Dang Panel Recommends Considering Greenfield Steel Plants in Fifth Schedule AreasPublished by MAC on 2005-09-06
Dang Panel Recommends Considering Greenfield Steel Plants in Fifth Schedule Areas
Sudha Nagaraj, New Delhi - Indiapress
6 September 2005
BY recommending special consideration for greenfield steel plants that are to be located in Fifth Schedule areas meaning areas where tribals live the R K Dang Committee has opened a Pandoras box, bringing into the open contentious issues related to community rights, ecological destruction and conservation of natural resources for local benefits. While this may contravene the famous Samata Judgement of 1997, Committee chairman R K Dang told ET, My recommendation is independent of the Court case.
The recommendation if accepted could be seen as another attempt by the Centre to meddle with Schedule V of the Constitution to enable leasing out of tribal land to non-tribals. Schedule V of the Constitution prevents violations of the rights of tribals.
Tellingly, the Dang Committee has made it clear that while the Centre is vested with enough powers to give such preferences (while alloting mining leases) as spelt out by the Panel, it would be better to get it legally cleared. As a matter of abundant precaution and subject to the advice of the Attorney General and Ministry of Law and Justice, the entire set of preferential guidelines as may be modified or accepted by the government should be taken before the Supreme Court of India for cognisance and in order to subsume all existing and pre-empt all future contentious litigations in individual High Courts, the report adds.
To recap briefly, eight years ago the Supreme Court had ruled in favour of an Andhra Pradesh based NGO, Samata and held that any transfer of land (immovable property) from tribals to a non-tribal person was null and void. It had ruled that the term person included government and that immovable property also included prospecting and mining leases. While the case pertained to Andhra Pradesh, the Apex Court gave directions that all other state governments should adhere to the ruling.
Says Dang, I have lived with tribals and I am most sensitive to their needs. I think Schedule V read together with Article 244 of the Constitution in fact backs any affirmative action to uplift tribals. A steel plant based on iron ore in such areas would bring benefits to tribals. Subject to adequate environmental precautions, there is no reason why local industrial activity cannot be encouraged. Let my recommendation take the test of law.
His argument echoes what several voices in the government have expressed before. In fact, the issue has resurfaced several times with governments attempting to subvert the Samata judgement. Says Ravi Rebbapragada, executive director, Samata, There was a move by the ministry of mining to amend Schedule V of the Constitution to prevent restrictions on transfer of land to governments.
The judgement had also held that a state instrumentality or tribals society may be allowed to engage in mining activities in compliance with Forest Conservation Act and Environment Protection Act. This is often misused with subleases being given out by state-owned mining agencies to private parties. The fact is even lease is transfer of land, according to the judgement, says Rebbapragada. A similar controversy arose during the Balco disinvestment, but the transfer of 51% shares to Sterlite Industries was upheld by the Supreme Court as the land transfer to the government was done years ago.