Prime Minister Modi must be commended for visiting Dantewada. But while the last visiting PM recognized its unique biodiversity and culture, Mr. Modi wants to get rid of these as fast as possible.
The government has announced Rs 24, 000 crore investment in the region for a ultra mega steel plant at Dilmilli, and the Raoghat-Jagdalpur railway line among other things. The MOUs are with the public sector SAIL, NMDC and IRCON, but as ongoing construction at the NMDC Nagarnar steel plant shows, many private sector companies like the Tatas have contracts to build specific components.
The non-tribal outsiders who dominate the trade and politics of the region are thrilled – they see jobs for their children and expanded business opportunities, and a complete transformation of the district. Bastar will no longer be remembered as a forested, adivasi dominated area but will become an industrial belt. Jungle tourism will still be available in small pockets; the statues of dancing adivasi women will adorn the city chowks, but the real adivasis will have been pushed as labour to the cities. Instead of Gondi, which is now the majority language, only Hindi will be spoken.
Those who have bought up hundreds of acres apiece from the original adivasi owners around Dilmilli at throwaway prices like Rs. 1000- 5000 an acre are especially pleased. This group includes both Congress and BJP politicians, bureaucrats and Marwari merchants. Adivasi bureaucrats and politicians have no problem, but since non-adivasis cannot legally acquire adivasi land under the 5th Schedule, much of this is benami. SC and OBC villagers are also the first to be targeted to sell their lands.
Land acquisition for the Nagarnar steel plant illustrates how the model works. In 2001-2, the police fired on and arrested those refusing to accept their compensation cheques, and vandalised their homes. The National Commission for Scheduled Tribes described the process of land acquisition as unconstitutional, but it was ignored. Eventually, 303 households were forced to part with 1023 acres of land at a pittance. For example, Shankar (name changed) got Rs. 73,000 for his five acres. This was too little to buy alternative land; the family now survives on the class IV job of one son in NMDC. In the 2007 round of acquisition, only 28 people got jobs. Now that rich outsiders have bought up the remaining land to be acquired, the rate has risen to Rs. 28-30 lakh per acre. There is massive money being made, but not by the locals. This is just like the Malik Makbuja scam of the late 1990s, when politicians like Mahendra Karma and bureaucrats were charged by the CBI for buying adivasi land cheap in order to sell the valuable teak trees on it. Predictably, no further action was taken on that.
The full page government advertisements tell us that the Dilmilli steel plant will provide 10,000 jobs, but why do they not tell us how many will be displaced; and how many of those jobs will go to local Bastariyas?
In Raoghat, the issue is not who benefits, but who loses – in this case, the entire country. The Environmental Impact Assessment report says that the Raoghat mines and railway line will affect “26 plant species that are included in the red list of rare and endangered species, 22 mammalian species of which 15 are in either Endangered or Vulnerable list of IUCN appendices or WPA schedules; large number of insects including a few rare ones, 28 species of Butterflies and 102 species of bird from 38 families.” The mining waste dumps, the report warns, would destroy the drainage of the entire valley, and the entire culture of the people would likely become extinct. But 22 CRPF camps have come up to push through the project, and several sarpanchs in the surrounding villages have been arrested.
Talking of sarpanches, the sarpanch of Jawanga, Bomda Ram Kawasi, who also stood as the CPI candidate for Dantewada in the 2013 assembly elections, is a man of vision. He had earmarked 22 acres of government land in his village to build a high school, playground and hostel, and another 5 acres for a hospital. When Collector Reena Kangale, and her successor OP Chowdhury asked him for land, he readily agreed on condition that the village children would also be able to study there.
The Jawanga example shows up Mr. Modi’s argument that the new land acquisition law is required for village infrastructure. The problem is not that villagers are unwilling to provide land for schools and hospitals that will benefit them, but with the government’s priorities. Table 8.12 of the Xaxa Committee report shows that in Chhattisgarh, from 1982-2007, compared to 65.18% for water resources, 24.18% for transport and 3.71% for industry, 0% land was acquired for health, education and social services!
The argument that under the new Mining Act, the mineral royalties paid to a district foundation will provide schools and hospitals in these backward districts absolves the state and central government of any responsibility. Should people get hospitals only if they agree to be displaced?
The Maoists must certainly stop their violence. But is the PM willing to spend even five minutes, leave alone five days, in the company of those thousands of children whose homes were burnt and whose parents were killed by Salwa Judum and security forces? Instead, Chhavindra Karma and his associates are all set to go ahead with Salwa Judum II with full state support, despite the Supreme Court’s clear instructions to the Chhattisgarh government to prosecute crimes committed by the Salwa Judum, and prevent any such group operating in future.