In Meghalaya's West Khasi Hills, tribals are protesting against the government's plan to mine uranium fearing that the radiation would damage their health and ecology.
At Kalinganagar in Orissa, 16 people were killed last year when police opened fire on tribals protesting against the takeover of their land for a steel plant.
From Chipko movement against logging in Garhwal to Jadugoda protests in Jharkhand to Narmada movement in Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat, more and more tribal people seem to be fighting a losing battle against the industry, mines or dams.
Since 1980, about 9.8 lakh hectares of forestland has been diverted for 11,282 development projects according to an official reply to a Parliamentary question. It specifically mentions that about 1.6 lakh hectares of forestland was diverted for 300 mining projects alone.
Though exact official figures are not available on the total number of tribals displaced from India’s forests due to development projects, a 2004 study by NGO Manthan Adhyayan estimates that the Indira Sagar Dam in Madhya Pradesh has submerged 42,000 hectares of forests land and displaced over 80,000 tribals. Ekta Parishad, another NGO, estimates that in the last one decade about 4.7 million hectares of forestland has been occupied by the Chattisgarh government, displacing about 15 lakh tribals.
A 2005 National Advisory Council paper titled Tribal Welfare and Development authored by D. Swaminadhan, president of Hyderabad-based Mahatma Gandhi National Institute of Research and Social Action, says in the last 50 years over 9 million tribals were displaced out of which 6 million are yet to get any compensation. Noting that displacement has led to far reaching negative social and economic consequences, the author of the paper warns that economic planning cannot ignore these consequences of displacement that come at enormous economic, social and psychological cost. It is well known that uprooting people from their ancestral lands and livelihoods alienates them from kinship and family systems completely disrupting their market links.
The government acquires land for ‘public purpose’ through a 113-year-old Land Acquisition Act. The displaced tribals cannot take any legal recourse as the country’s laws only recognise individual ownership of land and not community ownership of shared resources like the land, water sources, ponds and pastures, as is the case with tribal ‘possessions.’
The present National Policy on Resettlement and Rehabilitation for Project Affected Families of 2004 compensates only assets, not livelihoods. And since forest tribals depend on common property resources, they get very little compensation and a large part of this meager payment is spent on debt repayment and subsistence in the interim period between displacement and rehabilitation, leaving little or nothing for future livelihoods.
A study conducted by Biswaranjan Mohanty, Associate Professor of Utkal University concluded that only 25 per cent of tribals displaced from forests in Orissa since independence have been rehabilitated with proper livelihood. The rest, the study says, are languishing because of bureaucratic apathy.
The new ST and Forest Dwellers Act offers some hope by underlining that the acquisition of forestland for national parks, sanctuaries and development projects should be accompanied by resettlement packages that provide secure livelihoods to the affected communities.