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Not ripe for the picking

‘Tribal land grabs’ aren’t just an ‘NGO’ theory. The Centre also believes injustice is being done.

india Updated: Nov 15, 2009 21:18 IST

It is often said that the first spark of Naxalism was lit in Chhattisgarh when the Bailadila mines began its operations in the Dantewada district. Instead of providing employment and development — the two guarantees that mining companies unfailingly promise every time in lieu of exploration rights — the mine polluted the two drinking water sources of the area, the Sankini and Dankini rivers, used by the tribals. Though the jury is still out there about the veracity of such a correlation, there’s little doubt that India’s tribal areas suffer from the ‘resource curse’, a term used for areas ‘blessed’ with natural resources but figure very low on the development scale. A recently released report from the Ministry of Rural Development corroborates this fact. Tribals, it says, have suffered immensely thanks to large-scale land acquisition for mining, highway development, industries and special economic zones by private companies. A more generalised view has been echoed by the Prime Minister.

Certain other parts of the report, however, should be read closely as these bring out the important linkages behind this ‘land grab’: the unholy nexus between the government machinery and the mining companies. In the section ‘State-connived land alienation’, the authors point out that such land grabs occur with the “direct and indirect participation of revenue officials”. To this we can also add another group: the political class, as the Madhu Koda case in Jharkhand has shown with such overwhelming force. In Orissa, too, sleuths are trying to find out the extent and dimensions of yet another mining scam. This could be to the tune of over Rs 14,000 crore. The three tribal-dominated states — Orissa, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand — are India’s most productive mineral-bearing ones. They account for 70 per cent of the nation’s coal reserves, 80 per cent of its high-grade iron ore and 60 per cent of bauxite and almost all chromite reserves.

So, it is not surprising that these areas are also the most restive. However, how to do damage control does not involve rocket science. First, the government must follow the existing set of laws; people need to be given the right to reject a project, and land-for-land must be made a fundamental requirement for acquiring tribal lands, not to mention full-fledged compensation in cases where it applies. The choice is really very simple: implement the laws in their true spirit, or find yourselves sinking into an impending multi-front civil war.