22-Apr-2006

Adivasis And Forests

Found this on the net - the website of a group called Jharkhand Mines Area Coordination Committee. This group seems to be fighting for the adivasis' land rights. The site itself is a bit quirky requiring some working around/URL manipulation to get to where you want to go. But it gives an idea of the things happening in the area, mostly far away from the TV screens and newspaper headlines. They have a report on the Kalinga killings which recently spurted across the news horizons of the rest of the country. Factual, not very heavy on emotions, and eye-opening. It also touches on the forest protection and destruction issue and why it would not be welcome in some quarters that the Adivasis get legal ownership of their lands. It reflects on how well governments take care of forest lands. An excerpt:
Kalinga Nagar core zone comprises of 13,000 acres where the industries are situated. The remaining 17,000 acres are earmarked for the townships and civic amenities [pk: i.e.,a total of 121 sq km]. Sourrounding this is a greenbelt of dense forests spread over an additional area of 75 sq k.m.s. The flora includes sal, kurum, vandan, ashan and piasal. The forests of Nakasa, Natimara, Barsuli etc, all within ten kilometers of the project area, are also home to rich and diverse wildlife like leopard, deer, scaly ant-eater, python, cobra etc. This is also an elephant corridor zone as it comes within the larger Saranda Sal Forest area.

What is noteworthy is that the people in these forty Adivasi villages have been protecting this forest zone even prior to 1946. Their protection plan included what we call today ‘Community vigilant groups’. It is for this reason that the forest and wild animals stayed protected from forest mafia, poachers’ et al. Interestingly the practice of these community vigilant groups is older than our present day environmental NGO’s claiming to protect the forest.

The Bone of Contention
A known fact is that the first and last land survey was undertaken in 1928 under the then British Raj. That land survey did not include the Adivasi areas, thus, a majority of the Adivasi population in Orissa was never given land papers. Despite a Supreme Court ruling in favour of the Adivasi, the government has not moved a finger to grant papers to the Adivasis. The advantage of maintaining the status quo by the upper dominant caste and class is manifold. One such advantage is seen here in Duburi where only those who had land papers were given compensation in 1994. The rest of the land the government got for free.

The Tata Factor
The Tata Steel Ltd (TSL), a late-comer in the project, has been allotted 2400 acres in Kalinga Nagar, for the construction of a six million tonne plant. The land that the government purchased at the rate of Rs. 37,000/- per acre in 1994, was sold to the Tata Co. for Rs. 3,35,000/- thus making a net profit of Rs 715,200,000 and at the same time giving the Tata Company a savings of over Rs. 87,600,000 over the market price. The market price is between Rs. 5,00,000 to 7,00,000 per acre.

It was this dispute over compensation that was on the negotiation table till 2nd January and was the reason why the people had assembled to prevent the bull-dozers from destroying their houses and taking over their lands that fatal day.

There were other reasons for this dispute. The Government had paid only for those lands for which the people had ownership papers; amounting to 13,000 acres, For the remaining 17,000 acres, which were in part common land and in part lands belonging to the Adivasis --though the papers due to them by the Supreme court ruling had never materialized-- the government did not pay any money. Within the category of common lands comes forest land. Traditionally the Khunkhatidars also had large amounts of forest lands and hence the ownership of these forest lands, and the question as to whether they belonged to the Forest Department (Government) or to the Khunkhatidars, or how much belonged to each, had been in dispute. While this amounts to another staggering mathematical figure, in terms of blood, it has taken the lives of the twelve killed, injured dozens, and the trauma of the repression that has followed and the burden of collective memory is going to linger on.

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