Jharkhand tribals’ land agitation

Arun Srivastava

Nearly 80 officials of Khunti administration, including SP Ashwini Kumar Sinha, were held hostage for 12 hours by tribal villagers 60km from Ranchi on August 25 in protest against a move to amend the Tenancy Act and give their arable lands to Adanis. 
Though it had been announced earlier that the law will not be amended, the government came out with a new land acquisition bill which made the tribals suspicious, leading too the protest. The villagers dug trenches and put up barricades to trap the officials.
The incident underlined the intensity of the mistrust prevailing amongst tribals against the state government. The agitators were demanding a simple assurance that their land would be protected under the 5th Schedule of the Constitution and Panchayati Raj Extension to Scheduled Areas (Pesa) Act. They alleged the state government was out to grab their land and ruin their indigenous culture by enacting new laws.
The impasse ended only after the DIG and DC assured them that they would look into their demands and take action against policemen who indulged in high-handedness. Ironically the state administration and the police department have been trying to project the incident as an act of sedition, alleging that the church and the politicians have convinced the tribals that the BJP-led government was out to ruin them. Certain rebel outfits are also trying to make inroads taking advantage of the atmosphere of fear and mistrust.
Not only in Khunti, similar kind of agitations were surfacing in other parts of Jharkhand as well. In Simdega posters and banners with slogans like jal, jungle aur jammen humara hai (water, forests and lands are ours) have been seen. What is really surprising is that the state government is going ahead with its plan to hand over the land to the Adanis.  According to officials, Adanis intend to acquire over 900 acres in Godda district for its proposed 1,600MW power plant. They have agreed to offer almost Rs 50 lakh per acre to the land owners.
However, they have not succeeded in their attempt to lure the tribals. While police officials attribute this hardening of attitude to the political factors, Adani executives say the tribals have been willing to cooperate and sell their lands, provided they get a decent compensation. Interestingly, this is a tactical ploy of the company to justify its move.      
No doubt at some places the villagers have expressed in favour of selling their lands but have raised the claim of compensation and other terms. For acquiring the land the investor would have to pay four times the market rate. They also demand financial assistance for the marriage of dependent women, apart from compensatory jobs or Rs 5.50 lakh cash or a monthly pension of Rs 2,000 for 20 years. They also insist on payment of a bonus after every 10 years.
Chief minister Raghubar Das is determined to woo the industry aggressively and is  keen to ensure that the Adani project takes off so that it can draw more investors to Jharkhand. Earlier some big-ticket industrial projects could not take-off following violent protests over land acquisition issues.
Meanwhile, government officials are confident that the Adani group will start work on its 1,600 MW ultra mega power project (UMPP) soon. Already 1,000 acres of land have been acquired for the project. Jharkhand has been of strategic importance to the Adani group, which plans to pump in Rs 20,000 crore in various sectors in the state.
To help the Adanis the state police has been implicating the protesting voices in false cases. Arjun Yadav, a disabled landless peasant, has received a notice from the sub-divisional magistrate court of Godda, alleging he and 22 others tried to disrupt peace during the social impact assessment (SIA) meeting of Adani Power (Jharkhand) Limited. These notices were meant to scare the protesting villagers.
In fact, Raghubar Das wants farmers to give up their multi-crop fertile lands for a power plant that Adani Limited will set up. It will sell its entire electricity production to Bangladesh. On February 17, the state signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Adani Limited.
The villagers are convinced that Adani Power and the state administration are hand in glove in an attempt to fleece the farmers. They have used the land records of 1932 to show that a majority of the lands in the tribal villages are not being used for agriculture.
In a significant development, the chief minister has formed two committees to analyse the decline in tribal population since Independence and to simplify modalities for transfer of land in Scheduled Areas. The youth and women in these villages argue that the arrival of Adani Power will worsen their social status. The independent ‘land owners’ will become dependent ‘labours and servants.’  Incidentally, the tribal activists who could challenge the narrative of the meetings convened to convince the villagers are not allowed inside the meeting halls. (IPA)

Tuesday, 19 September, 2017