Tribes and indigenous people were displaced in the disguise of development, which made them only to pay price.
There is a raging debate today on development. Some people call it politics of development and some others term it as politics of displacement. At the moment, I am traveling from Kanyakumari to Delhi visiting one or two struggles every day.
Most of movements are against displacement and some are for proper resettlement and rehabilitation as tribes and indigenous people were displaced in the disguise of development.
I remember Guman Singh, my friend frorm Himachal Pradesh who was seriously concerned about those who were displaced from the site of Bakra Nangal dam immediately after India achieved its freedom in 1947. These were the days when the then Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru said that these were the new temples of India and as young kids we believed in that vision that Panditji was trying to promote.
It took many years before many of us understood that those who paid the price for this model of development got nothing in return. They ended up in slums of the cities, having lost their meagre land, uprooted from the place they belong to and the culture they identify with.
About a year back, I wrote a letter to Shripakash Jaiswal, the coal minister requesting him to set up a panel to look at scale of displacement that has taken place across the country as the greed for mining black gold continues.
I requested him to think of a rehabilitation process for all those before allotting new coalmines to industries, businesses and traders of all hues and shades. While the Forest Rights Act reflects the historical injustice done to adivasis, I wish the coal minister reconciled to this blunder in the name of development.
Now, it's not just coal. There are hundreds of mining companies digging out everything possible from the deep soil from minerals, gold, precious stones to ore and metals. I remember coordinating a study by renowned Prof Praveen Jha as part of my involvement with an organization, 'Focus on the Global South' based in Bangkok. This particular study was done in and around Bhilai to understand displacement due to industrialization and mining. The study concluded that there is absolutely no trace of the indigenous people that were displaced from the site where Bhilai steel plant of SAIL stands today.
The study concluded that majority of adivasis ended up as security guards to protect the wealth of those who robbed them of what little they had i.e. land and resources on the pretext of development. So, since independence, displacement continues to happen unabashedly, unhindered and unchallenged.
It is only in the recent past that local people started challenging displacement. It is only in recent past that rehabilitation and resettlement (R&R) became part of large industry projects. It's last few years that our leaders parroted discourse on R&R though we do not respect the displaced people when they say our rights for a decent life needs to be respected.
During the last one year I have visited many places where people are displaced owing to large industry projects as part of economic expansion. Koodankulam in Tamil Nadu is a good example where the proposed nuclear power plant has not only brought disaster to those who are displaced but also injected terrible fear in the minds of those who are living around this plant. They are informed of what happened at Japan's Fukushima nuclear power plant. They also know what happened at Union Carbide plant at Bhopal.
On the way in Kerala at Allapad in Kollam district, local people were agitating against sand mining. The entire panchayat of Allapad will lose their land and livelihood resources if this mindless mining is not stopped.
Unfortunately there are no efforts made to take local people into confidence and discuss their stake in any project that the government is planning to execute. People are just victims of designs that are made in New Delhi or state capitals. In a democracy, how long can we tolerate this misconceived development being imposed on people in the guise of public interest and economic prosperity? Why can't the public decide what is their interest? Why should this power be vested with some bureaucrats sitting in higher places? I think this is the kind of debate that we need to begin in this country.
On the way in Kerala at Allapad in Kollam district, local people were agitating against sand mining. The entire panchayat of Allapad will lose their land and livelihood resources if this mindless mining is not stopped. We have seen large number of people displaced by forest department and plantation companies in Idukki, Wayanad and Attapadi. There is absolutely no explanation given to poor people. What kind of R&R will be available to them? There is no clue as to whether this historical injustice will be corrected. The condition of displaced people in Theni, Sivagangai and Madurai appeared miserable.
One fine morning the forest department asked them to leave their homes that they lived in for ages. They were also told not to return to collect roots and fruits from the forest. Many of them are now living in virtual slums. In heart of hearts, they still cherish their uninterrupted hay days of forest living and they hope that one day they will be able to go back. No government officer has time to think about them. It looks like they are not even considered as citizens of this country. Majority of these people have resigned to their fate.
The other day, we were in a village, Kuppanattam in Thiruvannamali district. About 160 families living in this village have lost their fertile land to a small dam. The compensation they were paid was Rs. 50,000 per acre. They are aware that they are cheated. They also understand that they would benefit very little from the dam. In an interaction, each one of them repeatedly asked this question, "why should we sacrifice the life and future of our children for a project or development model that does not help us". Why is that such questions are being raised by millions of displaced people and not understood by policy planners or decision makers?
A few days ago, I was at yet another village, where Jindal Steel Limited is about to mine iron ore. I could see the rocky mountain that is part of the local people's culture. They have songs and stories about this mountain. Their gods and goddesses are there in this mountain and they know there is no life without this mountain. But, for Jindals, what is important is to just profit from the iron ore. I have seen the disaster Jindals unleashed in places like Raigarh in Chhattisgarh. A beautiful area that is known for resources and culture is now converted into a smoky mountain filling the bank balances of people like Mr. Jindal. During my padayatra in Raigarh, I have seen people coming with petitions requesting help to get them their land back. I have also seen how even the Fifth Schedule Area got converted into a captive power plant of Mr. Jindal notwithstanding resistance by villagers. So, when people told me that Jindal Steel Limited is going to come to this village for mining, I can imagine what holds out in future for these hapless people.
Sixty-four years is long enough for a country to learn. Refusal of Indian neo-rich and insensitive politicians to understand and appreciate the ordinary people is a wee bit scary. Something has gone terribly wrong with our basics that we refuse to hear-in the voices from the bottom. We were hoping against hope that in the Twelfth Five Year Plan, people's aspirations will be taken on board. I am shocked at the insensitivity in this country. One can only hope that a day will come when Gandhi's talisman will be put into practice.
Writer is President of Ekta Parishad, a peoples' initiative. He is on a yearlong padayaatra to mobilize public opinion for basic rights of indigenous people on land, water and forest resources.