Jharkhand assembly on Wednesday approved contentious changes to two British-era tribal laws amid unprecedented violence as opposition legislators hurled shoes at the Speaker and broke microphones and chairs in protest against the BJP-led government’s move.
Barely a kilometre from the assembly,police fired teargas shells, used water canons and caned agitators after the BJP-led ruling alliance approved amendments to the 108-year-old ChotanagpurTenancy Act (CNT) and Santhal Pargana Tenancy (SPT) Act.
TheRaghubarDasgovernment says the amendments will allow acquisition of tribal land, while keeping the landholders’ ownership intact, for building infrastructure such as roads, hospitals and educational institutions.
Indigenous groups and opposition parties, however, allege that dilution of the laws will pave the way for the government and private groups gradually taking over ownership of the land, one of the most sensitive issues in the tribal majority state.
The chief minister said the changes will bring “all round development” of the state. “The tribals would be benefitted by this amendment. (The) opposition has defamed the assembly.They should apologise to the people.” Opposition parties called a state shutdown on November 25 while tribal outfits called a similar strike on December 2. Opposition leaders led by former CM Hemant Soren also met governor Droupadi Murmu and handed over a memorandum against the amendments.
The BJP’s ally, AJSU Party, said it will challenge the amendments in court. “Our options are open. Remaining in the government is not an issue,” AJSU Party legislator Vikas Munda told reporters as the divide in the ruling alliance widened.
Opposition par ties also described it as a “black day” for Jharkhand after police detained several leaders including former chief minister Babulal Marandi.
Opposition MLAs arrived in the assembly, with Congress, Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) and JVM-P legislators wearing aprons with anti-amendment bill slogans written on them.
As soon as speaker Dinesh Oraonarrivedand started the proceedings, the opposition members started shouting slogans and waving placards before they trooped into the well. The protesting members surrounded the speaker while some of them threw chairs and broke microphones, forcing the speaker to adjourn the House. What happened after the resumption was unprecedented.
Some JMM members jumped on the reporters’ table and started shouting slogans while others got into scuffles with marshals. Several pairs of shoes were also thrown at the speaker.
The bill was passed by voice vote immediately after land reforms minister Amar Bauri introduced it at around 2pm. In the 81-member House, the ruling alliance has 43 members. JVM-P legislator Pradip Yadav questioned the government’s hurry in tabling the bill.
“Despite cabinet approvals, many bills wait for years for a proper debate. Wonder why the government is in haste,” he said, adding that people were “afraid and angry”. At least four people have been killed in the state during protests by tribal groups since the Cabinet approved the changes in the two acts on May 3 and introduced two ordinances to implement them.