Battle over lands in Jharkhand: Traditions vs Development ..

This story has every bit of masala (spice). Jharkhand State Government is trying to undo old tenancy laws which will allow companies to ire/purchase lands from tribals. The tribals are obviously opposing the move:

Ulihatu is the birthplace of Birsa Munda, a tribal hero elevated to godlike status. He fought against the British in the late 19th century, leading to the enactment of the Chhotanagpur Tenancy Act of 1908, which prohibits the sale of tribal land to non-tribals. In fact, there had been several revolts even earlier, all of which had forced the British to enact the Santhal Pargana Tenancy Act. Later amendments gave the Indian government power to take over the land for public welfare projects, as well as industrial and mining purposes.

In November last year, it was reported that the Jharkhand Assembly okayed more changes to the two laws, which are commonly referred to as the CNT Act and SPT Act. The government had first tried the Ordinance route to push through the changes, similar to what the Centre had attempted earlier with the Land Bill. (In 2015, the Modi government promulgated an ordinance thrice to implement its Land Bill, but allowed it to lapse subsequently following protests by the Opposition.)

The tribals are clearly not buying the promise of ‘development’ that these amendments are supposed to usher in. There are other worries too.

Karma Oraon is a prominent leader of the Jharkhand Adivasi Sangharsh Morcha, the organisation spearheading the joint protests by 40 different groups. The Morcha even organised a rally in March. According to Oraon, only 23 per cent of the land in Jharkhand is being used for agriculture, a livelihood on which nearly 90 per cent of the tribal population is dependent. A professor of anthropology at Ranchi University, Oraon likened the amendments to vajrapat, a body blow. “They have absolutely no care for the interests of the Adivasi,” he had said during an earlier meeting at his well-appointed office in the university. “How will an ordinary tribal ensure that he remains the actual owner of the land once he leases it to a mighty company? Will he be able to drive it out if he wishes? Moreover, the local tribals are not well-versed in the ways of the market economy and will not utilise the money they get in a proper manner.”

I ask the young tribal hunting for rabbits if the prospect of a job at one of the new factories or power plants that’s likely to come up on acquired land, interests him. “They will ask for a degree for a job and we do not have them,” he says matter-of-factly. “Even with a degree, there is no guarantee of a job as they will mostly hire their own people,” he adds. His companions nod.

An old man, who was listening in silence, speaks up at this point. “In 2013, the Supreme Court gave gram sabha the power to decide whether land can be acquired by the government. The same will be followed here.”

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