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A big fight for small farms

Battles over forcible acquisition of India’s agricultural land for industry are raging – particularly in the country’s tribal belt, where indigenous groups have upset corporate plans to tap mineral riches. Amy Kazmin reports.

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First, the land surveyors came. Then the rumours spread through the villages: Tata, one of India’s biggest conglomerates, would build a steel mill in the district.

Finally, government officials came to ask the villagers in Lohandiguda in Chhattisgarh state, who are mainly illiterate farmers from the Gond tribe, to relinquish their fields for the promise of cash, jobs and a better future.

For Banga Ram, the 65-year-old patriarch of a large family, the request was absurd. “What will we do with the money?” he asked. “We have to do agriculture to feed these children.” But local officials were not taking “no” for an answer.

Banga Ram was arrested. After he spent 13 days in jail, he says, his sons signed away the land and accepted compensation.

In nearby Chindgaon village, Sundar Kashyap, who earns 10,000 rupees (US$220) a month working for the government animal husbandry department, says his bosses warned him of trouble if his younger brothers refused to sign over two of their five acres [just over two hectares]. They, too, signed.

Yet five years after Tata Steel announced its plans for the mill, the families of both men are still cultivating their ancestral fields. Officials are struggling to complete the contentious land acquisition, with 20% of the required 5,000 hectares still outstanding and a local civil-rights lawyer threatening legal action against the process.

“I am going to challenge it,” says Pratap Agrawal, an attorney in the nearby small town of Jagdalpur. “Villagers are absolutely against handing over even an inch of their land.”

Battles over forcible acquisition of agricultural land for industry are raging across India. But nowhere are they as fraught as in India’s tribal belt, where long-neglected indigenous animist tribes, known as adivasis, have upset the plans of corporate groups such as Vedanta, Tata Steel, Essar Steel and National Mineral Development Corporation to tap mineral riches.

About 8.4% of India’s population is classified as adivasis, members of hundreds of distinct tribes whose languages have no written form. Living in severe poverty in remote areas with limited government services, tribal communities have India’s lowest literacy rates and its highest incidence of infant mortality and malnourished children.

Ostensibly, tribal communities have special legal protection to prevent them from being involuntarily dispossessed of their land. Yet critics say that pro-business government officials, who argue that mines and other large-scale industries would bring economic development and progress to neglected areas, are brazenly manipulating public-consultation processes and overriding community sentiments to take tribal lands.

“Indigenous people live in pre-industrial societies, so if the government goes to acquire their land for mining or special economic zones, it’s a matter of life and death for them,” says Prashant Bhushan, a prominent New Delhi-based civil-rights lawyer. “But all they have been doing is having some sham formal consultation process in which the views of adivasis are not seriously sought.”

Schedule V of India’s constitution maps out customary tribal lands where indigenous animist tribes are seen as requiring special protection against the threat of exploitation and dispossession.

In 1996, India adopted a law requiring authorities to consult village councils before taking land in tribal areas for development or industry. Civil-rights lawyers say this should be interpreted to require the consent of local communities.

India’s Supreme Court ruled in a 1997 judgment that Schedule V, combined with laws in the state of Andhra Pradesh, prohibited the transfer of tribal land there to non-tribe members for a mining lease. It also suggested 20% of the profits from mining in tribal areas be set aside for tribe members. It urged the national government in New Delhi to clarify policies about mining in tribal areas.

These conflicts, which tend to pit India’s most neglected people against its most powerful business houses, are helping to fuel the radical Naxalite guerrilla movement in the tribal belt, now increasingly considered India’s “Red Corridor”. “There are slogans on walls saying ‘Naxals, come and save us’,” says Arundhati Roy, the writer and social activist. “People are begging them, ‘Just come and train us’.”

Among India’s most controversial mining projects is the plan by British-listed Vedanta to mine bauxite from a mountain that the 2,800-strong Dongria Kondh tribe believe is its deity’s sacred home.

In a recent report, Amnesty International, the human rights group, said neither government officials nor Vedanta made any meaningful attempt to inform the illiterate tribes near the site about the project but merely published advertisements for a public hearing.

Vedanta, which says no one lives on the prospective mine site, says local government offices were notified about the project and given a chance to spread the word. India’s Supreme Court found all requirements were fulfilled.

“The Indian regulatory system is robust – it does not leave room for anybody to take advantage,” says Mukesh Kumar, Vedanta Aluminium’s chief operating officer. However, the Church of England and several other social investors sold their shareholdings in Vedanta, citing concern for the way the company had handled its relations with local communities.

In Lohandiguda, Tata Steel says it has agreed to all but one of 13 conditions laid down by affected villagers for selling their land. Besides cash, Tata says villagers will be given “land for land”, skills training and the promise of a job to one member of every affected household.

“I think that development is something that everyone, especially if it’s brought by a company like Tata, would find acceptable,” says Sanjay Choudhry of Tata Steel.

He says the mechanics of the land-buying process are handled by state authorities. “If and when they hand over the land, we will put up the industry in the best way we can.”


http://www.ft.com/

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2010

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Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

不可持续的经济增长

有政府背景的土地收购是经济不可持续发展的主要驱动力,而印度也因此“受益”。

Unsustainable economic growth

Land grabs by the politically well connected is a primary driver of the unsustainable economic growth from which India "benefits".

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

最后一块蛋糕?

为什么非要征收部落地区的耕作土地用于修建钢厂?
难道说,对于其他的土地,征收用于修建钢厂极其艰难?
或者说,其他土地上的居民的土地拥有权受到的保护程度较高?
还是说,其他的土地已经被利益集团瓜分,部落地区的土地是最后一块蛋糕?(wtagr)

The Last Piece of Cake?

Why the insistence that tribal farming land be repossessed, and used to produce steel?
Could it be that obtaining other land for steel production is extremely difficult?
Perhaps you could say that the occupancy rights of the residents of other areas are better- protected?
Or is it that the other land has already been snatched up and divided among development consortia, and the tribal areas are the last piece of cake?

(wtagr)

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

囤积者和非囤积者

部落有最可持续发展的生活方式。这让部落的人们认为,在塔塔集团、万达塔公司和其它公司已经往自己银行账户塞满钱并没有留给环境丝毫生命价值以后,自己将是唯一存活下来的社区。
这是一场囤积者和非囤积者之间的战役。
(由Jieping Hu 翻译。)

Hoarders and non-hoarders

The tribals have most sustainable life syle. If left to themselves they will be the only surviving community after TATAs, Vedantas and other corporates have filled their bank outs to the brim and leave nothing worthy of life in the environment.
It is a fight between hoarders and non-hoarders.

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

古老地区

为什么受伤的总是这些亟待保存的古老地区?

Old Areas

Old religions are supposed to be saved desperately. Why are they always the cases of getting damage?