The recommendations of the people's tribunal on the problems of the tribals and the Maoist insurgency offers a comprehensive plan to tackle the situation and looks into the root causes of the issues at stake. Sheela Bhatt reports on its findings.
Since the advent of new economic polices of the 1990s in India, 'the 5th Schedule rights of the tribals, in particular the Panchayat Extension to Scheduled Areas Act and the Forest Rights Act have been grossly violated. These violations have now gone to the extent where fully tribal villages have been declared to be non-tribal. The entire executive and judicial administration appear to have been totally apathetic to their plight," alleges the interim report of the Independent People's Tribunal that took place from April 9-11 in New Delhi.
The tribunal was organised by a collective of civil society groups, social movements, activists, academics and concerned citizens. The people's jury, comprising of Justice P B Sawant, Justice H Suresh, Professor Yash Pal, Dr V Mohini Giri, Dr P M Bhargava, and Dr K S Subramanian heard testimonies from the affected people, social activists and experts from Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Orissa, and West Bengal.
According to the tribunal's press statement the jury heard testimonies of a large number of witnesses over three days from the affected states as well as some expert witnesses on land acquisition, mining and human rights violations during Operation Green Hunt.
The jury's immediate observations explain that they want people to see beyond the current events of violence. It says that people must understand the tribal issue in a historical, civilizational and cultural context.
The jury said that tribal communities represent a substantial and important proportion of Indian population and heritage. Not even ten countries in the world have more people than we have tribals in India. Not only are they crucial components of the country's human biodiversity, which is greater than in the rest of the world put together, but they are also an important source of social, political and economic wisdom that would be currently relevant and can give India an edge, the report says.
In addition, tribals understand the language of nature better than anyone else, and have been the most successful custodian of our environment, including forests. There is also a great deal to learn from them in areas as diverse as art, culture, resource management, waste management, medicine and metallurgy. They have been also far more humane and committed to universally accepted values than our urban society, argued the report.
Also, the fundamental issue in understanding the Maoists movement in India is what Medha Patkar had raised forcefully some 20 years back while opposing the dams on Naramda river. This tribunal also, raises the same issues. What is the model of development India wants to follow?
The jury said that the development model which has been adopted and which is sharply embodied in the new economic policies of liberalisation, privatisation and globalisation, have led in recent years to a huge drive by the state to transfer resources, particularly land and forests which are critical for the livelihood and the survival of the tribal people, to corporations for exploitation of mineral resources, special economic zones and other industries most of which have been enormously destructive to the environment. These industries have critically polluted water bodies, land, trees, plants, and have had a devastating impact on the health and livelihoods of the people.
The consultation with the gram sabhas required by the PESA Act has been rendered a farce as has the process of environment impact assessment of these industries. This has resulted in leaving the tribals in a state of acute malnutrition and hunger which has pushed them to the very brink of survival.
It could well be the severest indictment of the State in the history of democracy anywhere, on account of the sheer number of people (tribals) affected and the diabolic nature of the atrocities committed on them by the State, especially the police, leave aside the enormous and irreversible damage to the environment. It is also a glaring example of corruption -- financial, intellectual and moral -- sponsored and/or abetted by the State, that characterises today's India, cutting across all party lines.
Peaceful resistance movements of tribal communities against their forced displacement and the corporate grab of their resources is being sought to be violently crushed by the use of police and security forces and State and corporate funded and armed militias. The state violence has been accentuated by Operation Green Hunt in which a huge number of paramilitary forces are being used mostly on the tribals. The militarisation of the State has reached a level where schools are occupied by security forces.
However, people who are asking for severe action against Maoists after recent massacre of Central Reserve Police Force troopers in Dantewad, Chhattisgarh, will have an issue with the tribunal report which is not vocal on violent means adopted by the Maoists but is opposed to the violence perpetrated by the State.
Gopal Krishna, human rights activist, while defending the tribunal report says, "Yes, every text has context. This tribunal was scheduled much before the attack on CRPF happened. Also, the attack on CRPF and its context is different and this tribunal is looking at much larger issues which are much beyond that event."
The tribunal's interim report says that, 'Even peaceful activists opposing these violent actions of the State against the tribals are being targeted by the State and victimised. This has led to a total alienation of the people from the State as well as their loss of faith in the government and the security forces. The government -- both at the Centre and in the states -- must realise that its above-mentioned actions, combined with total apathy, could very well be sowing the seeds of a violent revolution demanding justice and rule of law that would engulf the entire country. We should not forget the French, Russian and American history, leave aside our own."
The tribunal has recommended the following ten-point action plan for the government and society to follow. In view of the overwhelming opinion of the left-wing and even many of the right-wing experts that Maoists movement can't be crushed alone by the police or the armed forces, the tribunal's recommendation deserves attention. They are comprehensive and prepared keeping in mind the ethos of Indian Constitution.
1. Stop Operation Green Hunt and start a dialogue with the local people.
2. Immediately stop all forcible acquisition of agricultural or forest land and the forced displacement of the tribal people.
3. Declare the details of all MoUs, industrial and infrastructural projects proposed in these areas and freeze all MoUs and leases for non-agricultural use of such land, which the home minister has proposed.
4. Rehabilitate and reinstate the tribals forcibly displaced back to their land and forests.
5. Stop all environmentally destructive industries as well as those on land acquired without the consent of the gram sabhas in these areas.
6. Withdraw the paramilitary and police forces from schools and health centres which must be effectuated with adequate teachers and infrastructure.
7. Stop victimising dissenters and those who question the actions of the State.
8. Replace the model of development which is exploitative, environmentally destructive, iniquitous and not suitable for the country by a completely different model which is participatory, gives importance to agriculture and the rural sector, and respects equity and the environment.
9. It must be ensured that all development, especially use of land and natural resources, is with the consent and participation of the tribal communities as guaranteed by the Constitution. Credible citizen's commissions must be constituted to monitor and ensure this.
10. Constitute an empowered citizen's commission to investigate and recommend action against persons responsible for human rights violations of the tribal communities. This commission must also be empowered to ensure that tribals actually receive the benefit of whatever government schemes exist for them.