PESA Act of 1996 [Panchayat (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996] is the most important piece of legislation for the tribal areas of India. Yet, its implementation has remained only on paper. The proper implementation of PESA can not only empower the tribals through self governance, but can also deal a severe blow to the Naxal violence that thrives on the backwardness of the Adivasis. Sadly, the exploitation of these most exploited people of India goes on because the rich and the powerful can not give up their parochial mindset, or stay away from the natural resources and land of the indigenous people.
“Is the government meant for the people or the powerful?”
Mahangu Madiya, Bastar, Chhattisgarh (protesting state govt. efforts to acquire his farmland for Tata Steel)
Writer, Ramachandra Guha, after visiting the Dantewada district of CG commented on the plight of the tribals: They find themselves sandwiched between the Maoists on one side who can’t give up their armed struggle and the government on the other, that can not put the interests of a vulnerable minority — the adivasis — ahead of those with more money and political power.
This accurately sums up the ground reality of tribal areas infected by the Maoists.
Bureaucrats and Corporates Think Paisa, Not PESA!
Anthropologist, Felix Padel, and the activist, Samarendra Das, in Out of this Earth provide a comprehensive analysis of the social and environmental impacts of the mining boom in Orissa. The authors show how companies split tribal communities by bribes and coercion, such that a division emerges between ‘accepters’ and ‘refusers’. They document the extensive collusion, between politicians/bureaucrats and the private companies, which has displaced scores of tribals from their land they inhabited for ages.
The autonomous and non-violent resistance of tribals to destructive mining has often been misrepresented by the State, corporate interests, and even by the media at times to label it as a “Maoist threat”. Then this label is used “to crush all kinds of spontaneous opposition of tribals to be displaced” leaving them displaced and left to the mercy of fate.
The IRMA study pointed to the apathy of governors despite the fact that PESA Act gives them limitless power to enforce the law and protect interests of the marginalized tribals. Tribal activists informed that “Not even in a single instance, have the Governors responded to their petitions for interventions in threatening crises, such as deepening clashes over land, mining or police excesses”.
The study also found widespread transfer of tribal lands into non-tribal hands through fraud and forcible occupation. Despite a long-standing promise to repeal or amend the outdated Land Acquisition Act of 1894, it is still being used, or misused, to acquire land owned by households and communities and hand it over to the corporate sector. “When it comes to acquiring mineral resources for industry the stakes are loaded against the functioning of the PESA”, notes the study.
In one village in Orissa, the researchers found that a large police station had recently been constructed, whereas in the past five decades, the state government had not bothered to build a hospital or public health centre. The reason for this bias was immediately obvious — in the shape of a new aluminium factory that had come up near the village. “Do our people need better police facilities or better health care?” asked the village headman. “What is the administration’s priority?” he continued, before supplying this answer: “This is being done only because the company wants police stations, which can beat us if we ever protest against land acquisition.”
Invasion by Industry
Apart from the mega projects, industry is being liberally allowed to wreck havoc with the living conditions of the tribals under the liberalization regime.
Despite various Forest Acts affirming that the forest dwellers have the first right to forest produce, the forest departments themselves have started handing over the forest wealth to the industry. In the vast tribal areas of Andhra, MP and Orissa, the tribals are primarily dependent on the collection and selling of the non-timber forest produce (NTFP).
In Orissa, industry and bureaucracy have colluded to circumvent the restrictions on leasing forest lands to the private industry illegally without obtaining central approval. Instead of land, the forest produce is being leased out to the industry.
Earlier, the Orissa Forest Development Corporation and the Tribal Development Corporation had exclusive rights for a number of NTFPs. But under liberalization wave since 1990, individual companies (for example, Utkal Forest Products) have been given collection rights for 29 NTFPs for 10 years. Various paper industries have been engaged, under the guise of ‘labour contractors’, for working bamboo areas. They have cornered bamboo collection rights in several forest divisions. In Uttarakhand there have been reports of forest depots selling bamboos to companies at highly subsidized rates.
The forest department, by contrast, comes down with bestial fury against the tribal organizations. In Rayagada, a women’s group formed a society of 50-60 tribal women to make brooms and sell them for a better price through this society. The Orissa forest department, saying that the society was not licensed, promptly confiscated their brooms and prosecuted the women!
These attempts to rob the tribals of their resources are criminal, especially when it occurs in places like Kalahandi and Koraput districts where starvation deaths among tribals are legendary. In 1993, an estimated 7000 tribal children died of malnutrition inAmravatidistrict of Maharashtra. Infant mortality among some tribes in Orissa and AP are above 150 per thousand.
In Andhra Pradesh mining leases were issued (to the Orient Cements in Adilabad district) without the consent of the Gram Sabha and proposals were made in Chintapalli for bauxite mining.
Read the full 16 page report on the PESA Act for tribal areas: PESA_ACT_1996