MAC: Mines and Communities

'Development' not for tribes in India

Published by MAC on 2005-06-18

'Development' not for tribes

Joseph Marianus Kujur (The author heads the Tribal and Dalit Studies Department of the Indian Social Institute, New Delhi)

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Land is life for the tribal. Take his land and you have taken away his life. This old saying has proven to be true in the districts of Sundargarh, Keonjhar, Kalahandi, Jharsuguda, Raygada and Mayurbhanj in the mineral-rich state of Orissa. The tribals, whose dependence on jal, jungle, zamin (water, forest, land) for livelihood is well known, are on the verge of virtual extinction not only socio-culturally and psychologically, but also physically, economically and politically. They have in their favour all the constitutional provisions and subsequent legislations, including the Panchayats Extension to the Scheduled Areas (PESA) Act 1996.

Moreover, some of the recent policies and draft bills, such as the National Tribal Policy, the Scheduled Tribes (Recognition of Forest) Bill, Resettlement and Rehabilitation Policy, the Right to Work, Right to Information, Employment Guarantee Act and other provisions for tribals in the Common Minimum Programme of the present government, all promise to empower the tribals. The biggest irony, however, is that threat to life and livelihood has never been as acute in the past as it is today. Thanks to the insensitivity of the government and the industry-politician nexus facilitating the hegemony of the multinational companies over natural resources with profiteering as their common minimum agenda tragically to the cost of the tribals.

The danger of tribals' extinction has had a traumatic past with the establishment of the Rourkela Steel Plant (RSP). The Steel Authority of India (SAIL) had acquired about 35,000 acres for RSP and another 12,000 acres for the Mandira dam. According to an Orissa Gazette notification, 33 villages over 25,03,524 acres had been acquired by the Orissa government in 1954 to set up the steel plant at Rourkela, and 31 villages spread over 11,92,398 acres for the construction of the Mandira dam in 1956-57. In both the projects, 36,95,912 acres had been acquired for the RSP and Mandira dam resulting in the uprooting of 4,251 families. SAIL and the Orissa government have failed to rehabilitate and resettle the evacuees of the last 50 years. The tribals feel totally deceived and disillusioned, both by the state and centre. Unitl this date they have been pressing their demands by taking recourse to hunger strike, rallies, demonstrations, memoranda and lobbying, but the authorities are indifferent.

The situation today has reached an alarming point with mines and factories multiplying overnight. The "scheduled district" of Sundargarh, one of the most affected regions, has a population of 18,30,673 of which tribals constitute 9,18,903 (50.19 per cent). The tribals'livelihood is based on agriculture and forest produce and they have still maintained their traditional system of cultivation. The recent years, however, have seen an upsurge of unprecedented construction of dams, factories and mining operations in the region causing dislocation of the tribal communities at all levels.

The Ib River Dam project, planned a long time back in Jharsuguda district, is likely to displace 50 villages with between 80,000 and 1,00,000 tribals from Subdega and Balisankra blocks where 85 to 90 per cent of the population is made up of tribals. The catchment area is fertile and well populated with dense forest cover. The state government has failed in giving proper compensation, rehabilitation and employment. The Rukura dam is another project in Bonei sub-division where four tribal villages, namely Musaposh, Bondha Bhuin, Koturidhuwa and Kantabahal, will be displaced. Government officials are issuing threats to secure evacuation.

In recent years, more than 60 sponge iron factories have mushroomed all over Sundargarh in about 12 blocks affecting between 400 and 600 villages. There is no regard for the environment in the community of industrialists and they do little to control pollution. They have been dumping their waste all over leading to serious consequences. Agricultural lands have lost their fertility. People have seen the polluted air and water being emitted from the plant of Rexon Strips in Kumarkela village of Gurundia Block. There is another sponge iron factory at Pandusila village under Sukurmuli Block in the neighbouring district of Mayurbhanj. The smoke, coal and iron dust spewed by the factories are causing extensive damage to the plant, animal and human lives. The water bodies around Pandusila area are also contaminated with toxic discharge of the factory. Over 12,000 villagers, mostly tribals, are suffering from various skin diseases, tuberculosis and other allergies. It is strongly believed that all polluting units are emitting ammonia fumes, strong enough to corrode tin sheets and burn paddy and green vegetables which have become a major threat to life. Thousands of affected people live in the villages of Ramabahar, Jampali, Jhagarpur, Bargain, Vedvyas, Balanda, Kuarmunda, Kalunga, Rajgangpur, Birkera, Koira, Tensa, Birmitrapur, Bijabahal, etc. in Sundargarh.

In a recent study by Jatindra Dash (2004), 42 steel plants were poised to come up in Orissa requiring 1,600 million tonnes of iron ore in the next 25 years. Multinational giants like BHP-Billiton, Vedanta Resources, Rio Tinto Mining, Alcan, Aditya Birla Group, Tata Group and Saudi Arabian companies had started queuing up to exploit the state's resources. The state had already leased 1,000 million tones of bauxite ore to different companies. There is a devastating impact of all these mining operations on the local inhabitants. According to the same study, the state was already emitting about one per cent of the world's greenhouse gases. This is likely to rise to three per cent this year and five per cent by 2008 if the government continues to invite the MNCs. Bauxite mining and refining in the Niyamgiri hills of Kalahandi are going to contaminate two major rivers, Nagavalli and Vasundhara. The open iron ore mine in the hills of Keonjhar is sure to pollute the Baitarani River. About 1.4 million people were displaced in Orissa between 1951 and 1995 due to dams, canals, mines and industries.

Indiscreet industrialisation of the region has alienated the tribals from the forests and their lands, upsetting their pattern of livelihood. Though the Forest Department and the timber mafia are primarily responsible for the destruction of forests, they are now blaming the poor tribals for the same. The tribals are harassed even for firewood which is their daily need. They have been evicted from their forest land and their houses have been destroyed and burnt. False cases have been registered and they have even been sent to jail. Some of the tribal villages are existing for hundreds of years but pattas are yet to reach them. Since their villages are not registered as revenue villages, tribe and residential certificates are not issued to them. They are not included in the voters' list. No government schemes are given to these villages. Forest officials extort money, cocks, goats, alcohols from them as reported by Tintus Samaria, one of the elders of Budakata village, Sundergarh. The tribals are being deprived of natural resources, and the existence of tribals living in the forest is in complete darkness.

The tribals were up in arms in January this year against the plans of the Chief Minister of Orissa to inaugurate the Utkal Alumina International Limited (UAIL) plant in Kashipur, in Raygada which would displace around 20,000 people from 82 villages. It would also destroy the fertile agricultural land, forests and sources of livelihood for generations to come. The Paraja and Kondh tribals of Kashipur in Raygada have been fighting a pitched battle against the UAIL and the state. However, the state has been using repressive measures to suppress people's movements for survival.

Orissa seems to be a victim of the process of development as propagated by the World Bank, IMF and a powerful section of the Indian elite. Agriculture, the only source of livelihood for tribals apart from minor forest produce, should be supported by the Government if it wants them to survive. It is a challenge to the state and centre to break the bureaucratic jinx and empower the Gram Sabha to develop their villages according to their own needs.

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