“Large-scale displacement of tribals due to land acquisition for development is a challenge.” – Krishna Tirath, Women and Child Development Minister, May 2011
The Parliamentary Standing Committee on the Welfare of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in a report submitted to the Lok Sabha on 23 October 2008 observed, “Notwithstanding Act and regulations to control alienation of tribal land, tribal people are being alienated from their land in the name of development and due to insufficient amount given to them for their land, they migrate to other places in search of livelihood.”
It further stated that “tribals should not suffer in the name of development” and recommended that “the Ministry of Tribal Affairs should take immediate su-moto action whenever it is reported that tribal people are agitating against displacement and endangerment to their lives.”
These comments gravely testify the fact that the tribal welfare laws such as the PESA 1996, the Forest Rights Act 2006 or even the Fifth Schedule of the Constitution have utterly failed to provide protection to the indigenous tribal communities of India.
Land alienation of tribals and of the poor section of the society, which recently again came to fore shortly before the UP assembly elections after the Bhatta-Parsaul incident of May, 2012 when farmers protesting over rate of compensation for their land taken for a road project in Greater Noida, clashed with the police, is a cruel reality. It also points to the wider fact that the authorities and the governments have no clear policies to safeguard the interests of those who are uprooted from their lands – they are generally seen as siding the rich class.
In recent times the large scale industrialization, privatization and globalization for sake of “development” has emerged as the biggest threat to tribal’s survival – ironically, the so called “modern civilized society” has become a predator of their age-old eco-friendly, peaceful and harmonious lifestyle. The tribals, their lands, and other resources are now exposed to the exploitative market forces, mostly due to the State and Multi National Companies (MNCs) sponsored developmental projects to exploit minerals and other natural resources. Land alienation of the tribals by the powerful entities has become common phenomena. It is most unfortunate that “the freedom to live in their own traditional ways” as guaranteed by the constitution is flouted by those who understand the constitution better.
The state ownership of the tribal community land, called common property resources (CPR) land, (which the government owns and involves no compensation when taken over) provides a convenient entry point to project managers. In order to reduce the project cost, they deliberately choose the administratively neglected backward areas with high CPR component and where legal compensation for the private owned land is low. Bureaucrats are of course ever willing to serve the cause of the rich and powerful.
These so called “developmental” activities, which do not confer any direct benefit to the tribals, merely leave them landless and without means for survival. Monetary benefits do not really count when the lifestyle for generations is changed irreparably. Displacement from their traditional habitations leaves them under acute trauma and uncertainty – there is institution in India that is interested in alleviating indescribable human sufferings of the tribals left to struggle for survival with any dignity .
Tribals: The Biggest Victims of “Development”
Tribals have paid the highest price of national development because their regions are resource rich: 90 percent of all coal and around 50 percent of the remaining minerals are in their regions. Also the forest, water and other sources abound in their habitat. The indigenous/ tribal peoples who constituted 8% of the total population of India at 1991 census make up 55% of the total displaced persons due to development projects up to 1990. According to the Ministry of Tribal Affairs (MTA) nearly 85 lakh tribals were displaced until 1990 on account of mega developmental projects like dams, mining, industries and conservation of forests etc. Lakhs of tribals have been displaced from 1990 onwards (due to the so-called economic liberalization policies of the Center under pressure from the Western lenders) without proper rehabilitation. Yet, no proper study has been conducted in regard to displacement and rehabilitation of tribals – who cares for voiceless poor tribals as long as corporate czars are happy?
Article 46 of the constitution places an obligation upon States to promote the interests of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes and protect them from social injustice and all forms of exploitation. It must be mentioned that displacement of tribals from their lands amounts to violation of the Fifth Schedule of the Constitution as it deprives them of control and ownership of natural resources and land essential for their way of life.
Lack of Long Term Foresight
It is the height of injustice that the tribals whose eco-friendly lifestyle preserved forest, mineral and natural resources for ages are now mercilessly uprooted by “outsiders” who would only make money from the resources for some time, creates few jobs mostly for urban middle class and then walk away with the booty only to look for another place to exploit. If all citizens are equal under Indian constitution, why then the helpless tribals are forced to pay the price with their traditional land and lifestyle? Does their peaceful and preserving co-existence with natural surroundings threaten the country in any way? What makes the exploitative corporates superior to poor tribals who have served as custodians of resources for centuries?
Unfortunately such questions don’t interest the “people’s representatives” sitting in the parliament or assemblies. Led by the finance ministers they are happy to support efforts to sustain the sacred GDP growth rate, after paying lip service to the well being of the poor and native tribals.
In recent years, West Bengal has seen huge anti-land acquisition movements in Singur and Nandigram while social activists have repeatedly been raising the issue of displacement of tribals due to mining and other activities in central India.
On 8 August 2008, the Supreme Court allowed POSCO India Pvt Ltd, a subsidiary of Korea-based POSCO, to build its Rs 51,000-crore steel plant in Paradeep in Jagatsinghpur district of Orissa. On the same day, the Supreme Court also allowed Sterlite India Limited, a subsidiary of Britain’s Vedanta Resources Plc, to mine bauxite in Niyamgiri hills in Kalahandi district of Orissa considered sacred by Dongria Kondh tribe. The Supreme Court’s order has undermined the tribal protests and encouraged further acquisition of lands of the tribals leading to their displacement without proper rehabilitation, destruction of their culture and posing threats to their survival in the name of development.
The state government has been backing the pro-POSCO activists to counter the movement by POSCO Pratirodh Sangram Samiti. Nothing surprising about that – it is an open secret.
An Austrian anthropologist, Haimendorf, had first studied some tribes in the 1940s. Then again he studied them in 1970 and asked “How do you explain the fact that their communities that were self-reliant thirty years ago today need State subsidies? Their women had a high status three decades ago. How have they lost it today?”
The Nasty Trap of Liberalization and Globalization
The so called economic liberalization, privatization, and globalization that was started 20 years by the current Prime Minister is clearly designed to further the interests of the urban areas and the rich corporations of the country as well from outside. Liberalization, in simple terms, only means allowing the rich corporate to exploit country’s resources at rather easy terms unmindful of what happens to th environment and the displaced people who have historically acted at custodians of the lands and surroundings. Who says that the British exploitative policies ended after they left India in 1947?!
Over two decades ago, the West, former colonial powers, cleverly devised the strategies of Globalization and WTO agreements to gain access to natural wealth situated in the remotest corners of the world – all through legal international agreements with governments! Now their giant companies (often bigger than the country they are eyeing) can reach anywhere and grab raw materials and feed the lifestyle of the West at the local people all around the world. And the beauty is: no one is in the position to complain once a government signs the agreement – which is a matter of push-pull, arm-twisting, kickbacks, and buying few legislators and officials, all away from the public knowledge.
The truth is: indigenous people across the globe are being alienated from their lands (and natural resources) and losing their traditional culture, knowledge and lifestyle. This is what happens when the money power rules the world; not the principles of human justice or equity.
Basic Origin of Current Economic Policies
Western lifestyle is based on the primitive belief that the more you consume (resources of the planet) the more advanced or developed you become!! While they treat people as robots making goods in the factories, from the natural raw materials, to be consumed by the society – the consumption (and hence production) must keep increasing year-by-year, else, stock markets crash making rich poor overnight. This fear keeps them consuming ever more year after year so that the economy (measured by an outdated GDP number) keeps expanding. Blinded by their technological superiority, they cease to respect nature or its resources that sustains them. The result is Global Warming and Climate Change disasters that are not enough to make them mend their ways of living. What is most dangerous for the well being of the planet is that people of rest of the world are also adopting their utterly wasteful lifestyle under the media blitz of commercials and are quitting their own local ways of living in harmony with nature.
Very Weak Ministry of Tribal Affairs
What are the roles of the Ministry of Tribal Affairs and the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes? The former apparently only serves to collect incomplete statistics of tribal eviction and preparing reports for bureaucratic consumption rather than protecting their interests. The later has reduced itself to the status of another useless department of the former (as will be discussed later), despite being a constitutional powerful body that could undertake investigation against atrocities on the tribals, if set-up properly.
You may also like to read a detailed report on Tribal displacement in India.