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INDIA: Jharkhand tribal groups up in arms against projects

Press Trust of India (PTI)
November 15th, 2005

Tribal outfits and political parties in mineral-rich Kolhan region of Jharkhand are up in arms against development projects, including industries, fearing they would result in large scale displacement of inhabitants and loss of their sources of livelihood.

Salkhan Murmu, the chief convenor of Advasi Adhikar Morcha, said AAM will file a public interest litigation in the Jharkhand high court by November-end against the investors' move to acquire tribal land for the proposed industries.

The outfits and parties, including Jharkhand Mukti Morcha, have launched a series of agitations and demonstrations protesting the memorandum of understanding signed between the Jharkhand government and prospective investors since the creation of the state in 2000.

The Jharkhand government has drawn flak from the opposition camp as well as the tribal groups ever since it started signing MoUs for setting up units in the mineral-abundant state.

A massive demonstration was organised recently by various organisations, including Bhoomi Raksha Gramin Ekta Manch, Moolvasi Adhikar Morcha, Adivasi Adhikar Morcha and Jharkhand mines area co-ordinations committee in the district head-quarters in Kolhan region comprising of east and west Singhbhum and Saraikela-Kharswan to oppose the projects.

District administrations have, however, been trying to convice the villagers that the development of the state was not possible without investments and projects.

According to Xavier Dias, spokesperson of JMCC, the Jharkhand government had signed over 42 MoUs with investors including Mittal Steel, Tata Steel, Jindal Steel and Power Company Limited worth about Rs1,69,198.26 crore ever since the Jharkhand state was carved out five years ago.

Dias claimed approximately 47.445 acres of land will be required for the projects in Kolhan Region, which was likely to affect about 10,000 families and cause deforestation of 57.15 km land.

While the tribal organisations have adopted an aggressive posture vowing to sacrifice their lives to protect their land rather than vacate it for development projects, JMM advocated promotion of agriculture sector and agro-based industries in the state.

Addressing a massive 'ulgulan' (revolution) rally in Chaibasa, head-quarter of west Singhbhum district, on Tuesday, JMM chief Shibu Soren called on tribals to be prepared to sacrifice their lives to protect their "Jal, jungle, jamin' (water, forest and land) and charged the Jharkhand government was bent upon "displacing them from their own lands on the pretext of development".

Soren demanded a proper rehabilitation policy before any displacement.

He threatened to launch padyatras (marches) across the state against the "anti-people" approach of the government and said it should promote agriculture sectors and small scale industries instead of big industries, if it was really serious about development of the state.

Like Soren, Salkhan Murmu, the chief convenor of AAM, which has been organising rallies and demonstrations across the state to mount pressure on the Jharkhand government to implement panchayat (extension to schedule area) Act,1996 (pesa-1996), said AAM was not opposed to development of Jharkhand, but certainly not at the cost of tribals' interest.

Murmu suggested that land owners ready to vacate their land for the industries be made share-holders in the proposed company with ownership right of their land in return of their approval for setting up the industries. He said hundreds of adivasi families have been leading a miserable lives and are forced to migrate to other states in search of livelihood after they had been displaced from their own lands for development projects in the past.

"In fact, Jharkhand does not need big industries for the next two decades, but the agriculture sector and agro-based industries need to be promoted for the benefit of tribal masses," Murmu, a former parliamentarian, said.

Murmu advocated an honourable "rehabilitation act" in the state instead of a rehabilitation policy, which had been "proved anti-tribal" in the last five decades.

The tribal leader said any forcible acquisition of tribal land in the scheduled area will be violation of the Constitution as well as the 1997 judgement of the Supreme Court on a case between an non governmental organisation 'Samatha' and Andhra Pradesh government.

Various organisations have announced their course of action against the development projects in the region.

Bhumi Raksha Gramin Ekta Manch alongwith AAM, Moolvasi Adhikar Manch have announced a 'janata curfew' in Kolhan belt in protest against the possible ground-breaking ceremonies to be performed by investors.

Senior Bharatiya Janata Party leader Shailendra Mahato, who is also the president of the Lok Adhikar Morcha, has declared that not an inch of land will be given to investors for setting up their plants and threatened to launch 'Jamin Chipko Andolan' from November 20.

Mahato said the movement will begin from Tentaposhi in Saraikela-Kharswan district where Tata Steel has proposed to set up a 12 million green field integrated steel plant at a cost of Rs 53,000 crore in phases.

Mahato expressed apprehension that residents of two villages, which were likely to be acquired by the Tata Steel for its new plant, would be rendered homeless and their livelihood snatched as the Jharkhand government did not have any concrete rehabilitation policy as yet.

He said Jharkhand government should rather focus on backward districts like Simdega, Gumla, Latehar and Santhal Paragan region where development projects were necessary.



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