THE president of India gave a sympathetic hearing to a delegation led by CPI(M) Polit Bureau member Brinda Karat and Jharkhand Adivasi Adhikar Manch secretary Praful Linda who submitted a memorandum to him on December 22. The delegation which comprised adivasi leaders of the Chotanagpur area of Jharkhand were from three project affected areas in which more than three lakh people, a large number of them adivasis will be evicted. They were Mohan Oraon, Dr Ashok, Anita Tirkey, Deepika Bara, Aloys Minz, Surendra Oraon, Mukesh Oraon and Fildri Toppo. The memorandum requests president to urgently intervene to prevent this virtual war against adivasi rights.
The constitution mandates specific protections for adivasis and adivasi lands. It also gives specific guarantees for protection of customs and customary laws. In Fifth Schedule areas the governor has specific responsibilities to protect adivasi rights. Laws such as PESA and the Forest Rights Act further concretise these rights. The president of India as the authority over governors has therefore also an important role to play in protection of adivasi rights over land, livelihood and identity.
In this context, attention of the president was drawn to three specific projects in Chotanagpur region of Jharkhand where these rights are being diluted by the central and state governments. What is common in these projects is that the role of the gram sabha is being virtually eliminated. The projects are against the Forest Rights Act which specify that recognition of rights in land in occupation of adivasis and also recognition of community rights in forests coming within any project is a prerequisite before any other process is begun for any project.
1. Palamau Tiger Reserve Buffer Area: In this project 191 villages with a population of 1.49 lakh will be affected. Notice has already been issued to eight villages in the “core area" of the buffer zone for eviction. The gram sabhas of these villages have not given their consent. Yet the forest department is going ahead with eviction processes.
2. The Sirsi-Palkot-Saranda Wild Life Corridor: This project affects 214 villages in Palamau, Gumla, Khuti, Simdega and West Singhbhum districts where 1.87 lakh acres of land is to be acquired and lakhs of people, a large number who are adivasis and dalits are to be evicted. Notice has been issued to some villages in West Singhbhum district.
3. The Netrahat Field Firing Range: This project started in 1964 and till 1994 seven villages were notified. However now the plan is to expand the firing range to 245 villages in which 2.5 lakh people, 90 per cent of whom are adivasis, will be affected. Among them are those characterised as most vulnerable tribes.
Every day lakhs of adivasi families live in fear of being evicted from their ancestral homes, their forests, their livelihoods and way of life. Dalits and other marginalised sections of society will also be affected.
This is a virtual war against adivasis in violation of constitutional and legal rights.
There is growing discontent and opposition in the areas which will be affected by these projects.
The delegation appealed the president to use his authority as guardian of the constitution especially where it involves the role of governors in Fifth Schedule areas, to prevent this planned mass evictions. The projects are ill conceived and constitute a form of land grab. They should be scrapped and gram sabhas right of consent for any project in their areas should be guaranteed.