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Tribal Displacement:CANNOT DENY LIVELIHOOD RIGHT, by Dhurjati Mukherjee,22 September 2010 Print E-mail

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New Delhi, 22 September 2010

Tribal Displacement


By Dhurjati Mukherjee

How many are aware that over 85.39 lakh tribals have been displaced since 1990 for mega projects, constituting 56% of India’s total displaced population. These startling facts were brought out by the National Advisory Council (NAC) member NC Saxena who asserted, “Since 1980, 9.8 lakh hectares of forest land have been diverted for 11,282 projects. In Orissa, alone 54-56% of tribal land has been lost to non-tribals over the last 25-30 years. If the other tribal-based areas are considered, one can easily calculate the extent of displacement of tribals with its accompanying poverty and squalor,” he added.  

According to another estimate, of the one lakh families, mostly of tribals dispossessed and displaced by bauxite mining operations of just one private sector corporate, only 400 received Class IV employment in the enterprise. Said former Congress Minister Mani Shankar Aiyar quoting Home Ministry figures, “Is it surprising that 158 districts are spinning out of control of the Central and State Governments, districts that are in the heart of India?” Rahul Gandhi too has now taken up the tribals cause.

Shockingly, there is over 50-60% illiteracy and mal-nourishment in tribal areas and foodgrains consumption has fallen by 10-15%. “Studies have found that tribal population has shown not much improvement in the food and nutrition intake over time,” pointed out Saxena.

In another report regarding the Vedanta group’s violation of environmental and forest laws, Saxena  not only highlighted the tribals pitiable condition but also forced the authorities to take action against corporates who had disregarded rules.

The report underscored: “The committee feels allowing mining in the proposed mining lease area by depriving two primitive tribal groups of their rights over the proposed mining area to benefit a private company would shake the faith of tribal people of the laws of the land, which may have serious consequences for the security and well-being of the entire country”.

Thus, it is necessary that companies like Vedanta, POSCO etc must be prevented from de-spoiling the forest areas, violating forest and environmental laws and destroying community rights and established lifestyles.

In Bellary also, the search for iron ore has led to forests being stripped and the soil rendered unfit for cultivation. The NAC Chairman Sonia Gandhi averred recently, “Protecting the rights of the tribals and ensuring their livelihood are central to bringing about an end to their exploitation and sense of alienation”.

As in Orissa, here too, mining has been carried out because of close links forged between the worlds of crime, business and politics. Hence, the decision of the Government to stop bauxite mining in Orissa’s Niyamgiri hills and Araku is welcome. Kudos to the Environment & Forests Ministry for taking a bold decision.    

Importantly, many research studies reveal the degradation of tribal life, alienation of tribal land and devastation caused by alcohol and money-lenders. Sadly, contractors and businessmen with unholy links to politicians have gained unlimited right to plunder ‘protected’ forest wealth and resort to illegal mining. Add to this, the much misused ‘public purpose’ clause whereby the law sanctions land acquisition, but this is translated to favour a class of people, affecting the tribals.  

Already a major section of the rural population, especially in backward areas, has lost faith in the laws, notwithstanding the Prime Minister ad nauseum talk of inclusive growth and reaching out to the poorest of poor. All read as political hot air which has no realistic value. Moreover, coupled with poor and corruption-ridden governance it is difficult for any Government scheme to reach even 50-60% of the targeted beneficiaries.

Questionably, how will the condition of tribal-dominated districts improve in the coming years? With growing extremist violence, the Government has proposed many developmental and infrastructure areas/districts plans for delivering effective governance at the grassroots. Among these is the Rs 13,000 Integrated Action Plan based on tribal regions, forest areas falling within the ambit of the Backward Region Grant Fund (BRGF), extremist affected areas etc.

Some argue that mining activities for feeding factories with raw materials would generate jobs and change the people’s lifestyles. But others consider this erroneous. Experience shows that in most areas where big industrial units have been set up, pollution levels of water, air and soil have increased with people continuing to live in impoverishment and dirt. Take Jamshedpur, it looks beautiful but a few kilometers away people languish in abject poverty, mal-nutrition and hunger.

Undoubtedly, tribals have long received step-motherly treatment from the State which in turn has pushed them to extremism. Consequently, Maoist violence will continue unless there is positive and quick intervention by the Government.

Thus, more than reservation for schedules tribes, what is needed at this juncture is providing social and physical infrastructure in tribal and backward villages to help improve their quality of life and create employment opportunities.

Sadly, policies and plans are geared to mega projects in urban areas with little concern for the country-side. Worse, projects meant for the rural poor do not reach the real beneficiaries. These policies need to change and get a pronounced pro-tribal, pro-rural, pro-poor outlook.

However, as things stand today the powerful business--politician-bureaucrat nexus might not allow this to happen. As the industrialization-liberalization phobia for more profits has made the economy to focus primarily on industrial projects neglecting agriculture and rural industries which could have benefited the masses in a big way.

In this scenario, an action plan needs to be formulated that could be executed at the grassroots level with participation by the local people, free from corruption. If necessary, the involvement of civil society organizations, including tribal groups working in the place would need to be enlisted. Only then will State interventions be fruitful, effective and in the interest of the masses.  ----- INFA

(Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)


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