By Nityanand Shukla
Ranchi, Sep 15 (IANS) More than 50 per cent of the land owned by tribals has been acquired for a variety of reasons over the years, displacing and marginalising lakhs of them, besides not compensating them adquately, the head of the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes (STs), Rameshwar Oraon, has said.
“The main woe of the tribals is land acquisition. More than 50 per cent of tribal land has been acquired for setting up industries, mining, irrigation projects and other works, while gradually displacing lakhs of the tribal population,” Oraon, who belongs to Jharkhand, told IANS in a telephonic interview from New Delhi, adding: “Their plight cannot be expressed in words.”
“All over the country, tribal land is acquired for economic development, which is wrong. There is a law to protect tribal land but the law is not implemented properly. This is the reason why tribals are being marginalised,” Oraon, the Minister of State for Tribal Affairs in the UPA-I government added.
“It is a matter of serious concern that tribal people were landlords when the country became independent. Over the years, their condition changed for the worse,” Oraon, who quit the Indian Police Service to contest the 2004 Lok Sabha elections, said.
“In almost every state there is a provision to protect tribal land. Despite this, lands were acquired,” he added.
He cited the examples of the Rourkela, Bhilai and Bokaro steels plants, Ranchi’s Heavy Engineering Corporation and the Narmada and Sardar Sarovar projects for which only tribals were displaced.
Oraon said not enough has been done for rehabilitating tribal people and they have not been taken care of.
“The situation of displaced tribals was the worst in undivided Bihar. Land acquisition hit the tribal community and its culture,” he said, adding: “When a tribal loses his land he loses his culture and tradition.”
“There is a big question mark on the survival of the tribal people and culture due to land acquisition in the country.”
Oraon also came down heavily on the Raghubar Das-led Jharkhand government for proposing changes in two land acts — the Chotanagpur Tenancy Act and the Santhal Pargana Tenancy (SPT) Act in contravention of a central law passed in 2013 that said if tribal land had to be acquired, the consent of the Gram Sabha, or village council, was a must.
“The proposed changes in the two acts challenge the act passed by Parliament. As per the changes, land can be acquired without the Gram Sabha’s consent and without seeking approval of the Deputy Commissioner,” he said.
The proposed changes — through and ordinance — are now pending with President Pranab Mukherjee.
“The 2013 act was formulated at a suggestion of the National ST Commission. Tribal land can only be protected if the act is impended honestly. The sad part is that Gram Sabhas have been ineffective in the country. There is need to strengthen the Gram Sabhas,” he said.
Oraon also expressed his unhappiness over the ST quota not being filled in central government services, saying that though the ST population increased from 7.5 per cent in 1971 to 8.30 per cent in 2011, their share in central government services is just around five per cent.
“The vacant tribal posts in the central government should be filled by launching special drives,” said the ST commission chairperson.
He also expressed concern over Jharkhand’s declining tribal population. “It was 32 per cent in 1951, which reduced to 22 per cent in 2001,” Oraon said.
He said it was “the arrival of outsiders in the state” that caused the decline.
(Nityanand Shukla can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)