By Sanya Darakhshan Kishwar, Central University of Bihar, Gaya.

In India, as in other countries rich in mineral resources, indigenous communities are facing a multi-dimensional invasion of their lands by mining companies that invariably seem to form part of mining and metal producing operations. Many of the areas where Adivasis live are rich in minerals, so as mining-based projects proliferate, boosted by foreign investment seeking profits from India’s resources, their impact on Adivasis has become enormous.

‘Adivasi’ is a term that gained currency during the 1930s meaning ‘original dwellers’, implying indignity. However, India does not officially recognise Adivasis as ‘indigenous’.

A recent Supreme Court Judgement of 5th January 2011, in the case of a Bhil woman beaten and paraded naked in Maharashtra, records the need to correct historic injustice towards Adivasis, who form approximately 8 per cent of India’s population, and affirms their status as India’s ‘original inhabitants’ in distinction to the remaining 92 per cent of India’s population, here defined as ‘old immigrants’.[i]

The land rights of tribal people are guaranteed by the 5th and 6th Schedules of India’s Constitution. This is complicated by this ambiguity as to which groups of people are classified as Scheduled Tribes, the non-inclusion of a large proportion of tribal villages under the specified Scheduled Areas, and the loophole that allows the sale of tribal lands for projects deemed ‘in the national interest’ or for ‘public purpose’

The situation is also seriously complicated by the civil war between Maoist insurgents and armed police that has escalated throughout the tribal areas of eastern central India since 2005. Mining companies such as Tata, Birla, Essar, Jindal, Posco, Mittal and Vedanta force through projects in tribal areas through the deployment of massed police, often hundreds at a time who frequently express strong anti-Adivasi prejudice, and have committed many atrocities recorded by human rights groups; atrocities which are alienating Adivasis from mainstream authorities with unprecedented force.[ii]

India’s present Tribal Affairs Minister has been outspoken about these atrocity tactics as well as the forcing through of mining projects without the consent of tribal communities.

The Forest Rights Act of 2006 (FRA)[iii]  has begun to settle longstanding claims of Adivasis to forest lands, but neither this nor PESA – the Panchayat (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act of 1996 – have been properly implemented.

So far, proposed changes in Land Acquisition legislation do not fundamentally change the situation, for example by rescinding India’s infamous Land Acquisition Act of 1894, whose colonial-era principle of ‘eminent domain’ – placing ultimate ownership of land, and the minerals lying below it with the state – has been central to the loophole that has undermined India’s constitutional guarantee to its tribal people of the non-alienability of their lands. Its repeal has been a consistent demand from civil society groups, as well as insistence that any new Land Acquisition legislation must involve the principle of Free, Prior Informed Consent (FPIC) by affected communities, through which they have a clear right to veto such projects

Mining projects that dislocate tribal communities are driven above all by investments and large profits made from metals trading deals and speculation, using the ideology of ‘developing backward areas’. Rather than ‘Development-Induced Displacement’, since Adivasi activists are increasingly adamant that these projects do not represent real development for them at all; the process should properly be termed ‘Investment-Induced Displacement’

XAXA COMMITTEE REPORT

As such Xaxa Committee was formed in 2013 and gave report in May 2014. UPA-II setup Committee under Virginius Xaxa. He was a member of NAC (National advisory council). Its objectives were:

  • To study the socio-economic, health and educational status of tribals.
  • To suggest policy initiatives and interventions for tribal-upliftment.

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The land acquisition suggestion given by the committee are to prevent all kinds of tribal land alienation and that to empower Gram Sabhas to restore alienated land back to original owner, even while case is pending in court which will discourage non-tribal buyers from committing frauds.

While it is true that the country needs minerals for infrastructure development, it is equally true that over-consumption by one section of society is destroying the livelihoods and environments of another section, which is at the receiving end of mining. Decades of mining have not contributed much to the economic betterment of local populations and this is particularly true of marginalised groups such as the Adivasis. Poor development and marginalisation create conditions for social tensions. Mining is an activity that needs to be strictly controlled at all stages.[iv] Above all, people living in mining areas should have the capacity to take fully-informed decisions on allowing mining in their territories or decide on how to carry out the activity and ensure environmental conservation and social justice. The new NMP needs to examine these issues with a sense of urgency. The policy itself needs to be brought to centre stage and widely discussed.

[i] India, largely a country of immigrants’, The Hindu 12 January 2011 at http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/india-largely-a-country-of-immigrants/article1081343.ece

[ii] CSE 2008, Mukherjee 2012, and ‘Keonjhar tribals up in arms over mining plans in Khandadhar’, Times of India 30 October 2012, available at http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/bhubaneswar/Keonjhar-tribals-up-in-arms-over-mining-plans-in-Khandadhar/articleshow/17013489.cms

[iii] Officially the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act

[iv] http://infochangeindia.org/environment/analysis/indias-new-mineral-policy-will-usher-in-gloom-for-adivasis.html

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