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Bastar Development and Democracy 1989

Bastar Development and Democracy 1989

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Published by Parrhesia
This very instructive report published over two decades ago in one of the leading political and economic journals of India debunks the claim that ongoing narratives on the outbreak of adivasi rebellion are all about Operation Green-hunt opera.
This very instructive report published over two decades ago in one of the leading political and economic journals of India debunks the claim that ongoing narratives on the outbreak of adivasi rebellion are all about Operation Green-hunt opera.

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Published by: Parrhesia on May 03, 2010
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Bastar: Development and Democracy
State violence in Bastar has in recent years increased to alarming proportions. The district with the lowest density of population in Madhya Pradesh has the highest density of armed police. The first  part of a report by the Madhya Pradesh unit of the People's Union
 for Civil Liberties. The second part will be published in the
tallowing issue.
BACKGROUND
THE popular images of Bastar are rootedin the unique co-existence of a wide range
of 
agrarian technologies that came to prevailfrom time to time in the history of the regionand the country. For instance, in Abhujhmar,
a natural division of irregular hills and
valleys, people are still engaged in producing
kodo-kutki.
For most of the year theysustain themselves with food gathered in theforests. Just to the north of them lie pocketsof Kanker and Narayanpur tahsils where themost modern farming techniques can beseen in operation. In these undulating plains,drained by the river Mahanadi, lies much of the two per cent irrigated area of the district.A part of it also falls under the Danda-
karanya Development Authority (DDA). But
ro the north and east of these pockets you
will find people engaged in settled agri
culture without the use of ploughs. South
of the river Indravati, in the interior of 
Bijapur, Kent a and Dantewada tahsils,people cultivate just one crop in an areadrained by two perennial rivers Sabari andIndravati. The community-maintainedtanks, once the pride of the region, havegone into disrepair after the state took themover. Yet the tanks and ponds are the onlysources
of 
water for the fields (in the districtas a whole about 3,500 tanks and pondscover 82 per cent of the irrigated area).People use the plough here, but it is thewooden and not the iron plough (there are2,610 wooden ploughs for every iron plough
in use in the district).
But then there are not merely differenttechnologies but also different socialarrangements, different cultural systems andin fact different communities. To the outsiders the people belong to just one stock,called the scheduled tribes, who constitute68 per cent of the district's population. Butwithin them, there are a range of communities. In the north are Halbis, to the eastare Bhattra and Dhurwa and in the southare Dorlas. All the rest are Gonds, who arethe majority. The names given to them bythe earlier generations of civil servants andanthropologists stuck to them. And thevarious Gond groups are now called RajGonds
(Koitur Gond),
living mostly inJagdalpur, Konta and Dantewada tahsils;Bison-horn Marias
(Dandami Maria)
inBijapur and other parts of the south: Hill
Marias
(Mota Kitoo),
an identified primitive
tribe in Abhujhmar and Murias in mostparts of north Bastar.If these adivasis have remained as theyhave it is because there are no optionsavailable to them. Each time a new systemis imposed or a new technology is unleashed,it has closed the options for another set of people in another area. For instance, duringthe colonial period, people in Kutru andBhopalpatnam zamindaries had to abandontheir fields due to the zamindari oppression.After independence and zamindari abolition, they returned to find that their fieldswere now notified as forests, under the newlyintroduced Forest Act. Development projectsin the present period have also restrictedtheir access to the land and forests. Inaddition these projects have degraded anddepleted the forest cover. The practices andcustoms of these people, which they wereinitially allowed to continue as 'privileges'and 'concessions' granted by the state, arenow treated as 'crimes', to be punished.Having been left with no other option, they'encroach' upon the forest, bringing it undercultivation with the help of their axes or gohunting in the lean season.The technological and economic developments also have a cultural and politicaldimension on the basis of which theadministration regulates their lives. Bastaris part of the larger Dandakaranya region.In the colonial period the region was under arange of administrations. Direct colonial ruleexisted in the central province (Chandrapur)and the agency areas of the Madras presidency (east Godavari and Koraput). Hyderabad, the largest Indian state, governedAdilabad, Karimnagar, Warangal andKhammam, while the Gajpat states of Orissa governed the rest (Kalahandi). Bastaritself was under Bastar (jagdalpur) andKanker states. Historically, however, themovements of people were never governedby these divisions. In the region as a whole72 identified dialects are now in vogue.On to this was imposed the linguistic reorganisation of the states in the fifties, andthe region was distributed between MadhyaPradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Orissa, andMaharashtra. But these linguistic divisionshave no relevance here. In Bastar, forinstance, according to the 1981 census, 60 percent of the people do not speak any of thesefour languages: Hindi, Telugu, Marathi, orOriya! Yet these serve as the basis to understand the current tensions. The mostcommon refrain about the Naxaiite move-ment is that it is alien, an offshoot of theAndhra' Naxalite movement. The counterinsurgency operations rest on the premisethat the Naxalites art a 'gang of dacoits whomoved into Bastar from the border beyond,in the words of the district magistrate (DM).But to the adivasis of south Bastar, KursumRajakka, the 24 year old Naxaiite woman
who was killed in an encounter at Mukabclli
on March 4 this year is just a fellow Dorlatribal woman, even though she hails fromVajhed mandal (Khammam) which is nowpart of Andhra Pradesh. Bala Ramanna,killed along with another person, Ramesh,in the forests between Badma and Durgaon,Kaiskal range, Narayanpur on June 7 thisyear, is a Halbi speaking tribal even thoughhe was not from north Bastar where mostof them live, but from Sandra, Konta on thesouthern border.The post independence developments alsohave important implications for adivasi jurisprudence. The adivasis have their ownlegal system to which some of the offences,although listed in the penal code, weredelegated from the colonial period. Presently, the adivasi panchayat has hardly any legalsanction, although local policemen take itshelp in investigation and prosecution. Thedistinctive feature of their system is that init no offence is treated as private in character.All offences are adjudicated by the com
munity and the guilty are identified by the
panchayat. Although the Indian penal codecame into effect in Bastar almost 70 years
ago, its penetration is still incomplete. The
adivasis are still attached to their own ethicaland penal system.But these days the activities of the adivasipanchayats get branded as Naxaiite activities. For example, in March this year theBhartiya Janata Party (BJP) tabled a callattention motion in the state assembly ona Naxaiite attack in Geedam in which theirlocal leader Tiwari was hit. Our investigation reveals a different story. An adivasi,Sonkuram, from village Marsegaon 10 kmfrom Geedam, was involved in an argument
with the wife of Harun Seth, a powerful
trader and a local BJP leader, in the weeklySunday market at Geedam. Seth's son cameto the market and beat up Sonkuram. Inadivasi tradition if any of them gets beatenup by a non-adiviasi, then the entire villagehas to be treated to a feast the cost of whichis to be borne by the non-adivasi who beathim up. Sonkuram in accordance with thedecision of his village panchayat, treated hisentire village to the feast. Next Sunday, atthe weekly market, the adivasi leaders askedSeth to pay. He refused. Vijay Pratap Tiwari,president of the BJP, south Bastar and Joshi,SHO Geedam, intervened on his behalf.Tiwari was reported to have slappedSonkuram. Enraged, the adivasis beat up
both Tiwari and Joshi. The following
Sunday hundreds of adivasis, armed withbows, arrows and axes, laid a siege of Geedam, The situation was diffused without2188
Economic and Political Weekly September 30, 1989
 
any untoward incident but without anyredressal either. The adivasis remained soreabout the whole affair. Three months afterthe incident, when we visited Geedam, alocal journalist informed us that ever sincethis incident neither Tiwari nor Joshi can gointo the villages for fear of reprisals. ButJoshi was still in charge of the police stationin whose jurisdiction he was forbidden toenter. It was this incident that was describedby the BJP leader in the state assembly asa 'Naxalite attack', a version duly picked upby the BhopaUndore media. The gapbetween this perception and the actualincident needs no further comment. The gapis not merely a communication gap. Nor isit, in all
cases,
a
wilful
distortion. It islocated in the very nature of the developmentprocess whose interface with the adivasisociety has now become the arena of violentsocial tensions.
DEVELOPMENT AND DEGRADATION
Bastar contains deciduous forests, con-sisting of sal, teak and mixed forests. Thefirst attempt to bring its forests under directstate administration was in 1896. Later, in1908, the Bastar forest manual came intoeffect. A year later the first commercialexploitation began with a lease given toBeckett and Co, for extraction of 25,000railway sleepers from sal trees. The secondworld war increased the scale of operations.After independence when Bastar and Rankerstates were merged with the Indian union,the old Forest Act (1927) and the new forestpolicy (1950) were brought into force inBastar.In the period 1956-81, a total of 1,25,483hectares of forest was transfered to variousdevelopment projects. Notable among themwas the Dandakaranya displaced people'sproject where initially 7,330 Bengali refugeeswere allotted 60,000 hectares of forest land.They soon brought 40,000 hectares of thisunder cultivation. The other major pojectwas the National Mineral Development Corporation's iron ore mining project atBaiiadila. Bastar has about ten per cent of the country's iron ore reserves. Locatedsouth of the river Indravati, in Dantewadatahsil, the mines started operating in 1968.They also led to the establishment of the
district's first and only railway line from
Vishakhapatnam, the port city on the eastcoast, to the mining township, Kirandul.TWenty-five years ago, when constructionwork started. Kirandul was one of the twovillages from where about 40 DandamiMaria families were displaced. TodayKirandul has just about two per cent tribalpopulation. Almost all of the output fromthese mines is exported to Japan and it isnow India's largest foreign exchange earning unit. Currently the annual productionis in the range of five million tonnes.In addition to iron ore, the area containsa number of other reserves like limestone,dolomite, bauxite, manganese, and tin.Limestone mines, with an average annualproduction of 1.5 million tonnes, feed thetwo cement factories on the outskirts of Jagdalpur town. In the early eighties large-scale illegal tin mining was reported inSukma and Dantewada region of southBastar. Big traders and mining officials werereportedly involved in buying tin from thetribals, who smelted it and sold it in theirweekly markets. Press reports and criticismled the government to initiate measures tostop this. In 1983, about 112 cases involving141 people, mostly adivasis, were launchedunder the Mining and Minerals Regulationand Development Act.In the early seventies an ambitious planwas drawn up to develop industrial forestryin Bastar. Jagdalpur, Barsur and parts of Bijapur tahsil areas, constituting 25 per centof the district, were identified as the industrial catchment areas. It was in thisframework that the famous World Bank financed pine plantation scheme came intoexistence. Known as the MP ForestryTechnical Assistance Project, it led to theestablishment of the MP State ForestDevelopment Corporation (MPSFDC). InJuly 1975, 3,100 hectares of forest inKurundi, near Jagdalpur, was cleared and
replanted with pine. But stiff opposition
from various quarters resulted in thetermination of the project in 1981. Some of the planted pine was destroyed in a fire,suspected to have been set by some of theadivasis under the leadership of Baba BihariDas. Much of the remaining pine wasattacked by an epidemic of fungus in1984-85. NMDC took over the office sitesand quarters of the pine plantation projectand prepared a plan for dolomite mining ina different forest area (about 2,450 hectares).But again it was dropped due to resistance.Independently a larger scheme of establshinga series of eight or nine hydel projects onIndravati was proposed. The total submergence area of the scheme is around31,000 hectares and the total power generating capacity is around 1,500 MW. Startingfrom Ichampalli, Gadchiroli, these projectswere opposed by a wide range of forces. Forthe present they are not under active consideration by the gvernment, except for theone at Bodhghat, which is under way.The first survey of the project was undertaken in 1962. The foundation stone was laidseventeen years later in 1979. Initial clearing, construction of the office site, thequarters and an impressive bridge on theriver Indravati, near Barasur, was undertaken in 1984. Throughout the two decadeswhen it was under consideration no onereally bothered to inform, let alone involvethe people whose villages are to be submerged in the project. In recent years organisedresistance has begun. The villagers, mostlyMarias, do not want to leave the area. Themanner in which they have been treated hasgenerated complete mistrust of all institutions among them. They even made anabortive bid to manhandle their MP,Mankuram Sodhi
('mushkilse ek bar aayatha, prashasan ko leke')
Faced with theirresistance, the government is coming outwith more and more attractive promises of rehabilitation. The scheme was made in accordance with the MP Rehabilitation Act,1985 and modelled along the lines of asimilar scheme of the other controversialproject of the state, the Narmada Sagar Pro ject. It has a nineteen point programmewhich promises, among other things, land,houses, and jobs in MPEB. The compensation, which was only Rs 1,000 per acre inthe six hundred acres already cleared atBarsur, is now raised to Rs 4,000. A model
rehabilitation village at Bodhli (Kundri),
about 45 km from their place, was built toconvince them. But they remain unconvinced. Their agitation is supported by JaiKishorc Sharma, a dissident secretary of DCC(I), and also environmentalist pressuregroups based in Jadalpur, Bhopal and Delhi.The Naxalites have also announced theirformal opposition. But all major politicalparties, including Congress(I). BJP, and CPIare involved in an agitation in favour of theproject. The people allege that officials of MPEB, in connivance with the thekedars,have bought all the leading political parties.In fact, Sharma told us that he himself wasoffered Rs 2 crore by the chief engineer, onbehalf of the contractors! For the present,due to pressure, the government hassuspended work on the project. But the prospects still remain grim. When asked whatwould happen, the president of the BodhghatSangharsh Samiti replied,
'vo golichaiayenge, ham teer chalayenge
(They
will
fire bullets, we will reply with arrows).
The social tensions being generated by thedisplacement of people in the project areasis only part of the story. The environmentaldegradation affects people in far-flung areasalso. The ore fines from Baiiadila, forinstance, have been dumped into Sankhiniriver every day for the last twenty years. Theriver joins Dankhini at Dantewada and fromthere flows further south. Now the mass of red slime is spreading through the southernriver system. Some 40,000 people living inabout 51 villages are, its immediate victims,deprived of even drinking water.More than the development projects, themajor source of degradation of forests iscommercial forestry. Timber feeds 40 oddsmall scale saw mills and 62 wood-based factories in the district. But more of it servesthe national market. Bamboo, among otherthings, feeds the paper factories in Andhra.
Much of the felling is illegal. One of the
ingenious methods adopted by the timbertraders in Bastar was through the Malik Makbuja system. A precursor of the presentday social forestry programmes, in thissystem, the tribals were given ownershiprights over identified and specified trees.They alone had the right to fell or sell their
trees,
after taking due consent from the concerned forest officer. They were also protected by the MP Protection of Aboriginals(Interest of Trees) Act, 1959. The traders, inEconomic and Political Weekly September 30, 19892189
 
2190Economic and Political Weekly September 30, 1989
collusion with the officials, got the relevant
papers signed thumb impressed by the tribalsand felled a large number of trees. Thegovernment finally abolished the system inlate 1975. In another stance the entireSitram fore ! (Bandey range, Ranker circle)wasrepomu to have been lost in fire in April1980. But the fire was not brought to thenotice of the DFO until fourteen monthslater, in June 1981. The government hasordered an enquiry whose report is yet to seethe light of the day. it is believed that theentire forest was doared through illegal felling.To compensate for the depletion of theforests the government began encouragingplantations. Thus, centuries old sal trees andmixed forests came to be replaced withEucalyptus (10,000 hectares in the fourthplan period alone), Caribbean pine (on anexperimental basis in 1968-69), pines (3,100hectares under the World Bank project) teak (over 1,25,000 hectares per year in recentperiod), and others. The replacement of rich,mixed forests by mono-cultural plantationshad disastrous implications both for theenvironment and the people. The forcesgenerated by the large-scale commericalforestry and plantations control the politicsand even a section of the administration inBastar.From about the time of the Sixth Planonwards, the government initiated a varietyof social forestry programmes in Bastar.Some of them are funded by the SwedishInternational Development Authority(SIDA). Presently they include three schemes;bund forestry, farm forestry, and
agro-fores try.
From the early eighties, four environmental and wild life projects came intoexistence. They include Kanger ValleyNational Park (200 sq km), BairamgarhGame Sanctuary (139 sq km), Pamed GameSanctuary (262 sq km) and the IndravatiAbhyaranya Tiger project (3,000 sq km), thebiggest among them. It is located nearKutru, Bijapur tahsil. There are 57 villageswith a population of 6,000 inside the reserve.The density of population is very low, withabout 9 persons per sq km, and the villagesare scattered both in the core and bufferzones of the reserve. These villages are proposed to be evacuated and a Rs1 crorerehabilitation programme has been preparedby the directorate of Project Tiger, subjectto the approval of the government. But inthe meantime, the reserve is becomingfamous for other reasons. Naxalite activityin the former zamindari areas of Kutru andBhopalpatnam has attracted a lot of attention. In one of the villages inside the reserve,
Mukabelli, a Naxalite woman was killed in
an encounter, leading to massive armedpolice raids on many of these villages. In thelast three years at one time or another armedpolice camps were set up in as many as eightof these 56 villages. In Bedre and Pilerucamps are stationed more or less permanently. The activities of armed police arenow adding a new dimension to the problems of the environment in Bastar.
(To be concluded)

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