Eight Years Since Formation of Jharkhand
Third Anniversary of Nitish Government
All-round Betrayal of People’s Aspirations
(The state of Jharkhand was formed eight years ago, in response to a long struggle, and this had raised aspirations of the people that they would, at last, be free from deprivation and exploitation of their resources. In Bihar, Nitish Kumar’s NDA Government has been celebrating its third anniversary with great pomp and boasts of ‘good governance’ and ‘development.’ In both these states, people have vigorously challenged the tall claims of ‘development’ by Governments and protested against the betrayal of their actual aspirations and rights. Below are reports of some of the major programmes in this context. – Ed/-)
Jharkhand: Jan Sunwai against Loot, Repression and Deprivation
The aspirations with which people waged the long struggle for the state of Jharkhand have been completely shattered in the eight years since Jharkhand was formed. The four governments and six chief ministers in this period have waged war on the rights of the poor workers and tribal people.
In this context of rule of loot, repression and deprivation a Jan Sunwai (People’s Tribunal) was held on December 1, 2008 at Ranchi’s Vidhansabha grounds. The Jan Sunwai, convened by the Jharkhand Gramin Mazdoor Samiti (Jharkhand Rural Workers’ Committee – JGMS) and the dais was named after Lalit Mehta and Comrade Kameshwar Yadav, who were murdered because they were fighting against corruption in NREGA. The Jury of this Jan Sunwai comprised of Comrade Ibnul Hasan Basroo – Convenor Jharkhand Pradesh Kisan Sabha, veteran communist leader Comrade Tridib Ghosh, Dr. BP Kesri – well known intellectual and State President of Jharkhand Jan Sanskriti Manch, Dr. Shambhu Badal – formerly HoD of Hindi Dept. of Vinoba Bhave University, and veteran journalist Faisal Anurag. Xavier Kujur who is a journalist recorded the entire proceedings of the Jan Sunwai. The proceedings were conducted by JGMS State Secretary Anant Prasad Gupta. The Jan Sunwai was marked by the participation of rural poor, adivasis and mass leaders of movements from most rural areas and districts, activists of the anti-displacement movement, intellectuals-cultural personalities and representatives from the media.
Before the proceedings began a Pledge was taken after a minute’s silence in memory of the martyred activists. JGMS General Secretary Com. Janardan Prasad placed the Jan Sunwai in the context of the ongoing struggles of the rural poor.
JGMS leader Comrade Parmeshwar Mahato placed a people’s chargesheet, accompanied by a detailed fact-sheet, against the Government, before the Jury and the gathered people.
The chargesheet accused successive governments of Jharkhand of betraying the promise of development for Jharkhand, and instead imposing corporate takeover in the name of development. The chargesheet demanded why more than ninety MoUs had been signed by the governments without taking the Assembly into confidence? Why was consent of the respective gram sabhas not taken? Why was the consent of the peasants not taken, whose land was being acquired? Such land grab was being done in flagrant violation of the Chhotanagpur Tenancy Act and Santhal Pargana Tenancy Act, which are intended to protect adivasis’ land, as well as of the Forest Rights Act. The Shibu Soren Government, far from scrapping the MoUs and defending the legal rights of the Jharkhandi people, has in fact accelerated the pace of land grab. The Kathikund (Dumka) Power Project and the Bhushan Steel plant at Potka were mentioned in the factsheet as recent instances of corporate land grab. (Subsequently, police firing has taken place on peaceful adivasi protestors at Dumka.) Why are those protecting against land grab facing batons and bullets? According to an estimate, a total of 65.4 lakh people (25.5 lakh through mining; 16.4 lakh through deep irrigation projects; 12.5 lakh through big industries; and 11 lakh through parks and sanctuaries) have been displaced in Jharkhand. Yet there has been no credible schemes for rehabilitation. Of Jharkhand’s total 232 blocks, 112 blocks (as of January 08), fall under the Fifth Schedule. According to the Supreme Court ruling in Samatha vs Government of Andhra Pradesh (1997), mining leases issued in Fifth Schedule areas will automatically be cancelled. Yet Jharkhand has not only continued to grant mining leases in these areas, it has also facilitated corporate takeover on a large scale in these areas.
The chargesheet challenged the Government’s claim that unrestricted mining was the road to Jharkhand’s development. The Government has issued 2717 mining leases, involving 8426 hectares of land – in 75% of these cases, the land owners have not even been transparently informed. Not only that, 18, 000 hectares of land, after being mined, are lying barren – why is the Government silent on the demand that Rs 15 lakh crore be spent on making the land suitable once again for cultivation and returning it to the owners, as indicated by law? How can mining be the road to development, when the Government remains content with a mere 1-2% royalty – why does the Government not demand 50% market-based royalty? Why is the Jharkhand Government instead following World Bank prescriptions and moving towards the Chile-model of ‘royalty-free mining’?
Jharkhand was meant to be an adivasi state: why then did Governments cut back on the legal safeguards provided to adivasis under the Fifth Schedule? Why are the adivasi people of Jharkhand being denied the rights to democratic gram sabhas, guaranteed by under PESA, by refusing to hold panchayat elections? In particular, the gram sabha approval is required for land acquisition in Fufth Schedule areas, and the denial of panchayat elections here deprives the adivasis of this essential right. Far from being prosecuted, the violators of the Chhotanagpur and Santhal Pargana Tenancy Acts are being encouraged.
Jharkhandi people have always been doomed to the pain of migration. To spare them the obligation to migrate for survival, the NREGA was intended to provide guaranteed minimum employment in their own villages. Why has NREGA instead become a scheme of unprecedented loot in Jharkhand? Neither the promised 100 days of work; nor due wages; nor unemployment allowance; forged muster rolls and fudged accounts – in spite of all of this, why is no action ever initiated against the guilty officials responsible for its implementation? Why are the poor forced to struggle to get their names on to the BPL (below poverty line) lists? Turia Munda committed suicide due to non-payment of NREGA wages and Tapas Soren immolated himself because of corruption in the NREGA scheme. Yet, why are activists like Lalit Mehta and Comrade Kameshwar Yadav and Rajeshwar Das killed when they struggle to get NREGA implemented properly and question corruption?
Why have 13 lakh acres of land, identified under the Bhoodan scheme, yet to be redistributed? Why is it the case that even today, dozens of landlords continue to own over 400 acres of land, in violation of land reform laws? As of today, 43% own a mere 4% of total land in the state, while 8% of the people own 41% of the land!
After the chargesheet was placed, people from different regions of the State elaborated with depositions about specific instances of loot, deprivation and repression. People attending the Jan Sunwai were moved emotionally when a young schoolgirl, child of martyred Com. Rajeshwar Das who was killed for exposing NREGA corruption, demanded for justice for her father. Comrades Rajkumar Yadav from Giridih, Chandranath Bhai Patel from Hazaribagh, Geeta Mandal from Santhal Pargana, Kalicharan Mehta from Palamu and comrades recently freed from jail (they were jailed for fight against loot and corruption) Usman Ansari of Giridih, Sukhdev Munda of Paanch Pargana and other speakers added to the list of chargesheet against the Government.
After the depositions, CPI(ML) General Secretary Dipankar Bhattacharya observed that people had deposed about activists being killed for protesting against loot of public funds; about how in Shibu Soren’s rule innocent children died after consuming adulterated milk; how a lakh of para-teacher on strike are threatened with ESMA; how Tata is laying off workers. The UPA and NDA, he said, which never had anything to do with the Jharkhand movement, have now grabbed control of the state. Forces like the JMM and their leaders have today become agents and political managers of the corporates. The situation demands that workers and rural poor, adivasis and dalits and women must unite and come forward once again in massive numbers to wage a battle for new Jharkhand under the banner of the red flag.
CPI(ML)’s MLA in the Jharkhand Assembly, Vinod Singh, expanded the list of charges against the Government and made clear to the people that the Legislative Assembly which people expect to discuss and deliver on their pressing issues, neither entertains these questions nor these issues are allowed to be raised. Rather there is unity across the board on loot of NREGA fund and pro-rich perspectives and policies.
On behalf of the Jury members, Dr. B P Kesri delivered the verdict - punishment for all those responsible for the rein of loot-repression and deprivation of people in the State, for the chief secretary and secretaries of various departments involved in massive scams in development projects and all corrupt politician-official-contractor-middlemen. Immediate punishment to the killers and those responsible for the death of Kameshwar Yadav, Lalit Mehta, Rajeshwar Das, Tapas Soren, Turia Munda, and others. He said that there should be no acquisition of land without people’s agreement for the same.