Manoj Bhakta

Just before the monsoon session of Jharkhand Assembly, Chief Minister Raghubar Das had to bite dust trying to push through a number of anti-people amendments to the Chhotanagpur Tenancy Act, 1908 (CNT) and the Santhal Pargana Tenancy Act, 1949 (SPT). Intense and sustained mass movements, those of tribal people in particular, had compelled the government to withdraw the amendments to CNT and SPT Acts. Then they came up with a bill containing amendments that are potentially more dangerous and devastating, and got it passed in the assembly in the recent monsoon session. This time round, it did not even wait for a debate in the assembly, let alone a broad public discussion. The ugly haste and the contents of the bill have fully exposed its subservience to corporate interests.

This bill –“Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act 2013 (Jharkhand Amendment) Bill” — exempts the restrictions of social impact assessment (SIA) in ten broad categories of land acquisition in the state including scheduled areas under fifth schedule of constitution. The bill, now awaiting the Governor’s and the President’s consents, thus cuts deeply into the safeguards regarding land rights so far available to SC/STs under the CNT and SPT Acts.

As per these amendments, acquiring land for schools, colleges and universities; hospitals, anganwadi centres and panchayat bhawans; housing for the poor; roads and railway tracks; power generation and electrification; water-ways and irrigation and other governmental buildings will not require social impact assessment (SIA) which is mandatory in the LARR Act, 2013, with exemptions granted only in cases of emergencies as defined in section 40, such as national security or emergencies arising from natural calamities and also any other emergency with the approval of the parliament. By contrast, under the present bill waiver of SIA becomes the rule rather than an exception. It brazenly overlooks the core concerns of the LARR Act, such as the provision of comprehensive and appropriate rehabilitation of all stakeholders in the land that is to be acquired and maintenance of the ecological balance.

The Jharkhand government’s plea is that compulsory SIA delays projects and retards development. What is ignored in this argument is the crucial fact that under the current pattern of public-private partnership, corporate interests are camouflaged as public interests. Obviously, land acquisition exempted from SIA will make the toiling people of Jharkhand more vulnerable before corporate land grabbers and their loyal governments in Ranchi and Delhi.

The government of Jharkhand is desperate to pamper the land-hungry Adanis and Ambanis. The promises made by Raghubar Das to corporate houses during this year’s global investment summit known as Momentum Jharkhand or Mega Momentum, where 210 MoUs worth 3.04 lakh crores were signed, are predicated on availability of huge tracts of land. And the land bank he talks of implies nothing but a loot of community land, public land and vested land. Raghubar Das is working hard to make people believe that the amendments to the LARR Act are essential for fast track development. This is in continuation of what he was saying earlier, namely, that changes in the CNT-SPT Acts would enable Adivasis to divert their useless land into different profitable businesses, thereby making them self-sufficient. Now the Chief Minister preaches tirelessly that all confusions on this question would be cleared once benefits are visible on the ground.

The BJP sees the CNT-SPT Acts as obsolete and inconsistent with the needs of the time. Following the Jharkhand High Court’s 2012 order for strict compliance with the CNT Act, Raghubar Das had criticised these legislations as symbols of British rule aimed at maintaining the social divide. The ruling party does not appreciate the centuries-old struggles and uprisings – of the Hul and the Ulgulan led by legendary heroes Sidhu-Kanu and Birsa Munda and is not ready to recognise the laws as symbols of the anti-British and anti-Mahajani (usury) rebellions.

Ever since the creation of the state of Jharkhand, the BJP-led governments started talking about transforming Ranchi into Singapore and projecting the CNT and SPT Acts as hurdles in the way of development of the state. This trend was further encouraged by the World Bank, which advised removal of constraints in the rapid growth of mining and industrial sector. In ‘Jharkhand: Addressing the Challenges of Inclusive Development’ (March 2007) the Bank observed, “Private sector investors face several legal, policy, regulatory, process and institutional constraints in land acquisition. … The Government of Jharkhand does not have a well-defined land policy…” (page 92/140, http://documents.worldbank.org/curated/en/382171468042312443/pdf/364370REVISED011020081Final0Revised.pdf). In plain English, modification of the land laws is imperative for serving investors’ interests.

In the era of liberalisation, land alienation in rural India has risen sharply. Jharkhand is one of the worst affected state. In his study ‘A Status of Adivasi/Indigenous People’s Land Series-4, Jharkhand’, Alex Ekka says that “A declining trend of land holding has been observed among tribals. On an average the per capita landholding of tribals in the scheduled area declined from 0.71 ha during 1971 to 0.51 ha during 2001. The main reasons for the declining tribal land holding pattern are land fragmentation due to increase in population and land acquisition for development projects causing displacement of people.”

The Rural Development Ministry’s report ‘Agrarian Relations and Unfinished Task of Land Reform’ (2009) describes land alienation of tribals as the “biggest land grab”, with landlessness rising to a whopping 52% in 2004-05 from 40 % in 1991. As for development, the actual situation is obvious from the low level of urbanization in the state: 22% compared to the national average of 31%. In the most mineral-rich state of the country, 40 per cent of the population lives below poverty line. Decades of ‘development’ have only led to massive migration and displacement.

The vicious government machinery cunningly tweaks regulations of the Fifth Schedule of the Constitution. There are but few gram sabhas (village assemblies) which can properly face and resist the well-seasoned officialdom. So the provision for the gram-sabhas’ compulsory consent will become ineffective without the SIA expert team.

A meeting of Niti Aayog was held on 16 July 2015, attended mainly by states ruled by the BJP or its allies, to discuss the amendments to LARR Acts, 2013. By this time the people’s resolute opposition to the Modi government’s ‘The Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement (amendment) Ordinance, 2015’ had already sealed the fate of the ordinance. Sensing this, the Prime Minister directed chief ministers to legislate their own land laws to boost development and also assured them that there will be no problem with central approval. Raghubar Das made no delay in grabbing the opportunity. Being the ex-officio chairperson of the Tribal Advisory Council, he misappropriated the institution to get the amendment proposals ratified by the centre. But the BJP government failed to estimate the extent of adivasi outrage.

Now, once again, Raghubar Das counts on Modi’s assurance in respect to the recently passed amendments to the land acquisition bill of 2013. But canhe beguile the people in the name of public purpose and so-called development? No, he cannot, because they know from experience that infrastructure projects basically serve corporate interests while those evicted from their plots of land – ‘the development refugees’ – are ruined like uprooted trees. So the people are in a fighting mood. Dozens of mammoth rallies and demonstrations by adivasi social organizations in Ranchi and protests held all over the state despite the government’s oppressive measures, including incidents of firing, are a clear indication of this. Abraham Munda, a tribal peasant of Khunti district, was killed by police firing on his way to a protest demonstration in Ranchi on 22 October, 2016. Earlier, on August 29, 2016 two villagers were shot dead in police firing in Gola Block of Ramgarh district during a protest demonstration demanding proper compensation. In Barkagaon of Hazaribag district, 4 villagers were gunned down by the police while a dharna was going on against unjust land grab by NTPC.
Clearly, the government and its machinery are acting as cats-paw of corporates. No land restoration for deprived tribals, no land distribution for the landless poor, no rehabilitation of the displaced masses! There is no short supply of Jumlebazi (cheap rhetoric) and manoeuvering in the name of development, but on ground it is only land loot, plain and simple.

That the main purpose of the Jharkhand Religious Independence Bill is to shatter the growing unity of different section of the people against BJP rule is clear enough. Contrary to its misleading title, the bill is a severe blow and offence against the constitutional right to freedom of religion. It is an attack on educational-cultural activities of the minorities.
The BJP’s communal schemes to weaken land movement are not unknown to the people of Jharkhand. The recently passed bill intending to amend the LARR Act will definitely serve to further develop the objective conditions for a more intense and more unified struggle against the saffron rule of corporate loot across the state. Revolutionary and democratic forces must lead the fight, compelling the roll back of the anti-people legislation. 