India/Chhattisgarh: The Bastar Land Grab

Interview with Sudha Bharadwaj, published on ZNet, by Justin Podur, April 22, 2013 (Sudha Bharadwaj is a lawyer and a member of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) and the Chhattisgarh Mukti Morcha (Mazdoor Karkyakarta Committee. I interviewed her in Raipur on March 5, 2013).

… JP: I’ve been trying to understand what is happening in the forest, in Bastar.

  • SB: Take a look at a map of the periphery of Chhattisgarh. If you overlay maps of forests, of adivasi villages, of minerals you’ll find almost perfect overlap. When Chhattisgarh was created in 2000, carved out of Madhya Pradesh, the first Chief Minister coined a phrase, he said it was “rich land, poor people ”. In the 12 years since its creation, the people have become poorer, and more riches have been discovered in the land. This state is full of minerals – 19% of India’s iron ore, 11% of the coal, bauxite, limestone, all kinds of priceless minerals.  
  • Paradoxically to understand Bastar, that is South Chhattisgarh, the place to start is north Chhattisgarh. In the north, in Raigarh, you will enter Jindal country, you’ll see Jindal everywhere. In 12 years, in Raigarh alone, 26,000 acres of agricultural land have gone for mining and plants. Where are the people supposed to go? Inequalities have intensified.
  • In the late 1990s and early 2000s the Maoists came into the northern district of Sarguja and were crushed. They came from Jharkhand. They redistributed some land. There were 20-25 encounter killings of their leaders, and many adivasi people are still in jail. Surguja has bauxite. It is densely forested. The forest ministry said it was pristine jungle, a ‘no-go’ area for mining. The Chhattisgarh government made it a ‘go’ zone, with a rail corridor and power plants. In one village, Premnagar, the Gram Sabha (village-level government) voted 12-15 times, saying they didn’t want a power plant, they argued it out in a reasoned manner. That is because in a Scheduled Area (tribal dominated) the Gram Sabha has sweeping powers. So the State government, by a notification, changed the Gram Panchayat into a Nagar Panchayat (municipal council) and took away its powers! This is unconstitutional, of course, but the final judgment never seems to happen and there’s no interim relief – so the land grab can proceed in the meantime. Every possible protest is thrown to the winds.

JP: What is the role of privatization in this process?

  • SB: Mining for companies is based on leases with land owners, not by land acquisition. Earlier leases used to only be given to the public sector, and you could not mine unless you built a plant. Now, with Public Private Partnerships (PPP), private companies can just mine, and even if it is not for captive use. This leads to ‘dig-and-sell’, a robber-baron kind of situation.
  • Kosampali village in Raigarh is surrounded by a 150ft deep Jindal mine on two sides. On the third side is the river. The people of the village have only one way out, and that land is scheduled for mining too. They are doomed to become an island.
  • What does the law say about this? When the mining company applies for the lease, the application asks: does the applicant have surface rights? If not, has the consent of the owner/occupier been obtained? If the answer to these questions is no, then the application should be sent back immediately to obtain those consents. But instead, the mining company writes: “consent will be obtained”, and gets through this giant loophole that says “consent may be given after lease, but before entry”. So the government comes to the rescue of the mining company. The Tehsildar (a revenue official lower in rank to the District Collector) posts notice listing out all the plots in the lease, saying – come and collect your compensation as per the Land Acquisition Act. They don’t tell people that they have a choice not to consent. Normally people take it as a fait accompli. They come and take the compensation, and their consent is then assumed. In cases where villagers take the compensation, they try to buy land in other villages, and often the local people there see them as outsiders and don’t let them settle But the people of Kosampalli are saying, “No amount of money can compensate us if you take away these last lands for mining, because we won’t be able to live here any more.” Our legal office managed to get a stay on the mining, and it’s fixed for final hearing.
  • If you’re in Chhattisgarh, you should visit Jashpur district. It’s pristine forest at the moment, but the prospecting licenses cover the whole district. A whole hill and plateau atop it called Pandrapat where the Pahadi Korva primitive tribes reside is covered by bauxite mining leases. After the elections are over, mining will start, and the forest will be devastated.

JP: Talk a bit about the politics of power in this region.

  • SB: Janjgir-Champa, another district in the north, is a drought-prone area. The government invested in irrigation, and got 78% of the district irrigated. But now there are plans for 34 power plants using that water. There are plans for 70 plants in Chhattisgarh, to produce 60,000 MW. The peak electricity requirement in the state is 2500 MW, and we already have 5000 MW capacity. So are we selling it to our neighbours? Well, Andhra Pradesh is planning for capacity of 45000 MW, Gujarat 45000 MW, Madhya Pradesh the same. So what is going on? I think it is not about power. It is for the mining. There are 200,000 acres of land allocated for these plants, 100,000 acres for mining. The water required for these plants is more than all the surface water we have, so we’re going to dip deep into the ground water.
  • This is a net transfer of land and minerals to the private sector. When the global financial crisis set in, multinationals have begun to come here and continue to make huge profits by collaborating with Indian corporations. So Tata will be the Indian face of Corus when it needs iron ore. Foreign mining might face trouble – but if you have a great Indian company mining, no trouble.
  • Once you understand this pressure for mining, this pressure for land – then you can understand South Chhattisgarh, that is, Bastar.

JP: Bastar, where the Maoists are.

  • SB: The Naxals came to Bastar in the 1980s. The area was totally neglected. It was considered a “punishment posting” for the government officials who got posted there. Exploitation was blatant and brutal, of the forest peoples and adivasis. Many of the adivasis made their living collecting tendu leaves (used for rolling bidi cigarettes). There were huge movements to get the adivasis better prices for their tendu leaves, and the Naxals built a solid base with these movements.
  • By 2005, according to the Director General of Police (DGP) at the time, there were 50,000 Sangham members (unarmed members of the front organisations of the Maoists). That might even have been an underestimate. Thus there was this a huge area where the Forest Department and police couldn’t go, but teachers, doctors, were allowed. It was after Salwa Judum), that violence greatly increased.. And the period of Salwa Judum correlates with the MOUs and the land grab some 2200 ha were granted to Tataand a similar amount to Essar, for iron ore prospecting.
  • So in Bastar the state has this predicament. They want the minerals, they even want the forests a little bit for carbon credits, but they don’t want the people. In 2005, Salwa Judum starts. It’s typical strategic hamleting, moving people out of the villages and into camps. A similar approach was taken to insurgencies in the Northeast, in Mizoram and Tripura, for example. Here, they emptied 644 villages, by the government’s admission, 350,000 people. About 50,000 were brought to the camps, and today these camps still have about 10,000 people. Some fled to neighbouring states particularly Andhra Pradesh.Where are the rest? They seem to have gone even deeper into the forest, probably 200,000 people. . They try to cultivate and live in the forest, but they are being treated as outlaws.This displacement has been a very violent process. There are affidavits, evidence in the “Salwa Judum” cases filed in the Supreme Court (Nandini Sundar’s case and Kartam Joga’s case). In one block alone, the Konta block, there were 500 deaths, 99 rapes, 2000 houses burned. This was a violent, state-backed vigilante movement, and was also essentially pushed back militarily by the Maoists.
  • The notion of a few Maoists manipulating people is a bit simplistic. Even in the newspapers , when they describe ambushes, they describe 700, or 1000 attackers at times. Getting 700 people to a rally is difficult for us in the democratic movement. If 700 people are going to war, they must be looking upon it like an adivasi or national liberation struggle. And it is the State that has forced them to choose one side or the other.

JP: I’d never heard it characterized that way … //

… (full long interview text).

Links:

Chhattisgarh on en.wikipedia: … is a state in Central India …;

Right-less in the land of the rainbow nation, on The Africa Report, by Sarah Bracking, March 20, 2013;

Overindulgence or Body Malaise? You be the judge, on The Africa Report, by Faith ka-Manzi, Feb 07, 2013;

Video and text: Permaculture Paradise at Alex’s Front Yard Garden, 21.05 min, on naked capitalism, by lambert strether, April 22, 2013.

Comments are closed.