Tag Archives: indigenous peoples India

The Curse of Displacement: how to become a beggar

posco india

Dhinkia, in the eastern Indian state of Odisha (formerly Orissa) (India)  is a hub of protest. The women, one from every village family, are staging… a sit-in. Sisir Mohapatra, a former sarpanch or village head, makes a rousing speech. He seems respected, though his police record would suggest he is a mafia don: he says he faces 35 criminal charges, and of his 60-strong extended family in Dhinkia, 40 are also wanted by the law. They claim that the charges are all trumped up. Their real crime is to oppose the biggest single foreign-investment project India has ever attracted.

Estimated to cost $12 billion, the project, promoted by POSCO, a South Korean firm, is eventually to produce 12m tonnes of steel a year for export. It will have its own power plant, port and, 200 kilometres (125 miles) inland, its own iron-ore mine. Since an agreement on the project was signed in 2005, it has been mired in controversy—a case study in why

Environmentalists worry about air pollution, coastal erosion, the endangered olive ridley turtle and much else. Many, including the Communist Party of India (CPI), which holds the local parliamentary seat, complain that the ore will be sold too cheaply, at a royalty to the government of just 27 rupees (currently about 40 cents) a tonne. Meanwhile, residents of Dhinkia and nearby villages fear for their livelihoods.

So the project has been delayed, probed by countless committees and subjected to repeated litigation. Just this week it faced hearings in Delhi at the National Green Tribunal, an environmental court. But as so often in India, one of the biggest delays has been acquiring the land. In theory, this should be easier for POSCO than for many other investors, since most of the 1,600 hectares (4,000 acres) it needs are designated as forest (even the scrubby sand dunes) and thus government land.

The residents of Dhinkia, however, claim legal rights as people whose families have been making their living from the forest for at least 75 years (which the government disputes). Some, indeed, make a very good living. Devendra Swain, like many villages, maintains betel vines, from which he earns 50,000 rupees a month selling the leaves. Mr Swain also grows rice, mangoes, cashew nuts, bananas and papaya. He claims not to be against industrialisation—except in his fecund backyard.

The villagers’ resistance to the project has seen ugly violence. In 2010 police fired rubber bullets to clear one dharna. In February there was another clash as police entered a neighbouring village, Govindpur, and started dismantling betel vines. In March three people died in a bomb explosion—victims of pro-project goons, say the villagers. The police allege the victims were blown up while making bombs themselves. Involvement in this incident is one of 61 charges facing the CPI’s Abhay Sahoo, the protesters’ leader, who is now in jail for the third time and trying to secure his release on bail. Fearing arrest or an attack by thugs, the 1,400 others in Dhinkia facing criminal charges dare not leave the village.

Of India’s million mutinies, many involve the emotive issue of land. That is one impulse behind a new law covering land acquisition and the resettlement and rehabilitation of those affected. This week it passed through Parliament’s upper house. Few disagree that some new legislation is needed to replace a much-abused British-era law from 1894.

The new bill, however, has drawn fierce criticism. Business is predictably aghast at what it sees as a populist law timed ahead of looming elections.. Some businessmen think it is simply “unworkable”.

Even some who support the principles behind the bill think their implementation has been botched. N.C. Saxena, a former senior civil servant who sits on a National Advisory Council [claims]  that it does not even cover government land. In other words, it would have no relevance for projects such as POSCO’s. Even if it did, legislation would not solve the fundamental difficulty, a total distrust of government.

“After 66 years of independence,” says Mr Mohapatra, the former sarpanch, “no one has ever been compensated properly. Whoever gave his land and his home later became a beggar.” He points to what he says is the unhappy lot of those displaced by two other projects in Odisha. One is the Hirakud dam across the Mahanadi river. It is India’s longest dam, for which Jawaharlal Nehru poured the first concrete in 1948. As many as 180,000 people had to move. Another is just down the road from Dhinkia, where a big oil refinery has been under construction since 2000. An empty field outside Dhinkia has drains and electricity, put in when plots were offered as compensation to those forced to shift. People found it so unappealing that the field is still empty. Moreover, 52 families who supported the POSCO project, many forced out of Govindpur in 2008, are still in reportedly miserable conditions in a transit camp. Add in heavy-handed police, and those agitating against the project have plenty of ammunition. Even the best-drafted law would find the going tough

This Land is Whose Land? A new law may do little to break India’s land-acquisition logjam, Economist, Sept 7, 2013, at 44

Biodiversity versus Human Rights


Tucked away in a dense and ecologically diverse tiger reserve in Southern India, tribes-people and wildlife defenders are locked in a battle of indigenous peoples’ rights versus wildlife rights.  Earlier this year the Soligas – a tribe hailing from the Billigiri Ranga Temple Hills tiger reserve (BRT) – won the rights to their ancestral land, following a thorny legal encounter with the state forest department, which had earlier threatened to displace 1,500 indigenous families in order to protect 30 endangered tigers.  Tribal representatives insist that the Soligas’ presence on the reserve is not detrimental to the tigers, claiming back in December, “We have been the ones who looked out for the tigers. Give us poison rather than move us from our home.”  Last month the tribe secured access to 60 percent of the forest that they claim is their ‘birthright’ and rejected a relocation package outside the tiger reserve, which is situated at the confluence of the Eastern and Western Ghats in Chamrajnagar district in India’s southern state of Karnataka.

A press release by the UK-based tribal advocacy group Survival International said last year, “This unprecedented move brings an end to (the tribe’s) fears of eviction and the ban on their right to hunt and cultivate.”  But wildlife conservationists across India are deeply alarmed by the tribe’s decision to stay in the BRT, since it does not appear to take into account the irreversible impact of human settlement on wildlife populations and complex ecologies.  Many experts believe that continued human presence in the small, bio-diverse forest could be detrimental to the wildlife, particularly pyramid species like tigers.  The BRT was officially declared a protected reserve last year, when scientists discovered it was home to a huge variety of wildlife including endangered tigers, leopards, elephants, wild dogs, bears, 270 species of endemic birds, scores of snake varieties and other reptiles, as well as turtles and monitor lizards, all in a 541 square kilometre forest….

The Soligas’ transition from a subsistence community into increased participation in the formal market economy through trade in forest products has increased their environmental impact on the reserve.  [However] Still, experts point out that the Soligas are only marginally responsible for deforestation when compared to the scale of deforestation perpetuated by the state forest department itself. Industrial farming in the BRT, including huge coffee estates owned by the biggest industrial houses in India, has seriously impinged on the protected land, pushing wildlife further into a concentrated space with tribes.

Excerpts, Malini Shankar, Indigenous Rights Versus Wildlife Rights?, IPS, Jan. 13, 2012

See also Biodiversity and Human Rights

Indigenous Peoples as Human Zoo, the human safaris

“Dance,” the policeman instructed. The girls in front of him, naked from the waist up, obeyed. A tourist’s camera panned round to another young woman, also naked and awkwardly holding a bag of grain in front of her. “Dance for me,” the policeman commanded.  The young woman giggled, looked shy and hopped from foot to foot. The camera swung back to the others who clapped, swayed and jumped.

This kind of video is the trophy tourists dream of when they set off into the jungles of the Andaman Islands “on safari”. The beauty of the forest functions merely as a backdrop. The goal of the trip is to seek out the Jarawa, a reclusive tribe only recently contacted, which is taking the first tentative steps towards a relationship with the outside world.  The Jarawa tribe is 403-strong. Its members are trusting, innocent and hugely vulnerable to exploitation, living in a jungle reserve on South Andaman. The islands are a spectacular magnet for tourists, set in the Bay of Bengal and belonging to India.

The role of the police is to protect tribespeople from unwelcome and intrusive outsiders. But on this occasion the officer had accepted a-