By Stan Swamy,
From Self-Sustaining Economy to Begging-Bowls: Annihilation Of Indigenous People to Make Way For Mining-Corporates
The recent visit of the Chief Secretary of Jharkhand to some villages of Saranda and his assessment of the sad plight of the Ho Adivasi People there throws much light on the injustice done to them. The CS has said that Saranda Action Plan (SAP) about which so much noise was made has not even taken off. The main reason being the whole govt machinery beginning with the Deputy Commissioner of West Singhbhum and the Block-level officers and village-level govt servants have seriously failed to do their duty towards these deprived people. The excuse all of them have been giving is Saranda forest is infested with Maoists and their life is in danger if they even enter these villages. The doctors and other health-related workers have also refrained from going to these villages giving the same excuse and allowing especially the women and children to suffer and die of malnutrition and other diseases. The businessmen who take contract for particular constructions rarely go to the area fearing the naxalite-splinter groups will demand levy. The politicians who promise hundred-and-one things during election, neatly forget these people after the electoral process is over.
While the above-mentioned categories of govt servants are reluctant to do their duty to the people of Saranda, there are others who are very eager to go there. They want to go there, not to help the people but to plunder the vast natural riches of iron-ore and manganese through mining. Everyone knows that in the process of mining they will deforest vast area of Saranda. No one will deny that it will have serious consequences on environment and ecology insofar as water sources will either dry up or be polluted to an extent it will be unfit for animal, human consumption. Presently 14,022 ha out of 80,000 ha is being mined… if all the mining-proposals will be in place as per MoUs, another 37,814 ha will come under mining…. Thus a total of 51,836 ha out 80,000 ha will be mined which means all the rich sal-forest will be destroyed… and only 28,164 ha will have forests left.
What were these Ho Adivasi People before this onslaught on them? They are a sub-tribe of the Munda ethnic group settled in what is presently West Singhbhum. One and half lakh Adivasis living in 820 sq.kms had set up their villages, created fields and were living a humane life with a unique social and cultural set up characterized by equality, commonality, mutual cooperation, closeness to nature, consensus decision making. Their problem started when the Tata Co was licensed to do mining over a century ago. It has finally culminated now in over 50 mining cos wanting to mine nearly two-thirds of Saranda forest.
It is not that protective laws and judicial pronouncements are not there. To begin with, there is the Vth Schedule of the Constitution which aims to empower ST communities to govern themselves through Tribes Advisory Councils. There are then other legislations such as PESA, FRA which proclaim the eminence of the Gram Sabha. But the sad fact is most politicians, bureaucrats have not studied these crucial documents and there is no motivating force to honestly implement them.
Naxalism is the excuse for failing to carry out govt’s responsibility to people. Huge sums of money and man-power are spent in the name of countering naxals. In Saranda area alone 18 companies of CRPF & Cobra battalion are set up and they are torturing and harassing innocent people on the alleged suspicion that they are supporters/sympathizers of naxals. There is no freedom of movement or right to assemble for the people. It is truly an open jail in Saranda. There is no heeding to even the Supreme Court’s observation that naxalism is the result of govt’s failure towards its people and warning the State not to kill its own citizens. There has even been a proposal to deploy the Indian army in naxal-affected areas to ‘wipe out all naxals’.
Now, what is the consolation prize the govt is giving to the Adivasi people of Saranda? According to SAP … 7000 cycles are to be distributed, 3500 Indira-Awaz Yojna are to be constructed, 7000 solar lamps to be distributed, 10 Devt Centres costing Rs. 60 cr to be built, 6 Watershed schemes costing Rs. 36 cr to be set up, 200 hand pumps at the cost of Rs 1.2 cr to be installed, 10 pipe-lines for drinking water to be set up, 5 Residential Schools costing Rs 25 cr to be built, 130 km road costing Rs 104 cr to be constructed, 4 mini-buses costing Rs 50 lk to be rolling. Let us not forget that the CS himself has stated that most of these are yet to be realized even after two years of commencement. Most likely will never be implemented.
To conclude, what the Ho Adivasi People of Saranda deserve is that their rights over their Jal, Jangal, Zameen be acknowledged and accepted by the govt, the upper & middle classes and the non-adivasi sections of society. In exercising these rights the role of Gram Sabha as their form of self-governance be accepted without any interference. If at all any of their land needs to be acquired, their prior, free, informed consent must be obtained. In doing so, they must be share-holders in the assets of whatever project that will come up on their land.
(The author is a veteran activist of Jharkhand. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)