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)

Research Paper

Land is Life for Adivasis

by Gladson Dungdung

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“Jan Denge, Jameen Nahi Denge” (We shall surrender our lives but not land). This has been the most popular slogan of the Adivasis’ Movements against Displacement (AMD) across India for last couple of decades, which clearly indicates about the meaning and importance of land for them. ‘Adivasi’ literally means the aboriginal or original inhabitant or first settler of the land.[i] Undoubtedly, the Adivasis are the indigenous peoples of India, which is legitimatized by the Supreme Court of India through its judgement (SLP (Cr) No.10367 of 2010 Kailas & others Vs State of Maharashtra), stating that the tribal people (Scheduled Tribes or Adivasis) are the descendants of the original inhabitants of India[ii]. However, the Indian government denies their Indigenous Identity and recognizes them merely as the scheduled tribes through the Indian Constitution and laws even today.

There are 744 Adivasi or indigenous ethnic groups in India but only 645 of them are identified as the Scheduled Tribes. As per the Census 2011, the Adivasis are 8 percent of the total population with 104 million people, treated as the most marginalized and vulnerable communities in India. An Adivasi legend Dr. Ramdayal Munda describes the true characters of the Adivasi community as ‘casteless, classless, based on equality, community based economic system, co-existence with the nature, consent based self-rule, dignity and autonomy[iii]. The Adivasis live in or around the nature. The government’s data suggests that 89.9 percent of them still live in the rural areas, and merely 10.1 percent[iv] of them have shifted to urban centers. The Adivasi economy, which is also known as the community or need based economy fully depends on forest and agriculture.

The natural resources are the most essential sources of livelihood for the Adivasis but the land is most important among them. However, they do not perceive the land merely as a livelihood resource but they consider it as their heritage, history, autonomy, identity, culture, existence and life. They believe that their sole existence relies on the land. Therefore, if the land is lost, their existence is gone, which could be seen in the cities like Jamshedpur, Bokaro and Ranchi. The so-called civilized people treat the land merely as property or commodity, and sell it in the market rate to make money as much as possible, but the land is life for the Adivasis. That’s the reason why they have been struggling to protect their land for the centuries.

In the ancient period, the Adivasis possessed undisputed ownership rights over the natural resources and they judiciously used these resources to fulfil their needs[v]. They enjoyed autonomy, peace and prosperity with the nature. The situation rapidly changed with the Aryan invasion and turned worse during the British rule in India. On the one hand, the Aryans destroyed the Adivasi civilization, denied them their indigenous identity and did not accept them as fellow human beings, and the Britishers, on the other hand, used violence against the innocent Adivasis for grabbing their land, territory and resources, declared them uncivilized and even listed 127 Adivasi ethnic communities as criminal tribes[vi].

The British introduced a centrally organized administration, a judiciary and a police system. They also introduced the concept of private property as opposed to the traditional notion of collective usufructuary rights of the community. Thus, the natural resources of the community were coined as ‘property’ and individual owners were created. The communal resources were considered as the ‘eminent’ domain and taken over. The forests and other individually unclaimed fallow lands were declared as the property of the State.[vii] Gradually, the government enacted various policies and laws, which induced the marginalization of the Adivasis. They were deprived from the natural resources merely for the government’s revenue yielding measures. The Adivasi way of life was destroyed by imposing revenue on land and duties on the forest produces. The Land Acquisition Act 1894 was the last nail on the coffin, which resulted a huge deprivation of the Adivasis from their land, territory and resources.

After India’s independence, the land alienation was on the rampant. There have been three types of major land alienation of Adivasis – legal, illegal and forcefully. The India State used the Land Acquisition Act 1894 for so-called legal land acquisition and ‘eminent domain’ for forceful acquisition of the Adivasis’ land under the tag of ‘public interest’, ‘national interest’ and ‘development’. The estimated data suggests that 28.2 million Adivasis have already been alienated, uprooted and displaced from their land, territory and resources in the name of public interest, national interest and economic growth & development since 1947 to 2004. Despite the prohibition of the Adivasis’ land alienation legally, the Annual report of the Ministry of Rural Development (Government of India) unfolds that 60,464 cases regarding 85,777.22 acres of illegal transfer of Adivasis’ lands were registered till 2001-2002[viii]. Furthermore, 2,608 cases of illegal land transfer were registered in 2003-2004, 2,657 cases in 2004-2005, 3,230 cases in 2005-2006, 3789 cases in 2006-2007 and 5382 cases in 2007-2008, which clearly indicates that the cases of illegal land alienation are increasing rapidly. The Adivasis’ alienation from their land, territory and resources, has resulted in their impoverishment, destruction and extinction. They have lost their identity, autonomy, language, culture and tradition.

However, today, the Adivasis have been facing even more threat of being alienated, uprooted and displaced from their land, territory and resources. The present nexus among the State, the Corporate Houses and the political parties, seems to be busy in amending the safeguarding laws made for Adivasis, suppressing the dissent voices and crushing down the democratic Adivasis Movements through police and military operations. For instance, the state government of Jharkhand amended the Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation & Resettlement Act 2013, attempted to amend the CNT Act 1908 and SPT Act 1949 and constituted Land Bank, where 2.1 million acres of community land, which includes the commons, sacred grooves and forest land, enlisted. Besides, the government has also brought the Industrial and investment promotion policy 2016 to create an industrial corridor in the state. Therefore, there is a thrust need to understand, respect and acknowledge the Adivasi’s perspective about land. Pressurize the Central and state governments for the enforcement of the safeguarding laws, constitutional provisions and Supreme Court’s judgements regarding the Adivasis rights. And fight for the protection of the Adivasis’ land, territory and resources.

References: 

[i] Dungdung, Gladson. 2013. Whose Country is it Anyway? Kolkata : Adivaani.

[ii] The Supreme Court order on the SLP (Cr) No. 10367 of 2010 Kailas & others Vs State of Maharashtra

[iii] Dungdung. 2016. Adivasi aur Vanadhikar. New Delhi: Prithvi Prakashan.

[iv] Statistical profile of Scheduled Tribes in India 2013. Ministry of Tribal Affairs (Govt. of India).

[v] Dungdung. 2016. Adivasi aur Vanadhikar. New Delhi: Prithvi Prakashan.

[vi] Dungdung, Gladson. 2013. Whose Country is it Anyway? Kolkata : Adivaani.

[vii] Munda, R.D. & Mullick,S.B. 2003. The Jharkhand Movement. New Delhi: IWGIA & BIRSA

[viii] Annual Report 2002-03, Ministry of Rural Development (Govt. of India).

Article

Democracy and Land Rights

By Gladson Dungdung

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Indian democracy is known as the largest democracy on the Earth but the irony is that one of the thrust issues i.e. land reform to ensure land rights to the landless masses remains as unfinished agenda even today. The land reform, which clearly means to ensure ‘land to the tiller’ was one of the promises made during the freedom struggle of India. In 1950, ‘landlord system was abolished by the enforcement of the land reform Act. At the same time, Binoba Bhave launched the nationwide land donation movement largely known as ‘Bhoodan Movement’. He asked the landlords to donate their surplus land for the landless people of India, which had become a ray of hope for the landless masses.

However, this hope stuck with the contradictions; on one hand, the landless people were given the land rights on the surplus land, which was taken from the landlords after enforcement of the land ceiling and on the other hand, the government enforced the Russian model of development and acquired the land of the small and marginal farmers mostly the Adivasis for so-called development projects under the tags of ‘national interest’ and ‘development’. Thus, millions of people became landless across the country.

In 1991, the government of India accepted the liberal economic policy, which further opened up the door for the corporate world, which created huge pressure on democracy and land rights. The corporate houses began their lobby in the corridors of power to influence the policy formation to ensure the natural resources mostly the land and mineral resources. Consequently, the land reform was put aside by the government(s).

In 21st century, the Indian democracy was transformed into the corporate democracy. The owners of the corporate houses entered the Parliament by buying tickets for the Raj Sabha the upper house. There is also example where the billionaires became the people’s representatives by contesting parliamentary elections. Presently, most of the members of the Parliament are billionaires. Consequently, the most thrust issue of land reform has been lost, whereas the number of landless people is increasing day by day. The most important question to be raised is can a billionaire represents the thrust issues of the poor masses? The number of landless masses has been increasing day by day but there is no serious debate is taking place in the Parliament.

According to the Census report, the number of landless agricultural labourers in the country rose to 14.43 crore in 2011 from 10.67 crore in 2001[1]. The most interesting figure is that 4.9% of farmers control 32% of India’s farmland and 101.4 million or 56.4% of rural households own no agricultural land[2] and 17,73,040 people are houseless. As of December 2015, land declared “surplus” (meaning, it could be taken away from landlords) across India stood at 6.7 million acres; the government took over 6.1 million acres; and distributed 5.1 million acres. 1 million acres of land remained for distribution.

In 1950s, we used to call the farmers as the backbone of the country because the contribution of agriculture to Gross Domestic Product (GDP) was 51%. Today, as many as 570 million Indians or 47.1% still depend on agriculture, which contributes merely 17% to GDP. 95.1% of Indian farmers are called “marginal, small and semi-medium”, meaning they own up to 2.47, 4.94 and 9.88 acres of land, respectively. These farmers own 68.2% of cultivated land[3].

Presently, we have the corporate democracy in India, where there is a huge nexus between the State and the corporate houses. The corporate houses fund the Indian elections and manipulate the government later. The corporate houses pressurise the government to introduce new policies to profit them, amend the existing laws, which are obstacle for resource grabbing especially in the schedule areas and acquire land using paramilitary forces. This is the reason why 1% people own 73% wealth of India. It was 55% in 2014, which clearly means the policies of the present government are completely corporate centric whereas the food security of the most marginalized people depends on marginal farming. Therefore, the land rights need to be ensure to the landless people.

However, today, the most challenging matter is how to protect the small patches of land of those marginal farmers who are residing in the mineral corridors of India because there is huge pressure from the corporate world. For instance, the Global Investors Summits were organized in Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Gujarat and Assam to attract the investors. The state governments also signed hundreds of MoUs with the corporate house. The state governments of Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh also amended the safeguarding land laws to secure land for the corporate houses. In the state of Jharkhand, 2.1 million acres of commons land was enlisted in the ‘Land Bank’and the forest department has also proposed three wildlife corridors and three sub-corridor projects, where 870 villages will be relocated from the forests. There is also a proposal to build Industrial Corridor in the state, where the land will be acquired with 25 km each side of four lanning roads between Koderma and Bahragora. Similarly, the Agriculture Minister of Chhattisgarh prohibited the farmers to cultivate paddy during the summer season claiming that the corporate houses have first right on the water. In these circumstance, where farmers will go to protect their fundamental rights?

It is obvious that the democracy doesn’t work for the landless and marginal farmers. However, since, the Indian Constitution promises to ensure the social, economic and political justice to each and every one, therefore, we must continue to strive for ensuring that the democracy delivers the land rights to the landless and marginalized people of India. The food security of the marginalized people depends on agriculture therefore; land rights must be ensured to them.

[1] https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics-and-nation/number-of-landless-agricultural-labourers-in-india-rises-to-14-43-crore/articleshow/52225793.cms

[2] http://www.indiaspend.com/cover-story/land-reforms-fail-5-of-indias-farmers-control-32-land-31897

[3] Ibid.