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Tasks for Kishore Chandra Deo, Tribal Minister జూలై 16, 2011

Posted by M Bharath Bhushan in Bhadrachalam, conflict resolution, Culture, displacement, Godavari, heritage, Hyderabad, Koya, livelihoods, Polavaram, Vishakapatnam.
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Among the projects taken up in post-Independent India, Polavaram is perhaps the largest single project that has disrupted the lives of the tribals most. The environment clearance given for Polavaram is not valid as it stands today, as there have been fundamental changes in the design of the project. The Ministry of Tribal Affairs should take the initiative in correcting these statutory violations, if necessary, by approaching the Supreme Court, even at this belated stage. The proposal of Andhra Pradesh to seek ‘national’ status for the current project proposal is merely a ploy to cover up its illegalities. In its current design, the project benefits a few chosen politician-cum-contractors, certainly not the public.

OPINION, Tehelka 16 July 2011

Tasks for the new tribal minister
EAS Sarma

Kishore Chandra Deo has had a long career in Parliament. Here’s a doable and basic manifesto for him as the new minister of tribal affairs

THE RECENT union cabinet reshuffle has its plus points as well as minus ones. One important introduction to the cabinet is that of Kishore Chandra Deo, a senior member of parliament representing the tribal legislators and a person who has been in close touch with the ground reality of the tribal constituency in the Visakhapatnam area he represents. Deo has been at the forefront of cautioning his party on the hasty manner in which industrial projects are being grounded in tribal areas without adequate consultation with the tribals. Now that he has occupied the position of a minister, there are high expectations that he will translate his statements into tangible policy initiatives. What are the challenges that lie before him?

Of course, in general terms, as the Minister incharge of both tribal affairs and panchayati raj, he should take initiatives that will further the interests of the tribals in terms of their constitutional entitlements and, simultaneously, empower the grassroots- level constitutional bodies like gram sabhas, panchayats and tribal advisory councils, especially in terms of enforcement of the PESA (Panchayats Extension to Scheduled Areas).

Some specific areas where he could take initiatives and make an impact on the lives of the tribals are as follows. First, bauxite mining. The bauxite mining projects of Vedanta in Odisha, and those of Jindal and Anrak in Andhra Pradesh are ill-conceived as they violate Schedule V rights of the tribals, infringe the forest rights law, violate the Forest (Conservation) Act, militate against the Environment (Protection) Act and deviate from PESA. These projects cause a serious disruption to the lives of the local tribal communities, destroy the ecology of the tribal tracts and unleash an irreversible adverse impact on the water and other resources of the plains.

Though the Ministry of Mines has suspended mining franchises for the Jindal and Anrak projects, the state government, for reasons best known to it, has given license to the promoters to go ahead with the downstream alumina refineries and Anrak’s captive jetty, causing further displacement and giving rise to doubts about the state government’s bona fides. The new minister should intervene and act on behalf of the tribals and other downstream communities keeping in view the overall public interest. The Ministry of Environment & Forests should be prevailed upon to withdraw the illegal environment clearances

SECOND, OTHER mining projects. In Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Odisha and other mineral States, illegal mining projects have been allowed to be taken up against the interests of the local tribals. Bayyaram iron mining in Andhra, iron mining across the Andhra-Karnataka border, Posco iron mining in Odisha and steel-making and several granite mining leases in Andhra Pradesh and other states need to be stopped. In many of these cases, the kith and kin of senior politicians belonging to the Congress and other parties are involved. The tribal affairs ministry’s initiative in getting these projects scrapped will enhance the credibility of the UPA government, which I am afraid is otherwise going down.

Third, the Polavaram project. Among the projects taken up in post-Independent India, Polavaram is perhaps the largest single project that has disrupted the lives of the tribals most. The project will, in effect, wipe out many primitive tribal groups in Andhra Pradesh, destroy the habitat of lakhs of tribals in Andhra, Chhattisgarh and Odisha and destroy valuable forest resources permanently. The environment clearance given for Polavaram is not valid as it stands today, as there have been fundamental changes in the design of the project. The project work was started without prior environment clearance, a serious offence under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986, making it mandatory for the environment ministry to treat the clearance, if any, as invalid. The project violated the provisions of the Forest Rights Act and PESA. Other forest laws too stand violated.

Andhra Pradesh took up the project in haste. Had the state government considered alternate designs for the project, as suggested by the experts, a much better project with far lesser displacement and comparable benefits would have emerged. So much of submergence would not have been caused.

The Ministry of Tribal Affairs should take the initiative in correcting these statutory violations, if necessary, by approaching the Supreme Court, even at this belated stage. The proposal of Andhra Pradesh to seek ‘national’ status for the current project proposal is merely a ploy to cover up its illegalities. In its current design, the project benefits a few chosen politician-cum-contractors, certainly not the public.

Fourth, the issue of tribal development versus law and order. Over the years, in the guise of maintaining law and order, the Ministry of Home affairs has wrested the initiative from the Ministry of Tribal Affairs in dealing with the affairs of the tribals. Similarly, the state police has wrested the initiative from the state department concerned with tribal development. The role of the tribal gram sabhas, panchayats and tribal advisory councils, all of them having the status of constitutional bodies, has been marginalised. Deo would have to reverse this process and restore the importance of these bodies as envisaged in the Constitution.

Fifth, laws applicable to tribal areas. Clause 5(1) of the Fifth Schedule to the Constitution requires all laws applicable to the rest of the country to be adapted to suit the interests of the tribals before they are extended to tribal areas. Unfortunately, even though more than six decades have elapsed since Independence, this mandatory process of a comprehensive review of the laws for tribal areas has not been taken up. The reason for this is obvious. Independent, democratic India is far too busy in appeasing the corporate honchos who finance its elections to worry about the voiceless tribals. If Deo can take the initiative in complying with this statutory provision of the Constitution, it will boost the morale of the tribals in the country.

Sixth, the inclusion or exclusion of villages from the Fifth Schedule. There are several proposals for inclusion of predominantly tribal villages, left out of the Fifth Schedule by oversight or otherwise. Many of these proposals have been gathering dust in the corridors of the tribal affairs ministry for decades. These need to be revived, resuscitated and processed. There are other Fifth Schedule villages wantonly removed by the district officials in different states. The effect of this is to deprive the tribals of their land rights and benefit the non-tribal land grabbers. Deo needs to get this examined expeditiously. As a person who has espoused the cause of the tribals through his long association with parliament, Deo should thus make a difference in the tribal areas of the country.

EAS Sarma, Convenor forum for better Visakha based in Visakhapatnam
eassarma@gmail.com

source: http://www.tehelka.com/story_main50.asp?filename=Ws160711Tasks.asp

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