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The economics of GREEN HUNT

22 July 2010 5,577 views No Comment

In Jharkhand, the State is behaving like an agent of corporations, grabbing resources from tribals in violation of their traditional rights and handing them over to corporations, even  using gun power if necessary. These are the findings of an HRLN fact finding team that visited the state’s most backward but resource-abundant regions, writes Sarita Bhoi

The Wednesday morning of March 31 this year brought a day that Ram Soren (name changed to protect identity), a resident of a remote village in Giridih district, would always remember with a shudder. “I was fixing the roof at the time when I saw police beating up Tara, a fellow villager. The police called me too and started asking about the murder of a certain constable named Chhotu Chowkidar. They asked me if I had seen the Naxals that night and if I knew of their meetings to which I answered that I was not aware of it. Thereafter they called two more boys and beat all of us brutally. About 200-300 CRPF personnel had surrounded the village at the time of the incident,” recounts the frail villager.

The next day was Neetu Soren’s turn to face the high-handedness of the police. “Three police personnel came inside my house with their shoes on. They asked me to open a room that was closed and asked why I had stored 50 kilos of salt in my house to which I replied that whenever we have money, we buy large quantities of food at one time for domestic use. They alleged that this was for the Maoists and asked me if the Maoists came to my house. When I came out of the house, I was shocked to see about 20-30 police personnel outside my house”.

The fear in Neetu’s eyes is routine in Jharkhand’s remote villages where the state has launched a massive manhunt in the name of “Operation Green Hunt”. Quite often the phrase is loosely used in media reports to refer to police efforts towards tackling the problem of Maoists in the region. However, the question that goes unasked is how this operation is violating the space and privacy of people living in this area and how the state oppression in the name of internal security and restoration of law and order is giving rise to trepidation among innocent tribal people.

Interestingly, the area where the operation is currently going on is full of natural resources. The anti-Naxal operation was initially launched in the Kolhan region where the Jharkhand government has signed many MoUs with corporate houses for the establishment of mining industries, power projects and steel plants. This operation is being carried out in the districts of Giridih, East Singhbhum, West Singbhum, Khunti, Lohardagga, Latehar, Saraikala Kharsawan and Hazaribagh — where there is massive opposition from villagers on the proposed development projects. However, the government foresees this area as the key investment corridor.

The paradox

In the present day’s industrial setting dominated by the neo-liberal discourse of development, Jharkhand has emerged as one of the main destinations of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI). Here FDI is concentrated in the secondary sector and not in the service sector like in other states. This compounds the problem of rapid industrialisation with large-scale displacement and tribals’ alienation from their land. It is against this background that we are looking at the issue of Operation Green Hunt in Jharkhand.

The paradox of “rich resources, poor people” in the tribal areas has been a concern for everybody for quite some time. The issues of tribal rights and their access to land and other natural resources has emerged as a central theme in the impoverishment and disempowerment of tribal communities.

The social base of the problem and the subjects of study in this context are the Scheduled Tribes, who constitute 26 percent of Jharkhand’s population and are the most marginalised and poor social group in the state, with over 72 percent living under the poverty line. Though land and land-based resources are central to the livelihoods of tribal people, they have poor access to land and forests. Most tribal communities in Jharkhand have strong cultural and social relationships with land, many of them practicing communal ownership of land, especially swidden land. During the last two centuries, tribal communities have been dispossessed of their land — while the plain land was given to non-tribals, the swidden land was taken up by the state. The state in turn has categorised these areas as forest land or revenue land.

The loss of private landholdings by tribals has been a cause of concern over the history of the Indian polity. A number of laws passed by both the pre-independence State and the post-colonial State to check land alienation have suffered shortcomings and have been unable to check the transfer of land from tribals to non-tribals. Also, as this study found out, tribals’ poor access to land is not only an outcome of their alienation from land, but is also the outcome of the land and forest policies followed by the State. In Scheduled areas of Jharkhand, three-fourth of the land is owned by the State and less than ten percent land is owned by tribals. At the same time, the per household land ownership among tribal households is extremely low. The situation of marginal ST households, which constitute more than 50 percent of tribal landowners, is even more precarious, with their average landholding consisting of extremely small portions of land. Given that land is the most important source of tribal livelihood, the extremely low holdings could be an important factor behind the social group’s acute poverty. This study was conducted to understand the contrast of abundant land owned by the State as against the meager holdings of tribals, the denial of tribals’ rights to natural resources because of the process of industrialisation, and their violation through State oppression disguised as Operation Green Hunt.

The overshadowing of the large-scale loss of tribal access to land and forests through processes of displacement and industrialisation has been facilitated by the state itself. The structural mechanism to ensure the fundamental rights of adivasis — rights to basic civic amenities like food, water, healthcare, education, mode of transport (roads and public transportation system), electricity, etc. — in fact ensures that these rights are denied to the tribal people through a long term systematic process of indiscriminate industrialisation.

Grabbers & facilitators

The corporate houses, both private and public, are the agencies that directly carry on the programme of industrialisation. However, the State, functioning within a system of competitive politics and a so-called democratic framework, continues to be the prime mover and guardian of the whole enterprise. It is acting as an intermediary agency to protect and appease corporate lobbies for the larger interest of capitalist groups who aspire to establish large companies in the tribal areas, thereby ensuring the establishment of a neo-colonial system. What has also come out of this study is the observation that the State and the companies are collectively bribing the local people and are manipulating facts in the process of signing of MOUs for land acquisition.

The process of industrialisation has not only generated a good deal of social tension and political turmoil leading to political instability, but has also violated the basic principle of human rights. Paving the way for industrialisation through State oppression in Jharkhand is a classic example of violation of fundamental human rights in the name of economic development.

Of late, social movements opposing the corporatisation and industrialisation of tribal-dominated states, such as Jharkhand, have been crushed under the neo-liberal economic discourse of the State. This has given rise to militant movements. The Naxalite movement is one of the results of this kind of exploitation.

For example, the slogan “Jangal Zamin Azad Hai” (forest and land are free gifts of Nature) succinctly expresses the opposition to external control and commercial use. Unfortunately, social movements organised to protect tribal rights have often been mistaken by the State as militant movements — thus branding social activists as criminals and banning such slogans. Criminalising social movements to appease and protect corporate interests is a regular feature in the government discourse.

Against this background, resistance movements of tribal people against industrial units need to be probed into deeply. Protests against industrialisation by the affected people is not new in the state, but the ongoing movements are different in that they have brought about an extraordinary unity among the tribal and backward masses against the industrial establishments as well as against the state government, forcing all political establishments to rethink the process of industrialisation.

The solution appears to have moved too far. The growth of pan-tribal unity is an emerging political phenomenon against the militant and autocratic state political leadership.

People’s protests against displacement are widespread all over the state and are gaining momentum against the industrial houses. While the state government looks upon all these resistance movements as law and order problems, and has been trying to tighten the security arrangements in and around the industrial hub, the people have raised important questions which merit serious attention of the corporate bodies.

Besides the questions of rehabilitation and resettlement, questions regarding betterment of the quality of life of the project-affected people are closely associated with all these movements.

Mostly the people who are hit extremely hard by industrialisation are the tribals. Since the government bureaucracy is not responsive to the needs of the displaced people, the people’s discontentment against industrialisation finds expression through various means which have serious social, economic and political implications. In short, it’s a wake
up call.

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