India: Who's speaking the truth on Saranda?
Jharkhand's Saranda forests were last year chosen by the Indian government for a model scheme (SAP).
This was designed to show that local communities can be "uplifted" by development, even as paramilitary forces continue fighting left-wing guerillas.
However, as we reported last month, the project isn't working: India: "If this is called governance, tribals are not buying it"
Meanwhile, allegations that the Saranda Action Plan was covertly aimed at promoting the interest of mining companies, has received further backing.
According to Jharkhand researcher, Gopi Nath Ghosh, India's Rural Development minister, Jairam Ramesh, declared earlier this month that private mining "had no place in Saranda."
However, shortly before, the huge privately-owned Tata conglomerate saw a mining proposal for Saranda waved through over the heads of protesting villagers.
Who speaks the truth - Jairam Ramesh or the facts?
By Gopi Nath Ghosh
Bindrai Institute for Research, Study & Action - Mines Monitoring Centre *
5 July 2012
After becoming the union Rural Development Minister, Mr. Jairam Ramesh is very much interested in the Saranda region of Jharkhand. The Saranda is "liberated zone" of the left wing extremist group, CPI (Maoist), Saranda is Asia's largest Sal tree forest and it is also a reserve area of Iron ore.
In a couple of months, he visited the Saranda region three times. He announced the Saranda Action Plan (SAP) of 248 crore [2,480 million rupees]. The SAP plan is for six panchayats of Monoharpur block, which is part of 840 square km Saranda forest.
In a press conference in Ranchi on 2nd July 2012, he said there was no place for private mining in Saranda only government companies will be allowed with their projects for the larger interest of country.
I want to remind Mr. Jairam Ramesh that, on 20th April 2011, a public hearing was organized by M/s Kushal Rathore Company for mine extension at village Sosopi of Nowamundi block, in order that it could take NOC (a No Objection Certificate) from the Jharkhand State Pollution Control Board (JSPCB).
The same was done by Saisradha Metallic Pvt. Ltd. company on 12th November 2011 at village Kotghar of Nowamundi block. And, again, the same was done by Tata company on 12 March 2012 at DAV school ground of Nowamundi block.
In all the public hearings, thousands of villagers gathered to put their objections in front of the JSPCB and shouted that it should not grant No Objection certificates to these companies for further mining.
In these three public hearings of JSPCB, two hearings saw certificates cancelled due to the objections of villagers, but Tata managed to persuade the JSPCB to grant an NOC.
Tata very tactfully organised the public hearing in their own selected place - the DAV School ground, with tight security, a huge company security force and state police deployed, so as not to allow the villagers who would protest against the company into the hearing.
Only selected villagers, loyal to the company. were allowed inside. How are the big giants managing the JSPCB and manipulating the norms of the board? How was it that the affected villagers were unable to speak their views in front of the board?
These public hearings are only three examples of how hundreds of private companies have concluded an MoU [Memorandum of Understanding] with the state government,and taken clearance from the concerned departments of the central government.
Now the question arises: how can a union minister say in public that these companies will not be allowed to do mining in this region?. His SAP is only eyewash but his aim is something else.
Mr. Jairam Ramesh is now very much concerned about the Sarju Action Plan for Latehar district which is also a Red zone of Jharkhand, with a number of extremist groups active in this district. At the same time, Sarju region is also a reserve area for bauxite.
Why is the Union minister of Rural Development, Mr Jairam Remesh, determined about the development of the two specific areas which are also mineral rich areas? The minister is not concern about other districts and doesn't have any action plan for them.
Districts like Palamu, Garwha, Gridhi, Chatra, Gumla, Khunti, Simdega, Dumka, Pakur are also in the "liberated zone" of the extreme left group CPI (Maoist); the only difference being that these districts don't have iron and bauxite.
* Gopi Nath Gosh works with BIRSA MMC, based in Ranchi, Jharkhand, and is in charge of its programme: "Who are the Barbarians on our homeland?" The original article has been slightly edited for this posting.