL and MCL are the major actors, who have played a crucial role in coal mining. But after the auctioning of 41 coal blocks, private entities like Adani, Tata and others will be taking over. These actions of the government’s  has, unsurprisingly, generated  insecurity amongst the Adivasis. Their land and traditional habitations can be acquired at any point of time without their consent. The threat of losing livelihood resources has multiplied in those areas, where the Adivasis have been struggling to protect their forest rights. The case of Rinchi village is one such example to understand the threat of such a coal auction.

After hearing about the proposed auction, Birendra Oraon, village headman of Rinchi village in Latehar district of Jharkhand, is a much worried man. The Adivasis and other traditional forest dwellers of his village may lose nearly 300 acres of forest land, which they have occupied and cultivated for generations. The District Level Committee (DLC) has rejected the claims of 72 Adivasi families, stating that a coal block  will be  in the region.[3] Another 27 claims are also in the process of rejection. Despite the fact that  the villagers have been running from pillar to post, no one is ready to hear their cries for justice.

Rinchi village is situated in the middle of two coal blocks ─ Rajbar and Banhardi. The government has leased out these coal blocks to Cooking Coal Limited and Tenughat Vidhyut Nigam. Both the companies were not able to, thus far,  realize their claims due to resistance of the people. Now, these very same coal blocks are ready to be auctioned to the private companies. If the coal block is opened up for mining, these villagers will lose their land without any compensation, as they do not have entitlement papers of the land. Indeed, the government will claim the land as its property and the villagers will be declared as encroachers of the forest land and they are likely to be forcefully evicted from their livelihood resources.

26962265_10214753855217454_6257211362810849635_oThe struggle of villagers for their forest rights entered a new phase after the Indian government passed the Forest Rights Act in 2006, even though its intention was to right the historic wrongs. They came to know about the FRA from the representatives of Adivasis organisations. 99 families, including 80 Adivasis (ST), 11 other backward communities (OBC) and 8 Scheduled Caste (SC) families of the village filed individual claims in the Gram Sabha (village council). After verification of the claims, the Gram Sabha with its recommendation for recognition of the forest rights, submitted the claims to the Sub-Division Level Committee (SDLC), Latehar. The SDLC after proper verification recommended 72 claims to the DLC, Latehar for recognition of the forest rights and sent back the other 27 claims to the Gram Sabha for re-verification as these claims lacked site maps, evidence or verification from the local authority.

The DLC in its meeting held on 23 April 2015 rejected all 72 claims, giving the coal blocks as the reason. As per the DLC meeting minutes, the Divisional Forest Officer (DFO) informed the DLC in the meeting that the land is proposed for the coal block. After hearing the concern of the DFO, the DLC rejected the FRA claims[4] of the Adivasis. The act of the DLC is a clear violation of section 4(1) and (5) of the FRA. It is clearly mentioned in section 4(5) that no member of a forest dwelling Scheduled Tribe or other traditional forest dweller shall be evicted or removed from forest land under his occupation till the recognition and verification procedure is complete.[5] The DLC has bypassed the recommendations of the SDLC and Gram Sabha.

The DLC rejected the claims of the 72 Adivasis, including that of the village headman Birendra Oraon, who had filed a claim for 4.77 acres of forest land. The SDLC had recommended recognition of his rights, but the DLC rejected it. Similarly, Sunita Devi had claimed her rights over 4.80 acres of land, which the SDLC had recommended, but DLC rejected her claim too. Another villager Mangal Minj had filed a claim for 9.83 acres of land, again recommended by the SDLC, but the DLC rejected it. The DLC clearly misused its power given under the Section 6(6) of FRA, which reads that the decision of the District Level Committee on the record of forest rights shall be final and binding.[6]

Interestingly, the DLC did not inform the Gram Sabha about the rejection of FRA claims. Since the DLC was not informing them about the status of their FRA claims, they decided to file a petition under the Right to Information Act 2005. They were shocked after receiving the information under the RTI. Their claims were rejected. The DLC is the ultimate authority to decide on an FRA claim, so they had no way to appeal against the injustice. However, they decided to protest. They have held a series of meetings and protests, but no one has been ready to hear them.

Interestingly, the DFO, whose prime duty is to protect the forests, is much interested in the coal block. He seems to be ready to allocate the forest land for coal mining but he is against giving rights to the Adivasis on the same land. The DLC rejected the recommendations of the SDLC and Gram Sabha, which clearly shows that the DLC has vested interests. The apprehension is that the coal mafias are behind the rejection of the FRA of the Adivasis. The rejection of FRA for the coal block is a clear violation of FRA section 4(5). In other words, this decision of the Latehar DLC is a continuation to the historic injustice meted out against Adivasis.

Meanwhile, the Gram Sabha actively communicated with the government authorities. After verifying the 27 rejected claims they sent the list back to the SDLC. The SDLC took up the matter in its meeting held on 4th August 2016, and found some lacuna in the claim documents, so the decision was taken to send it back to the Gram Sabha. As per the meeting minutes of the SDLC, Gram Sabha had submitted the claims forms with proper verification. However, the attached document was not attested by the Circle Officer. This is apparently why it was decided to send it back to the Gram Sabha for  the proper verification of documents.[7] After receiving the documents, the Gram Sabha conducted a meeting, and got the signature of the Circle Officer on them and submitted them to the SDLC on 16 March 2017.

26910703_10214753859097551_4247331694046678972_oHowever, the villagers were not informed about the status of their claims despite many efforts to extract the information. The villagers apprehend that their claim may also be rejected for the coal block. This is a clear example, which exposes that the State has been primarily batting to serve the corporate interests  by violating the people’s fundamental rights. The biggest threat is that once the 27 remaining claims are rejected, the State may throw out these villagers from the vicinity  in order to  mine  coal.

The auction of 41 coal blocks without consent of the Governors of Fifth Schedule States, Tribe Advisory Councils and Gram Sabhas, is a gross violation of the provisions of the Fifth Schedule of Indian Constitution, PESA Act 1996, Forest Rights Act 2006 and the Supreme Court’s Samata Judgement and Niyamgiri Judgement, which legitimate the role of Gram Sabha in managing the natural resources of a village. However, the Indian State has suppressed its Constitution and laws for benefiting the private coal sectors companies, who play a crucial role during the Indian election by flooding money. Indeed, the State-Corporate nexus has overthrown the rights of Adivasis. There has been onslaught on the Adivasis’ land, territory and natural resources, which needs to be check immediately for the protection of the Adivasis rights.

[1] https://www.thehindubusinessline.com/economy/pm-modi-launches-auction-process-for-41-coal-blocks-for-commercial-mining/article31857963.ece

[2] https://www.cnbctv18.com/india/atmanirbhar-bharat-pm-modi-launches-process-for-commercial-bidding-of-coal-mines-6158441.htm

[3] Meeting Minutes of DLFRC held on 23 April 2015.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Forest Rights Act 2006, Ministry of Tribal Affairs (Govt. of India)

[6] Ibid.

[7] SDLC’s meeting minutes dated 4.8.2016

General, Ground Report

Land Bank and Forest Rights

By Gladson Dungdung

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A village called ‘Perka’ is situated at Murhu development block in Khunti district of Jharkhand, which is approximately 55 kilometers from Ranchi, the capital city of Jharkhand. 113 families residing in the village. As per the Census 2011, the village has total population of 581 of which 300 are males while 281 are female. The village is dominated by the Munda Adivasis with the population of 550 including 285 males and 265 females. In 2011, literacy rate of Perka village was 66.46 % with Male literacy of 75.20 % and 56.96 % of female literacy.

However, the villagers are unaware about the tricks of the Jharkhand government for grabbing their community, religious and forest land. Here, I would like to focus on the forest land alone because the Forest Rights Act 2006 was said to be the historic legislation to right the historic wrongs done to the Adivasis and other traditional forest Dwellers. As per the land Bank data prepared by the Department of Revenue and Land Reform (Govt. of Jharkhand), three plots of the village forest with the area of 12.14 acres is enlisted in the Land Bank (See Table 1). Interestingly, in 1932 the villagers have been given the forest for their use. This has been officially recorded in the land record in the Khatiyan Part – II. As per the provisions of the forest rights Act 2006, the government authorities should have recognized the rights of the villagers on the village forest.

Table 1. Status of Forest of Perka in Land Bank

Sl. No. Register Number Plot No. Area in Acres
1. 44 1037 5.36
2. 44 392 3.17
3. 44 88 3.61
Total 01 03 12.14

Source: Land Bank, Department of Land Reform and Revenue (Govt. of Jharkhand)

The Adivasis of Perka are shocked to know that their forest is kept in the land Bank data with a clear intention to lease out to the private business entities. 55-year-old Petrus Tiru says, “I have land record papers of 1932, where we have been given right to use the forest. How can government keep our forest in the land Bank?” Another villager, 50-year-old Santosh Soy says, “We have been protecting the forest for more than 20 years. Two villagers keep watch on the forest every day. We also discuss about the protection and minimum use of the forest in our weekly Gram Sabha meetings. How can government take such step without our consent?” In the present circumstance, one needs to understand the history, concept and intention behind the formation of land Bank, which is paving the way to denial of the forest rights to the Adivasis and other traditional forest dwellers.

The state of Jharkhand is popularly known as the land of Adivasis’ struggle. The Adivasis have been resisting to protect their identity, autonomy, culture, languages, land, territory and natural resources for more than 300 years. The creation of Jharkhand as a new state in the political map of India was one of the results of the struggle. After formation of the state, the Adivasi struggle was concentrated on anti-displacement Movement as 74 MoUs were signed by the successive governments one after another within a decade. Fortunately, none of the mega project was materialized. The Adivasis forced the Arcellar Mittal Company, Jindal Company and Tata Steel Ltd to desert the proposed land[1] for their dream steel projects.

However, learning from the past, the new BJP government, formed in 2014, changed the land acquisition strategy. On 31st December 2014, the government through its Department of Revenue and Land Reform issued a circular to the Deputy Commissioners of all 24 districts asking them to conduct survey and prepared a land data incorporating all kinds of land except the private land[2] for the land bank. After accumulation of the land data, the department of Revenue and Land Reform created a new website https://jharbhoomi.nic.in, where 2,097,003.81 acres of land was shown as government land in the land bank.

Finally, Jharkhand’s Chief Minister Rabhuvar Das launched the website of Land Bank on 5th January 2016, which was followed by the signing of 210 new MoUs with the Corporate Houses during the ‘Global Investors Summit’ held at Khelgoan, Ranchi on 16-17 February 2017. Now, the Government has been attempting to acquire the common land, sacred groves and forest land without (free, prior and informed) consent of the communities. For instance, the state government has given 42 acres of so-called government land to the Vedanta company at Dimbuli village near Saranda forest in West Sighbhum district of Jharkhand and the government has been attempting to acquire the private land of the Adivasis for the company against their consent. The government is ensuring the Corporate’s entry to the villages through the land Bank.

Indeed, the land Bank was created with a clear objective to ensure the land to the corporate houses. This was categorically expressed by the Jharkhand’s Chief Minister, Raghuvar Das while speaking to the media on July 27th, 2016. He said, “Land acquisition has never been a challenge for us as we have a land bank of 1,75,000 acres readily available for different industries to set up their businesses. Farmers are ready to give us land as we are paying a handsome price. We currently hold 40 per cent of India’s natural mineral wealth and we are on the way to becoming the power hub of the country by 2019[3] .”

Interestingly, under the tag of the government land, three categories of land data were incorporated in the land bank – 1) common land of the villages including grazing land, play grounds, village paths, etc. 2) sacred groves (Sarna, Deshavali and Jaherthan) and 3) forest land, which entitlements were supposed to be given to the Adivasis and other traditional forest dwellers.

The most surprising aspect of the land bank is that out of 2,097,003.81 acres of land 1,016,680.48 acres of land is forest land, which is 48.4 percent of the total land of the land bank (see Table 2). If we analyze the data of land bank at the district level, Chatra district tops the list with 92.3 percent of the forest land reserved in the land bank. Bokaro secures second place with 90.8 percent and Giridih gets third berth with 72.8 percent of forest land kept in the land bank. However, in terms of area of forest land, Giridih gets the first place with 329,539.12 acres of forest land out of 452,074.26 acres of land of land bank. Simdega secures second position with 244,434.50 acres out of 358,450.52 acres and Gumla acquires third place with 87,082.74 acres of forest land out of 181,222.78 acres of land of the land bank.  

Table 2: Forest land in Land Bank

Sl. No. District Total Plot Area of land in Acre Forest Land
In Acre In %
1 Ranchi 10,327 1,07,677.69 78,256.44 72.68
2 Khunti 5,863 53,387.93 12,888.14 24.14
3 Lohardaga 3,951 14,372.30 9,742.95 67.79
4 Gumla 98,209 1,81,222.78 87,082.74 48.05
5 Simdega 1,10,766 3,58,450.52 2,44,434.50 68.19
6 East Singhbhum 22,151 31,607.71 8,159.21 25.81
7 West Singhbhum 27,041 3,75,662.09 49,922.02 13.29
8 Saraikela 5,609 24,467.66 5,008.71 20.47
9 Bokaro 2,624 21,827.03 19,823.80 90.82
10 Dhanbad 6,504 30,769.46 11,648.14 37.86
11 Ramgarh 574 4,284.94 2,795.72 65.25
12 Kodarma 278 4,128.11 73.38 1.78
13 Hazaribagh 1,973 25,190.21 15,801.12 62.73
14 Chatra 482 6,490.65 5,993.08 92.33
15 Palamu 0 3,005.20 1,668.50 55.52
16 Garhwa 31,319 33,546.72 7,536.10 22.46
17 Latehar 12,508 79,177.25 34,407.49 43.46
18 Dumka 17,308 77,762.05 16,629.96 21.39
19 Pakur 15,460 69,241.36 31,436.90 45.40
20 Deoghar 7,106 43,562.69 15,424.56 35.41
21 Giridih 16,642 4,52,074.26 3,29,539.12 72.89
22 Godda 4,956 23,417.28 5,929.15 25.32
23 Jamtara 9,607 36,086.36 5,803.17 16.08
24 Sahebganj 7,889 39,591.56 16,675.58 42.12
Total 4,19,147 20,97,003.81 10,16,680.48 48.48

Source: Land Bank, Department of Land Reform and Revenue (Govt. of Jharkhand)

This is a gross violation of the section 4(1) and (5) of the Forest Rights Act 2006, which recognizes the individual and community rights over the forest and forest land. It has been categorically mentioned in the section 4(5) that no member of a forest dwelling Scheduled Tribe or other traditional forest dweller shall be evicted or removed from forest land under his occupation till the recognition and verification procedure is complete[4]. In fact, the forest rights are denied to the community by enlisting the forest land and community forests in the land Bank.

The land Bank also violates the Provisions of Panchayat (Extension) in Scheduled Area Act (PESA) 1996, which recognizes the self determination of the Adivasis and empowers the Gram Sabha (village council) to manage the natural resources. This is also the violation of the Supreme Court judgment in the case of ‘Odisha Mining Corporation vs Ministry of Forest and Environment and others (c) No. 180 of 2011, which clearly states that the Gram Sabha is the owner of the natural resources, therefore, the common land, sacred groves and forest & forest land of the villages cannot be acquired without the consent of the Gram Sabhas. The formation of the Land Bank is a clear denial of the forest rights to the Adivasis and other traditional forest dwellers, which will also ensure the continuation of the historical injustice.

References: 

[1] Dungdung, Gladson. 2019. Ulgulan Ka Sauda. Ranchi: Adivasis Publications.

[2] Letter of the Department of Revenue and Land Reform, dated 31st December 2014.

[3] https://www.theweek.in/content/archival/news/biz-tech/jharkhand-government-creates-land-bank-for-industries.html

[4] Forest Rights Act 2006, Ministry of Tribal Affairs (Govt. of India)

Ground Report

Terror of Eviction from the Forest

By Gladson Dungdung

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On 13 February 2019, the Supreme Court of India while hearing on the Writ Petitions (c) No. 109/2008 Wildlife First & Ors Versus Ministry of Forest and Environment & Ors, passed an order for eviction of the Adivasis and other traditional forest dwellers, whose claims have been rejected under the Forest Rights Act 2006. The Court directed that where the verification/ reverification/review process is pending, the concerned state shall do the needful within four months from today and report be submitted to this Court. Let Forest Survey of India (FSI) make a satellite survey and place on record the encroachment positions and state the positions after the eviction as far as possible[1]. However, on 28 March 2019, the Court stayed its controversial order after the intervention petition was filed by the Central government for modification of the order apprehending its consequences on the general election. The government in its plea said that the forest dwelling scheduled tribes and other traditional forest dwellers are extremely poor and illiterate people and not well informed of their rights and procedure under the Act. They live in remote and inaccessible areas of the forest. It is difficult for them to substantiated their claimed before the competent authorities[2] therefore their claims were rejected.

The Court ordered the Chief Secretaries of the state governments to file detailed affidavits covering all the aforesaid aspects and place on record the rejection orders and the details of the procedure followed for settlement of claims and what are the main ground on which the claims have been rejected[3]. The court said that it may also be stated that whether the tribals were given opportunity to adduce evidence and, if yes, to what extent and whether reasoned orders have been passed regarding rejection of the claims[4]. The Court also ordered the Forest Survey of India to make a satellite survey and place on record the encroachment positions as far as possible before the next hearing[5]. In this circumstance, there is an apprehension of eviction of Adivasis and other traditional forest dwellers from the forests if the Supreme Court orders to execute its earlier order in forthcoming hearings. There would be eviction of more than 2 million Adivasis and other traditional forest dwellers from the forest land and forests. Therefore, we should analysis some cases to understand the impact of eviction. Kudagada is one such examples.

Kudagada is a revenue village comprised of 8 hamlets (Kudagara, Bardanda, Garurpiri, Heso, Fatehpur, Nimdih, Modotoli and Jogitoli) located in the Heso forest, falls under Namkum development block in Ranchi district of Jharkhand. There are 347 households with the population of approximately 1500[6].  The village is dominated by the Munda Adivasis, whose livelihood is based on agriculture and forest produce[7]. The most of the Adivasis own some patches of revenue land and some of them also cultivate on the forest land, which they have prepared for cultivation but don’t have entitlement papers.

When the villagers came to know about the Forest Rights Act 2006, which was enforced to recognize their rights on forest land and forest, they formed a ‘Forest Rights Committee (FRC)’ under the Kudagara Gram Sabha (village council). 36 villagers filed claim forms and submitted to the FRC[8]. The Kudagara Gram Sabha verified the claims and sent those with recommendations to Dr. Sweta, the Circle Officer of Namkum, where most of the claims were rejected and only 6 claims were converted into entitlements with small patches of land.

Interestingly, the claim of the chairperson of the FRC, Purandra Munda was rejected along with 29 others. Munda had filed claim of 1.5 acres of land. The 6 villagers, whose individual rights were recognized and given pattas (entitlement papers) are also upset because the area of land were decreased in the pattas though they have been cultivating and possessing the land for generations. For instance, Bando Munda, who had filed claim on 8 acres of land but given patta of merely 7 decimals of land[9]. Similarly, Somra Munda was given patta of 2 decimals for the claim of 2 acres and Budhram Munda also given patta of merely 2 decimals of land for 2 acres. Bando Munda is upset and angry for denying his rights. He says, “We have been cultivating on eight acres of forest land for three generations but I was given entitlement of merely seven decimals of land. How can my family survive with such small patch of land? This is injustice to me. I’m not going to leave my land.”

The villagers had also filed claim of 700 acres of forest under the community rights but their rights are not yet recognized. The circle officer had asked them to decrease the area of forest in the claim form from 700 acres to 100 acres but they refused to do so therefore, the claim file was deliberately misplaced in the office of CO and they had to file it again. Chairperson of the FRC, Purandra Munda says, “We depend on forest for our survival, therefore, we cannot even imagine our life without forest. We should be given the entitlement of 700 acres of forest, which we have been utilizing and protecting for generations.” In this case, if the SC’s eviction order is enforced, the genuine claimants of the forest rights will not only lose their cultivated land but they will also lose the community forest, which plays a vital role in their economy and entire life cycle. This is the biggest threat to their existence.

The eviction order of the Supreme Court will have adverse effect in the life of more than 2 million forest dwellers mostly the Adivasis of the country. According to the FRA status report as per 30th November 2018, 4,224,951 including 4,076,606 individuals and 148,345 community claims were filed. Out of these claims, 1,894,225 including 1,822,262 individuals and 72,064 community pattas were issued whereas 1,939,231 claims were rejected and 391,495 claims are in pending[10]. Therefore, if the SC’s order is enforced, 1,939,231 families will be chased out of the forests. A billion-dollar question is where will they go? Who will protect their fundamental right to life? The Indian constitution guarantees the right to life to everyone under the Article 21 and the State is duty bound to protect it. Unfortunately, the State has failed to protect the rights of the Adivasis and other traditional forest dwellers primarily because it intends to grab the remaining natural resources (land, forest and minerals) from them and hand it over to the Corporate Sharks.

[1] Writ Petition (c) No. 109/2008 Wildlife First & Ors Versus Ministry of Forest and Environment & Ors.

[2] https://www.deccanherald.com/national/sc-stays-order-eviction-720787.html

[3] Writ Petition (c) No. 109/2008 Wildlife First & Ors Versus Ministry of Forest and Environment & Ors.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Dungdung, Gladson. 2016. Adivasi aur Vanadhikar. Ranchi: Adivasi Publications. Pp151

[7] Ibid. pp152

[8] Ibid. pp153

[9] Ibid. 153

[10] FRA implementation Status Report November 2018. Ministry of Tribal Affairs.

Ground Report

The Betrayed Asurs of Jharkhand?

By Gladson Dungdung

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‘Tutwapani’ is one of the centres of anti-displacement movement, which is situated in the plateau of Netarhat in Jharkhand. The Adivasis have halted the proposed ‘Netarhat Field Firing Range’ project of the Indian Army. ‘Jan Denge, Jamin Nahi Denge’ (we shall surrender our lives but not land). This is the slogan, which inspired thousands of Adivasis to push back the India Army. Paradoxically, hundreds of Bauxites loaded trucks cross this place every day. The Oraons, Mundas, Birjiyas, Nagesias and Asur Adivasis live in the region but the Bauxite hills belong to the Asurs. The Asurs’ world begins from Tutwapani. The Asurs reside on the plateau, which is full of Bauxite but they never get benefit of it except using the useless left out Bauxite stones as boundaries of their houses because they cannot sell the hills. The philosophy of their life doesn’t allow them to make money from the nature instead they used it for their survival.

Historically, the Asurs are known as the first settlers of the region. They had invented the iron before any scientist could do. The first Asur couple – Shukra and Shukri invented the iron, while they were cooking food for them in a traditional oven made of stones. After cooking food, they realised that the stones used for oven were melted into iron due to heat of the fire. They used a piece of iron as a hammer and made arrows and axes from the rest of it for the hunting. The Asurs worship a hammer as their God even today. Later, they adopted the iron melting work as the occupation and made weapons for hunting and equipment for agriculture. However, the occupation didn’t survive after  emergence of the Tata company in 1907. The company introduced agriculture equipment in much lower prices, led to destruction of the traditional occupation of Asurs. They were forced to adopt the agriculture for their survival. The supporters of the capitalism argue that the big industries produce more jobs but that’s not the only truth. The bitter truth is that the mega industries do not just grab the land, territory and resources of the Adivasis but they also swallow the traditional occupations. Indeed, they are making the Adivasis resource less and measurable.

On December 28, 2018, a group of 21 of us comprises of activists, writers and researchers went to the plateau, where Asur Adivasis live. It was an exercise to understand the Adivasis’ world view. When we reached Tutwapani, it was 7pm already. The area was calm and quiet, and looks like a deserted place. Since, the temperature falls to minus degree in the night during winter therefore, the Adivasis accomplish their work and go to bed too early. As soon as, we left the main road, the vehicles hit the mud road and the red dust start floating in the air, which looks terrible in the vehicle’s light. It was the dust of Bauxite, which was enough to indicate that the worst was waiting for us. The road and pits followed equally. One could see the Bauxite stones on the road, which was used to filled up the pits. The Bauxite loaded heavy trucks convert the mud road into terrible pits and the useless abandoned Bauxite stones are used to fill up those pits so that trucks can continue carry the Bauxites.

The trucks start carrying Bauxite from 4 O’clock in the morning and go up to 10 O’clock in the night every day. This is enough to tell you that how much the mining companies are in hurry to sell out the Bauxite hills. I’m sure, they’ll not rest till every single Bauxite stone is sold out. After sometime, we were in the middle of the forest. We could see the lights seem to be coming out from the four different holes of a wall and a few colorful tiny bulbs twinkling in the middle of it, which look beautiful. These are trucks carrying Bauxites from the forest and going towards the cities. The trucks moving in a queue creates beautiful scene in the night but it fails to bring smiles on the Asurs’ faces. They simply don’t care about it.

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The Asur territory is spread over four districts – Gumla, Lohardaga, Latehar and Palamu of Jharkhand. The availability of Bauxite in the territory has created hell for Asurs. They are displaced and uprooted from their ancestor’s land and territory. Their livelihood resources are snatched away in the name of development. The Asurs are notified as one of the primitive tribes in Jharkhand. Therefore, the central and state government claim of spending millions of rupees for their welfare but the Asurs are improvised day by day. There are only 7,783 members left in the community. If the mighty State can’t even able to provide the basic facilities to such a small number of people after grabbing their mineral resources, then how can you expect the bigger things from it? The quality education, health services, employment, houses, sanitation, drinking water, etc. are still a distance dream for them. Their voices can’t be heard in the Indian democracy because now it has become merely a number game therefore, they have no role in it.

The village roads, connected with the main mud road look the same in the night because the trucks, tractors and earth movers have the same marks everywhere. An Asur couple was our guide but we lost our direction and reached to a small valley in the night. The mining companies are to be blamed for it not the couple. The couple had come to the village a year ago, since then, the geography of the region has been changed as lot due to the Bauxite mining. They live in Ghaghra, which is about 90 kilometers far from the village. Finally, we reached Chaurapat village. It was an Asur village but now Mundas are in the majority. Most of the Asurs have departed from the village long ago in search of the livelihood. However, Asur girls of adjoining villages are studying in the government residential school, where we stayed for couple of days. We were fully tired because of a long journey therefore every one of us consumed some khichri (mixed rice) and rested.

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In the next morning, the Sun rays hitting from a broken window of residential school was enough to indicates that the day has already begun. The caretaker of residential school, Melan Asur had return to his residence after having bath in a stream down to the plateau in cold water at 6am. While lying on the bed, I opened my eyes and others too. It was an undeclared abandoned building, which might fall within a couple of years. I could see the clear marks of water leakages during the rainy season. Most of us got up and went to see the other rooms, toilets and campus. The small layer of ceiling of several rooms had fallen. 88 Adivasi girls from class one to eight used to stay in this pathetic building. They had gone their homes to enjoy the winter vacation. One can’t even imagine how the girls stay and do their study in this residential school.

Meanwhile, I went to get some water from a hand pump installed in the campus but it was out of order. Suddenly, I saw a new water tank, installed in front of school building but unfortunately there too was no water. Melan Asur told me that the water was never filled up in the tank but in fact it was installed to show the visitors especially the government officials during their visit. There are two toilets in school building, which are in pathetic condition so can’t be used and most of the toilets are half built but the contractors have already withdrawn the money showing the accomplished construction on papers. The girls are sent to the forest for toilet and streams for bathing. They bath in the streams, washes their cloths and drink from the same streams. Modi government’s highly hyped the clean India project has no meaning for them. The food is cooked with firewood, therefore, couple of class rooms are used to keep firewood. There are many solar lights installed in the school premises but not even one is operational. They have become show pieces without batteries. There are only three teachers to teach the students from class one to eight and one of them spends full time in the management of hostel.  Can you imagine what kind of future these girls will have?

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Now it was time to visit the forest and stream. As soon as we came out of school premises, the entire area looks red like there was a mass killing a few hours back. Of course, it was a mass killing of Bauxite hills, agriculture fields and trees, which has been going on for decades. There is a Bauxite mining office near the residential school. One could see couple of trucks and earth movers halted in front of the office. Surprisingly, there is no signboard of the mining office, which is enough to indicate that there is something drastically wrong. Usually, once the mining companies acquire the mining leases, they install the signboards immediately to declare the area as their territory. The nameless companies don’t do so. They work secretly. After a few minutes’ walk, we could see the entire vicinity from uphill. The forests and hills look well connected with each other similar like the Adivasis do while performing a folk dance. Soon, the heartbreaking scene appears in front of our eyes. The uprooted dried trees are scatted, the roots of a few trees are out of the earth, which look like a half murder, some trees are struggling for survival and agriculture fields of uphill are full of mining pits and red mud and the abandoned mining pits seen everywhere in the forest. It looks like someone has robbed the treasury of entire vicinity in the night.

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The villagers unfold the story. There are two kinds of Bauxite mining in the vicinity – legal and illegal. According to the available data, the Birla’s Hindalco is the major legal mining lease holder of Bauxite in Jharkhand with 5 leases. The company produces 2.23 Mt Bauxite per annum. There are also several illegal operators, who keep small offices, few trucks for transportation and earth movers for excavation. These illegal operators, trap some local unemployed Adivasi youth. They deploy them as local contractors, whose prime role is to convince the Adivasi land holders to give their land for mining. A so-called local contractor Adivasi youth is given Rs.1500 per truck and a land owner gets Rs.200 against one truck of Bauxite excavated from his agriculture field, which is less than daily wage. These days even a daily wage labourer earn Rs.400 per day.

The illegal miners sell the Bauxites to the legal holders like Hindalco @ Rs.9500 per truck. After cutting the cost of loading, transportation, land owner, local contractor, levy to the Maoists and bribe to the government officers, the illegal miners earn Rs.5000 per truck. So, one can imagine how much money they make every day by selling the Bauxite hills in the name of development. These companies violate the forest conservation Act 1980, Forest Rights Act 2006 and PESA Act 1996. They neither get the forest and environment clearances nor consent of the Gram Sabha (village council). One would question that how is it possible to mine in such a huge area without permission? Is government not aware about it? Do they have any kind of nexus to protect their business interest? We get the answer of some of these questions immediately.

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The villagers tell us that 11 Maoist Guerrillas had arrived in the village on December 25, 2018 just three days before our arrival. The owners of the mining companies had ordered to cook local chicken for them. They had chicken party in the mining office and went back. We were told that the Maoist Guerrillas were still in the forest next to the village. They already had information about our arrival and if they would smell any kind of threat, they can go against us to any extent. When there is such a strong nexus between the Maoists and illegal miners, who will dare to stand against them? The Maoists and illegal miners both are against of building a concrete road. They know that a concrete road will make their heaven unsafe. The police and government officers can access to the region at any time. The business of the mining companies is flourishing without a concrete road but it has created hell for the Adivasis. They cycle 20 to 25 kilometres in such a pathetic road. The Bauxite mining has become a major source of levy for the Maoists. These days, they convey meetings with the mining Mafias instead of the Adivasis. Now you can decide, for whom they are fighting a war. Of course, they are not fighting for the Asur Adivasis but protecting the business interest of the mining Mafias. Should we still deny the reality of sandwich theory and take for guaranteed that they are messiahs for the Adivasis?

The Adivasis can foresee about the upcoming livelihood crisis. Most of the Bauxites have already been excavated in the plain area as well as in the forest, and now the mining activities have been slowing moving towards the main agricultural land. When these prime agriculture land is grabbed for mining, the Adivasis will starve. How long Rs.200 earn from per truck Bauxite will ensure food for them? And once the excavation is done, the land would be no longer usable for the agriculture. The Adivasis depend on agriculture for their survival. The straws kept for cattle on the wooden platforms are enough to tell that there was very good harvest this year. Melan Asur says that mining will destroy the Adivasis. They will have no other option than migrating to the adjoining town and cities for their survival.

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Finally, we reach near the streams. There are several small streams naturally created, where the water comes out of the Bauxite hills. These are the main sources of water for the Adivasis, animals and birds. The water flows toward a river. The water of the river is cold like an ice. The villagers go to the forest for defecation and we to follow their paths. The toilet facilities are not available in the village but the irony is that the Jharkhand government has already declared the entire block area as free from the open defecation. The villagers say that they can’t use toilet even if the government builds toilets for them because of the lack of water in the uphill. Who will carry the water from the downstream for toilets? The villagers carry water for cooking and drinking from the streams, which are both sides of the village. Our team members were instructed not to take photos of people while defecating in open places, which can create unrest for the Indian State and the Media can also spend its precious time to depict us as an anti-Modi gang. The women and children wash the dishes in streams and fetch water in the aluminum pots made of Bauxite. The water is contaminated with high mineral but they have no choice.

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There is not even one hospital in the region. The villagers say that they go to Bishunpur, which is 50 kilometers far from the village. The transportation facility is also not available in the region; therefore, the villagers use the Bauxite trucks as transport. They pay the driver for it. In fact, this is a major source of extra income for the truck drivers and the assistants. Melan Asur says that he calls the parents and handover the girls if they fall sick. The government hospitals are at 40 to 50 kilometers from either side. The mining companies don’t spend money for health and education of Adivasis. They are only interested is making money from the Bauxites under the tag of development for them. Of course, the government subscribes their idea of development that why they don’t feel of being responsible for the infrastructure development of the region. I think if the Adivasis would have stopped the Bauxite trucks, these mining companies would have launched the CSR programmes to woo them. But no one dare to stop the Bauxite trucks because of the Maoists connection with it.

There are five government residential schools for the Adivasi children in the region. Among these, three schools are for the boys and two for the girls. The capacity of boy’s schools are three times more than the girls’ schools have. This is a unique example of gender inequality promoted by the government, who claims of protecting and educating the girl children with a slogan “Beti Bachao, Beti Padhawo” (protect and educate a girl child). The first Asur teacher, Chat Asur, who served as head teacher in Jobhipat residential school says that the residential schools lack teachers, toilet facilities and school buildings but everything is good on papers.

One can see the electric polls installed in the village and electric wire are also connected with a few of them. But electric wires are also broken down between couple of electric polls. The state government has declared of providing electricity to all the villages in Jharkhand. There were breaking news is the media, which states that the government has provided electricity to every village after 70 years. What an achievement? Besides, the government spent millions of Rupees in the advertisements just to inform the people that it has provided electricity in the entire state. I say that it is a kind of official bribe to the media houses. That’s the reason why the media houses are not interested to check the ground realities. But is it possible to bury the truth forever? I believe that nothing is hidden, which will not be revealed because the villagers keep telling everyone, whoever visit their village.

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While roaming in the village, we could also see and understand what going on, in the Adivasi children’s minds, which has been well reflected on the black walls of every house. The Bauxite trucks, earth movers and mining pits have replaced the birds, animals, flowers, fruits, trees, forests and water bodies from children’s minds. They have drawn the pictures of Bauxite loaded trucks, earth movers and mining sites on the walls of their houses. Of course, this is frightening. Do these children intent to earn money from the Bauxite hills? What kind of education is being imparted? Do teachers discuss with children on the impact of Bauxite mining in the social science classes or do they talk about how to make profit by selling the Bauxite hills?

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After understanding the Adivasi wisdom, witnessing the loot of Bauxite under the guise of development and seeing the ground reality of rural development, we started moving out of the Asurs’ world. The road looks red in the sunlight. The trucks were also moving on the road and dust could be seen floating in the air. The mining companies must pour water on the road everyday as per the law and develop the area of 10 kilometers but they do nothing except trading the Bauxites. The green leaves of Sal trees have turned into red. The dust enters in the lungs of every human being, birds and animals equally. The Adivasis, animal, birds, trees and all living beings are facing the breathing problem.

After sometime, we reached Tutwapani and the several questions arose into my mind that why is the mighty power of Adivasis, who pushed back the Indian Army is unable to stop the Bauxite loaded trucks? Why don’t the companies and government who have been selling out the Bauxite hills think about the Adivasis, animals, birds, trees and forest? Why do our political leaders attend the international conferences on global warming if they still busy in selling the hills, forests and water bodies in the name of development? Does the development means selling the hills? Is this kind of development not hurting the Asurs?

Ground Report

Land Grab in Kochang

By Gladson Dungdung

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He was alone from Kochang village in the crowd of more than 2000 Adivasis, gathered in Sarvada, which was one of the centers during the Birsa Revolt popularly known as “Birsa Ulgulan”. Kochang was defamed worldwide for gang rape and its so-called connection with Pathalgari Movement last year. Since then, every Adivasi of the village is under surveillance, therefore, they don’t go anywhere in a group. As per the Article 19 of the Indian Constitution, the right to freedom of expression, movement and assembly is fundamental rights of everyone in the country and the State is duty bound to protect, promote and secure these rights. However, the same rights come under the purview of anti-State activities here and anyone can be booked under the sedition charges for their involvement in such activities.

On December 9, 2018, the man had come to tell us about the story of land grab in Kochang but he didn’t dare to unfold the story in the mass meeting due to fear of being victimised by the State. He apprehends of paying the price for exposing the land grab because many police informers were also present in the meeting. He assumes that he might be falsely accused of being the part of Pathalgari Movement and thrown behind the bars. But he was unable to control his emotions. Perhaps, he thought that it may be unfair to return his village without unfolding the matter of land grab. After hearing my speech patiently, he came to me and said that he wants to tell me something about Kochang but of course, not in public. I was eager to know as I already had a document of Kochang land grab, therefore, we went to a corner. He narrated the whole story and I heard him patiently.

The story is that after so much of hue and cry on the ‘Pathalgari Movement’, which is one of the autonomous movements of Adivasis in Jharkhand, the land grab has begun in the Mundas’ territory. The State has been busy in establishing the permanent security camps in the region so that the grabbing of land and mineral resources for the corporate sharks could be started. Needless to say that the security forces will be used to suppress the dissent voices during the corporate resources grab. The State has been facilitating the natural resource grab using all the possible ways and means. For instance, the consent of the Gram Sabha is must for land acquisition in the Fifth scheduled areas but the government has hijacked the power of Gram Sabha. The case of Kurun and Kochang villages unfolds it.

On 23 October 2018, the Circle Officer (CO) of Arki Circle Office issued a notice for conducting Gram Sabha’s meetings in Kurun and Kochang village on 29th and 30th October 2018, subsequently. The letter reads, “A notification letter issued by the Superintendent of Police, Khunti regarding the land acquisition for the construction of community halls in Kurung and Kochang is received, and the dates for the meetings of Gram Sabhas have been fixed on 29th and 30th subsequently, therefore, the presence of every of Gram Sabha member is must.”

The Adivasis of Kochang and Kurung question that how can the CO fix the dates and issue the notices for conducting the Gram Sabhas’ meetings? Who has authorized him to do so? How did he get such power and authority to order us for conducting the Gram Sabha’s meetings? The Deputy Commission of Khunti was out of the scene and the prime role was assigned to the Superintendent of Police, Khunti. Therefore, villagers also question the role of SP. Has the government changed the role of SP from the law and order to rural development? If the SP will look after the law and order and deal with the affairs of rural development, then what will the Deputy Commissioner do?

It would be very interesting to know that there are community halls in both the villages therefore, the villagers doubt whether the SP is going to build community halls or police camps in thier villages? According to the letter, 2.47 acres of land will be acquired in each village for the community hall, which raises a serious question. What kind of community hall the SP is going to build? As per the present practices, 15 to 20 decimal land is acquired for the construction of a community hall, which is more than enough, and of course, there is no such community hall in any village in Jharkhand, which is built on such massive land of 2.47 acres.

The fact is that the government has planned to build permanent security camps in both the villages to serve the vested interest. However, the policy makers know that Gram Sabhas will never give NOC for the land acquisition for setting up the permanent police camps in the villages. Therefore, a trick was played in the name of community hall. Fortunately, the Adivasis understood the trick instantly. They also know that as per the PESA Act 1996, only the village head can call for a meeting of Gram Sabha, still they followed the government order to understand it in depth.

After issuing notice, the police started threatening the villagers. On 29 October 2018, Khunti police picked up Sukhram Soy, village head of Kochang from the market, when he was having breakfast in a roadside hotel. He was taken to Khunti police station. The police officers threatened him to book under sedition charges if he doesn’t agree for the land acquisition. They said that they will send him behind the bars in a false case regarding his involvement in Pathalgari Movement. He was released from the police station at 11pm. The State has been using the ‘Pathalgari’ to punish the dissents. For instance, 20 activists, writes and students were booked under sedition charges. Among these, some of them had merely shared some of my articles regarding the Pathalgari Movement on their Facebook walls. Interestingly, the State violates the laws but the Adivasis are booked and imprisoned under the sedition charges. The Adivasis have been struggling for survival in their own country.

It was the peak hour of harvesting season, still the villages of Kurung and Kochang gathered for the Gram Sabhas’ meetings on 29th and 30th following the CO’s order. They thought that the denial of the CO’s order may have adverse affect on them as more than 60 village headmen and common Adivasis are already in prison on the allegation of being the members of Pathalgari Movement. But neither the CO nor the SP or other officers arrived for the meetings. One full day was wasted but who will pay wage to the Adivasis for it?

Interestingly, on November 1st, 2018, the Officer-in-Charge (OC) of Arki Police Station arrived by his vehicle with some police constables having guns in their hands and ‘Saris and Dhotis (cloths for men and women) in the vehicle. They started distributing ‘Saris and Dhotis’ among the people, who were present in the small market near Kochang village. They also gave Saris and Dhotis to those, who were grazing their cattle near the village. They asked the beneficiaries to put their signature or thumb impression on some blank papers. The OC was extremely pleased for accomplishing the work. Perhaps, he thought that the grabbing of the Adivasis’ land is one of the easiest task on the Earth. Adivasis can be fooled with a piece of cloth or ‘Haria’ (traditional drink) with chicken. But is it so? Of course, Not. However, he was overwhelmed.

On the next day, he converted the blank papers as the consent papers of Gram Sabhas for land acquisition and sent it to the SP. The man told me that none of those who have singed or impressed their thumbs on blank papers after receiving ‘Saris and Dhotis’ belong to Kochang village. I just laughed thinking that what will happen to the OC when the SP would come to know about the truth? Is OC made himself fool while fooling the Adivasis? But who will reveal the truth? Will the mainstream media take any interest on it, who tirelessly misinterpreted the autonomous movement of Adivasis while reporting about the Pathalgari?

The case of Kochang exposes that how the biggest democracy on the Earth, has been suffering from the democratic deficit. Is democracy alive in our country anymore? I would say that the capitalism has already assassinated the democracy long ago. How can the democracy be alive when the PESA Act 1996 passed by the Indian Parliament is kept aside to serve the vested interest? The PESA Act recognizes and legitimates the Gram Sabha as supreme authority of a village located in the fifth Schedule area.

Indeed, one can also say that the corporate houses have hijacked the Indian democracy because they fund the political parties and spend countless money during the elections, which is actually the investment for them similar like they invest in a share market. And after formation of the government, they harvest it. That’s why the government(s) amend the safeguarding laws made for Adivasis to serve the corporate interests. Kochang land grab is enough to prove that the State has been facilitating the land and resource grab. The man who told me about the Kochang land grab, went back to his village but no one knows how long he would be safe. He has invited me to visit Kochang but I’m not sure whether I’ll meet him in his village, somewhere else or in the prison.

Ground Report

An Unrest in Mundas’ Country

By Gladson Dungdung

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On 3rd December 2018, there was a complete silence at Chuklu village. The Munda Adivasis claim of being the owners of the village because their ancestors had settled down here couple of centuries ago. The village is situated in ‘Birbanki’ region, which is in the eastern part of Khunti district in Jharkhand. In the government’s document, it’s one of the most Naxal affected regions of Jharkhand. The region is full of beautiful pictorial sites with forests, hills and water bodies in it, connected with each other. The yellow colour of ripen paddies adds more beauty in the scene. In the region, the air is pure; the water is pure and the Mundas are pure too. No one cheat anyone or grab anyone’s land or betray anyone here like the so-called civilized people do in the cities. Instead they live in community, respect each other’s autonomy and share and care of one another. The communism, equality and autonomy are the foundation of their society.

Indeed, the World would have been a beautiful place if this philosophy could have also been in the practice of the so-called civilized people’s lives. Today, the Mundas have been struggling for their survival because the co-called civilized people have grabbed their land and other livelihood resources, and are trying hard to grab the remain lands, invading into their territories and making money by selling the natural resources. They do not only sell the land, minerals, hills, waterbodies and forests but they also sell the water and the air after polluting the nature through massive industrialization in the name of public interest, economic growth and development. They are exploiting the nature and Mundas.

The impact of climate change caused by the heavy industrialization globally, can be easily seen in the region. The lack of timely rain, has adverse effect on agriculture, which totally depend on monsoon. The paddies of uphill fields have turned into straws, which could be used as food for cattle only. The Government’s agriculture loan and insurance policy don’t work in the region. The Mundas know that they will not compensated for the loss of harvest, therefore, they don’t even expect for it. Since, they don’t pollute the nature, therefore, they cannot even imagine about the impact of industrialization in their lives, instead, they think that perhaps, it’s a curse of the Singbonga (God).

It’s the harvesting time. The Mundas are busy in harvesting of ripped paddies, which will ensure food for them till the next harvesting season. They are happy to see the sufficient ripen paddies in their prime agriculture lands. They will survive despite the impact of climate change. Today, the Gram Sabha (Village council) had called for a mass meeting of 15 adjoining villages to discuss on the issues of land grab, violation of the constitutional, legal and traditional rights and the government’s divide and rule policy.

When I arrived to the village, I hardly see anyone, therefore, a question arose in my mind that who will attend the meeting in such a pick hour of harvesting? The village head, who was preparing traditional breakfast for the guests was hopeful and suggested me to wait for the people. He knew that the Mundas would surely turn up for the meeting. They know about the importance of such meeting. They know the importance of land for their lives. If they lose their land, there will be no harvesting season for them anymore. They are aware about the fact that the elected government has been batting for the corporate houses, therefore, their remaining land can be grabbed anytime.

In the afternoon, the Mundas started rushing to Chuklu. They sat down under the tamarind tries standing in the middle of the village. This is a socio-cultural place, known as ‘Akhra’. They conduct meeting, share the traditional wisdom with their children and perform dance during the festivals. The Mundas are always determined to protect their land, territory and resources. Indeed, they are worriers. They fought against the Britishers and they have been fighting against the Indian rulers too. This fight is for identity, autonomy and ownership rights over the land, territory and resources, which has been going on for last couple of centuries.

In the eastern part of Akhra, couple of stone slaps seems to be standing for years. These stone slabs had been installed by the Gram Sabha (village council). One can see the detail about village including the landholders, curved on the slabs. This is also known as the proof of land entitlement. The State is afraid of the such stone slabs; therefore, the installation of stone slabs is counted as anti-national activity these days. One can be thrown behind the bars for indulging such activity. However, these stone slabs standing like the walls, are enough to inspire the Mundas to continue their fight for protecting their land, territory and resources. They remind them that the land contains the sweat and blood of their ancestors, therefore, they must protect it and handover to the coming generations. That’s why the Mundas challenge the State without any fear and terror.

At the beginning of the meeting, Birsa Hansa of Chuklu village sings a folk song in Mundari, “Abu Adivasis Munda Ko Singbonga kabu bagiya, gathi-kuthi radi-bari jati ko oote hasa ko reo jad bua.” The literal meaning of the song is that ‘we the Munda Adivasis shall never leave our God because non-Adivasis are grabbing our land.’ The Mundas used to sing this song during the Birsa Revolt. However, this song is very much relevant event today therefore, they sing it in the meetings with the same spirit. There is no need to teach them about Birsa Revolt, they know that they must fight to protect their land, territory and resources till the last breath. They challenge the State whenever and wherever is required therefore, they are under scanner. They need a permission for holding any kind of social, cultural or political activity in the villages.

These days, no one can organize a meeting without prior permission of the Government authorities, which is against the PESA Act 1996. As per the Act, the Gram Sabha is the supreme authority of a village but the State has hijacked it. Therefore, the Gram Sabhas also needs to get permission from the government authority. What’s an irony? Chuklu Gram Sabha had acquired the prior permission for today’s meeting, still, a CRPF officer along with three constables rushed to the venue. They heard our discussions patiently so that they could fix some of us as anti-national activists under the sedition law. But, this time, they had to rush back empty hands as we discussed on the issues of land grab, land bank, power of Gram Sabha, religious conflict, violation of constitutional, legal and traditional rights and our ownership rights over the land, territory and resources. Perhaps, the security men had come to find out the Pathalgari connection. Most interestingly, we didn’t even know that the RSS men were also part of this meeting. They went to the police station and attempted to file an FIR against the organisers and me but that didn’t work. They were upset because I exposed about their political game behind creating the religious conflict among Adivasis.

After hearing my speech for couple of hours, a 25-year-old Adivasi youth Sagen raises his right hand and stands up. His face looks furious; his eyes are red and mind seems to be unrest. He questions, “Why did the Jharkhand government enlisted our land in land bank?  How can the government take such an illegal step without consent of the Gram Sabhas? How can we protect our land?” The Jharkhand government has constituted a land bank in 2014, where 2.1 million acres of so-called government land is enlisted. These are commons, sacred grooves and forest land, which are owned by the Gram Sabhas. The land bank is violation of the PESA Act 1996, FRA 2006 and SC’s Niyamgiri judgment. The most important question is that when the State violates the law, who will act against it? The land grab has created unrest in the Mudas minds and hearts.

The Mundas’ territory known as their country seems to be calm and quiet, but in reality, there is unrest. The unrest is in the minds and hearts of Mundas, which has been burning like coal fire under the Earth for last couple of years. This unrest reflects while they speak either in a meeting or normal conversation. Most of the village heads have already been imprisoned in the sedition charges for their involvement in autonomous movement known as ‘Pathalgari’ similar like the Britishers did with the Adivasi legend Birsa Munda in 19th century.

I have been travelling across the Mundas’ territory for a decade now but this time, I was shocked to see that the entire territory has already been militarized after the Pathalgari Movement and Kochang gang rape incident, and the efforts are also being made for establishment of the permanent security camps in the villages. The questions arise in mind, for whom these security camps have been established? Do Mundas need the security? What is the purpose of these camps? Ironically, the government has setup the security camps at the distance of every five kilometers but the government hospitals are located at 40 to 50 kilometers from the villages, where there is no guarantee for treatment. The government doctors are busy in their private clinic but they draw salary from the taxpayers’ money. But who bother about it? Where is the accountability of the State?

The CRPF runs its security camps in some of the schools, where children learn more about the guerilla warfare than their textbooks, eat midday meal and get back to home. The secondary schools are located at 30 to 40 kilometers from these villages. The children can’t cycle everyday on pathetic road therefore, most of them drop out after class 8th. Indian democracy can’t even build a good road for them. What else they can expect from such State despite casting their votes in every five years. India is known as the largest democracy on the Earth but in reality, the corporate houses have hijacked the democracy. Today, the State is run by the corporate sharks, who are striving to grab the land, territory and resources of the Adivasis including the Mundas.

Ground Report

Why I’m on the LoC?

By Gladson Dungdung

Gladson Dungdung and Swami Agnivesh

Since 2013, I have been travelling abroad to speak on the Adivasi issues in different forums. I talk about our rights over the land, territory and resources, conservation of the natural resources and protection of ecology of the country. Consequently, I’m under the surveillance of the State as I raise uncomfortable questions frequently. In October 2013, my passport was impounded on the basis of “adverse police report” due to my involvement in the people’s movements against forceful land acquisition and unfolding the gross human rights violation of Adivasis in the counter insurgency in the so-called Red Corridor of India. However, after my special request to the top police officers of Jharkhand for proper verification of the passport, it was restored in July 2014. Thereafter, I attended a couple of conferences in Denmark and the UK. Last, November, I travelled to London following the release of my book, Mission Saranda: A War for Natural Resources in India.

This May, I was scheduled to attend a workshop on the environmental politics of South Asia at the University of Sussex, UK. Unfortunately, this became a nightmare for me. On May 9, 2016 after check-in, I collected the boarding card and went to immigration counter. I submitted the immigration form along with the passport and boarding card to the immigration officer. At the beginning, the immigration officer talked to me nicely but later it was inconvenient. After asking general questions, he also asked me whether I’m a student? In response, I told him of being a researcher. The next question he asked was on which topic I do research? I said, “Human Rights”. As soon as he heard the words “Human Rights”, he deserted his chair and went inside to find out his boss. He returned to the counter after 15 minutes and called the Air India staff and ordered him to offload my luggage.

After hearing the word “offloading”, I was stunned, therefore, I asked him the reason for offloading me, he told me that my passport is impounded, so I can’t fly to London. He wrote “offloaded” on the boarding card and handed over a seizure memo for my signature, which reads “Pax was LoC subject”, which clearly means I was under the “look out circular” but I was not told about it. When I was reading the memo before putting my signature on it, the officer told me, “You have enough time to read it later so put your signature on it and give me back”. When the offloading procedure got over after two hours, I was sent to collect my luggage, where I had to wait for another couple of hours. Of course, this kind of treatment was really shocking for me. Suddenly, question arose into my mind was that what would have happened if I were a family member of Malaya, Ambani or Adani family? This time it’s not the nation but I want to know from the nation that why I’m on the look out circular? Am I a security threat to the Nation? Am I anti-State? Am I against of economic growth and development of my own country?

Most interestingly, impounding of passport was told as the reason for offloading me from the Air India 115 but the Regional Passport Officer (RPO) of Ranchi, Sanatan Shrivastava told to the media that my passport was impounded in 2013 but restored after proper police verification and clearance. At the same time, the Ministry of External Affairs, New Delhi also declined its involvement and said that it is a valid passport therefore, the person is not barred from flying abroad. Indeed, an immigration officer can’t take such steps without authorization either from the top officers or from the Ministry of Home Affairs. Therefore, my question is that who is responsible for it? Where does buck stop? Why I was offloaded?

First of all, we need to understand that the most of Indians think that the human rights is a western concept similar like western dresses, food, culture, etc, which is indeed the gravest threat to Brahamanical social order, therefore, the human rights was propagated in negative sense that it is to protect the criminals, Naxals and terrorists. Thus, those are engaged in the promotion and protection of human rights are seen as the people serving against the interest of the country. Ironically, the foundation of the Indian Constitution is based on the principles of human rights that’s why it is not enforced properly. However, bitter truth is that these days, the wisdom and authority don’t go together therefore, authoritarian governments never engage the dissent voices, which is of course a threat to democracy.

Undoubtedly, we the rights activists are seen as anti-state, who are allegedly said to be going abroad to defame the country and in return, paid huge sum of money by those countries who are against of India’s progress. Of course, that’s not true. It’s happening precisely because the Indian politics is negative. Earlier, the opposition parties were known for negative role but now even the ruling parties play the negative politics, therefore, whoever raises uncomfortable questions are seen as enemy of the State, instead of dissent voices, who needs to be engaged by the State. Question is can democracy survive without the dissent? Can India claim of being the true largest democracy on Earth today? I’m asking these questions precisely because our fundamental rights the right to freedom of expression guaranteed by the Indian Constitution the right to freedom of expression is being curtailed by the State by the use of varies ways and means. In fact, the State must understand that dissents are not anti-State but they are there to strengthen the democracy.

At the beginning I was alleged as a ‘sympathizer of the Maoist’ but is that true? The fact is I have heavily criticized the Maoist Movement in Jharkhand for their support to the corporate houses, therefore, the State simply cannot allege me of being the Naxal sympathizer. For me, the Maoist Movement is almost equal to a private security agency today, who provides security to anyone who pay for it. The CPI-Maoist is also doing the same in Saranda Forest of Jharkhand, which was the eastern headquarter of the CPI-Maoist for a decade, where the State couldn’t dare to run a school, but more than 12 mining companies were comfortably operating their mining projects in the forest. How was that possible?

My biggest anguish is on the general perception about the Adivasis, who are perceived as anti-development, Naxals and sub-human crowd by the State and non-state actors. But are we? For instance, 1000 innocent Adivasis were brutally killed in the fake encounters, more than 500 women were raped or molested and 25,000 are languishing in different prisons in the allegation of being Naxals across the Red Corridors. 300,000 Adivasis were vacated from 644 villages in Chhatisgarh. What should they do?

Land acquisition is another big issue today. The Adivasis are being alienated from their resources. In the Nagri Mass Movement near Ranchi the capital city of Jharkhand, we were protesting not against the education hub but against the acquisition of prime agriculture land. Our argument was that education hub could be built on the barren land but instead of listening our rational argument, we were branded as a crowd against IIM, IIIT and Law University. How could the nation forget that the corporate model of development the Tata Steel Ltd, dream projects of Nehru i.e. HEC, BSL, Hirakud Dam, Mayurakshi and Tenughat, etc all are built on Adivasis’ land? 80 to 90 percent people displaced in these projects were Adivasi, who were not respited properly. How could the development theory being taught to us by those who have not even surrendered one inch of land for the national interest?

Agriculture was known as backbone of India but today the prime focus in on mining, industry and service sector. In 1950, the contribution of the agricultural sector in GDP was 51 per cent but today it has come down to 18 per cent. The service sector is fine, but mining and industry do not really care about climate change and deforestation. For money, can we sell all our forests and cut down the trees? We have to find other ways. The industry sector is not going to address the unemployment. For instance, when Tata Steel was producing 1 million tonnes steel per annum, 70,000 people were employed. When the yielding went upto 8 million tonnes, they had only 20,000 people. So where are the jobs? We must understand that the food security of majority of rural population is ensured today only because they have small patches of land.

However, in the name of development, the Indian State is grabbing the natural resources from the poor people and handing it over to the rich. Take the example of Jharkhand. Each year, there is an income of Rs 150 billion from mining alone, which is almost equal to the annual budget of Jharkhand. But 36 per cent of the people still live below the poverty line. Why? If so much money is coming from mining, why are people living in poverty? Why the money is not going back to the people? Is it not true that the corporate sharks are being benefited under the guise of economic growth and development of country?

After a lots of hue and cry, the Indian State officially accepted that historical injustice meted out on the Adivais and promised to right the historical wrongs through the Forest Rights Act 2006. However, the enforcement of the Act is very poor with the clear intention to handover the natural resources to the private entities. For instance, 0.5 million claims were rejected in the State of Chhattisgarh, where 345 MoUs have been signed, and entitlement given under the FRA was withdrawn in Sarguja district for coal mining, which is against the Forest Rights Act. Similarly, in Saranda Forest of Jharkhand, 22 new iron ore mining leases were sanctioned to the corporate houses whereas 3000 Adivasis of 30 villages have not yet been given identity cards intentionally so that they could be declared encroachers during the forest clearance.

Finally, I’m much concerned about the upcoming ecological crisis, which India is going to face. Since, the Indian government envisages to achiever 9 percent GDP per annum, therefore, the focus is on economic growth, which to is not only a threat to the existence of Adivasis, but also to our ecology. India has merely 21 percent forest coverage though the requirement for the maintenance of environment is at least 33 per cent. I was really surprised to see the Union Minister, who is supposed to take case of environment, forest and climate change seems busy in issuing environment and forest clearances to the private entities. He brought down from 560 days to 190 days for forest and environment clearance for the so-called development projects. Is this a project clearance ministry? From April 2014 to March 2016, the ministry has diverted 34,620 hectares of forest land, granting them final clearances and another diversion of 40,476 hectares will soon happen once the ministry grants them final clearance. India will not survive by selling its natural resources for economic growth. The ruling elites must understand that the economy can not be expanded on the cost of ecology but who is going to tell them? And of course, when I tell them the fact about livelihood, ecological and human crisis in publicly they put me on LoC.

On 20 May 2015, I met the Regional Passport Officer, Ranchi to know the status of my passport, and I was surprised to know that the passport is valid. However, the offloading was done by immigration authority without proper verification. What does it mean? It clearly means that I was offloaded because of my book – Mission Saranda: A War for Natural Resources in India, which exposed that how the Indian State has been waging a war primarily for grabbing the natural resources under the guise of cleansing the naxal menace. Finally, my passport was restored with a letter, which states that my passport is valid therefore, I can fly to any country. But of course, my name is not remove from the LoC. Why? Am I still a gravest security threat to the nation? Where is my right to freedom?

Ground Report

Twenty-two stitches for drinking water

By Gladson Dungdung

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The winter had begun. It was seven in the morning. The Sun’s ray was hitting on the ripen paddy plants by crossing the tall Sal trees. The birds were jumping from here to there in the bushes. And the villagers were moving towards their agricultural field for harvesting. After spending the winter night in the Red Corridor of Latehar district in Jharkhand, we boarded into our vehicle for proceeding towards Barwadih. After some time, we reached to a village called Gadi, which is located in the Barwadih police station area of Jharkhand’s Latehar district, northeast of the state’s capital Ranchi. We saw a man in his 30s, sitting on a mud made platform of his house closed to the main road. He was looking morose. When we got talking, he told us that his name was Nagendra Singh and he was a Chero Adivasi. There were 22 stitches on his head. These stitches were the price he had to pay for using the hand pump at a police checkpoint near the famous Betla sanctuary. Can a person be punished so severely in a free country for consuming some water from a public hand pump?

Of course, it was unbelievable. We were shocked, disturbed and angry. Beyond doubt, it was a shameful and condemnable incident. We wanted to reveal the truth therefore sat beside Nagendra and sought details from him. Initially, he was surprised. He could not believe that a group of strangers could be interested in his tale of woes. Even more so because those whom he voted for had no time to hear his problems and no sympathy for his pain and anguish. Now it has become a regular practice in our democratic country that once elected, our representatives never make an appearance till the next polls, therefore the voters too don’t expect their appearance and Nagendra was not different from them. Besides, Nagendra was also fearful that he may have to suffer again for sharing with us what he went through. It was only after a great deal of persuasion that he opened up and revealed his harrowing tale.

Nagendra is a daily-wage labourer in the Betla sanctuary. He provides for his family – his wife Geeta (30), daughter Durgiwati (8), and son Shrishant (7) – with the Rs177 he gets for a day’s work. There is a tradition of holding annual fair in the remote areas. Every year, a fair is held at the Palamu Fort on November 1st, which draws a large number of visitors. As Nagendra Singh had gone for work, his wife Geeta went to the fair along with their two children. After his day’s work was over, Nagendra too joined them at Palamu Fort. In the evening, the family started back to their home. It was around 6pm when they reached the Betla police check post.

Meanwhile, Nagendra’s daughter Durgiwati felt thirsty. When she saw the hand pump near the checkpoint, she asked her father to fetch water for her. Nagendra had barely laid his hands on the pump when a policeman, Upendra Paswan, posted at the checkpoint, started abusing him. “You are a Naxalite. Why are you drinking water from here?” he asked him. Nagendra replied, “Sir, I am not a naxalite. I am a daily-wage labourer at Betla sanctuary.” But Paswan would have none of it. He started hitting Nagendra. Soon, two other constables, Ramesh Mahto and Bindeshwari Singh, joined him, and the three of them punched and kicked Nagendra and rained lathis onto him. All the three men were dead drunk.

When Gita tried to shield her husband, she too was hit with lathis on her right hand and her back. The jawans did not spare the kids either. Nagendra was hit on his head. His skull cracked and blood began to ooze out. He fell unconscious. After seeing him in such a situation, Gita was frightened of losing his. Suddenly, she tied Nagenra’s head with her sari to stop the bleeding. After some time, when he regained consciousness, they decided to resume their journey so that they can rush to Hospital for treatment. However, the policemen did not allow them to use the main road. They somehow reached a hospital. Timely treatment saved Nagendra’s life. He got 22 stitches on his head and had to spend Rs 5,000 on the treatment.

On 2nd November, 2014, Nagendra rushed to the Barwadih police station with some of his relatives to register a case against the three policemen. The Officer-in-charge, however, refused to file an FIR. But Nagendra was not one to give up easily. He persisted, and ultimately, the Officer-in-charge took his written application and gave him a copy, acknowledging the receipt of the complaint. However, the actual FIR was not registered intentionally to shield the policemen. But a copy of the complaint with the signature of the police officer was enough for Nagendra to take his battle ahead. Interestingly, even after six decades of Indian democracy, registering an FIR in the police station looks like winning a war. This is how our system of governance exists at the grassroots.

The same evening, at around 4, Dhananjay Prasad, the sub-inspector of Barwadih police station, along with armed policemen, reached Nagendra’s home. He asked Nagendra to withdraw the complaint. A crowd soon gathered there and started pressurizing him on behalf of the police. The police officer gave Nagendra Rs8,000 for his treatment and asked him to wash the blood-soaked sari. He also made Nagendra sign on a letter which said, “We have reached a compromise and we will not quarrel with each other again.” It looks like Nagendra had started fight against the policemen so he had to compromise. Indeed, incredible police officers we have in our country, who are cable enough to shield their inhuman cops in each and every circumstance. How can you hope for justice in such a situation?

Nagendra still appears terror-stricken but his wife Gita is brave. She has kept the blood-soaked sari safely. She wants to fight against the police atrocities. She is not ready to accept such a heavy price just for using the hand pump at a police station. “What crime had we committed to be beaten like animals? She asks. “I am ready to fight against the policemen.” The Jharkhand Human Rights Movement has taken up the matter with the National Human Rights Commission. So we have to wait and watch whether Nagendra and his family members are delivered justice? Of course, twenty two stitches for drinking water can’t be acceptable. Isn’t this a shame for the world’s largest democracy? But who bothers in a country where the Adivasi, Dalits and women are given less important than animals?