Xaxa Report: Tribals worst sufferers of displacement
The tribal or the Scheduled Tribe communities constitute only 8.6 percent of India's population and yet, they are around 40 percent of those displaced due to ‘development’ projects. In the midst of a raging debate on the new Land Acquisition Ordinance, a new report brings out many such paradoxes of development versus displacement of India’s indigenous or Adivasi people. The report exposes the anomalies of land alienation, displacement and forced migration faced disproportionately by the tribal communities.
Headed by Prof. Virginius Xaxa of the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) and based on a survey of existing literature, the Report of the High Level Committee on Socio-Economic, Health and Educational Status of Tribal Communities of India says that around 25 percent of India’s tribals become displaced persons (DP) or project-affected persons (PAP) at least once in a lifetime because their regions are rich in natural resources. The government-appointed Expert Group on Prevention of Alienation of Tribal Land and its Restoration had estimated earlier that, of the total number of people displaced due to development projects, 47 percent were tribals.
The recent report issued from the Ministry of Tribal Affairs, which was allegedly kept away from appearing in the public domain, says that 6 out of 9 States seriously affected by Left Wing Extremism (LWE) have Scheduled districts. Similarly, 42 out of 83 LWE-affected districts have Scheduled Areas.
Some of the common features of Scheduled Areas affected by LWE are: (a) serious neglect and deprivation, widespread poverty and poor health and educational status; (b) exploitation and oppression by traders and money lenders, on the one hand, and absence of an effective, people-friendly and sensitive civil administration, on the other; (c) large-scale displacement of tribal people for development projects; (d) occurrence of all of the above despite the special Constitutional and legal provisions for the tribal people [in the form of the Fifth Schedule, laws to prevent alienation of tribal land and restoration of alienated lands, and in recent years, progressive legislations, such as Panchayats (Extension to the Scheduled Areas) Act-PESA, 1996 and Forest Rights Act-FRA, 2006].
Tribal land alienation and social justice
Based on the data provided by Annual Report 2007-08 of the Department of Land Resources (under Ministry of Rural Development), the present document on tribal distress finds that 5.06 lakh cases of tribal land alienation had been filed, which covered land area of 9.02 lakh acres, out of which 2.25 lakh cases, were decided in favour of tribals with an area of 5 lakh acres land. The total number of cases rejected by the Courts on various grounds were 1.99 lakhs, covering an area of 4.11 lakh acres.
The High Level Committee headed by Prof. Xaxa has, therefore, expressed concerns over the rejection of a high proportion of such cases and has mentioned that it could be due to loopholes in the law and apathy, or connivance of State machinery.
Could the FRA deliver land to the tribals?
Based on the Forest Rights Act claims status data (provided by Ministry of Tribal Affairs) as of 31 January 2014, the High Level Committee report shows that there is a huge gap between the land claimed and the actual extent of the titles issued to the claimant. The report has found that claims under FRA are often rejected due to absence of ST community certificates. The Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (OTFD) claims have largely not been entertained due to lack of evidence. OTFD’s have mainly been discouraged from filing claims and most of their claims have been rejected at the Gram Sabha level itself or not accepted by the Forest Rights Committee (FRC). Claims have also been rejected due to inability to prove plot cultivation for seventy five years prior to 13th December 2005. There are reports of claims being rejected on the ground that the claimed land is ‘disputed’.
Land conflicts and forceful grabs
In a separate press release (dated 25 November 2014) issued by the NGOs – Society for Promotion of Wasteland Development (SPWD) and the Rights and Resources Initiative – based on information collected through a survey of media reports and court cases, it has been revealed that there were 252 land related conflicts spread across 165 of India’s 664 districts during January 2013 to June 2014. This piece of information came just ahead of the recent amendments done in the land legislation.
Source: Press release by NGOs - Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI) and Society for Promotion of Wasteland Development (SPWD), dated 25 November 2014
The two NGOs, which prepared a map to track land disputes across various states of India during 2013-14, have argued that most of these conflicts arise from State-led land grabs, done often on behalf of private investors (see the map above). The bureaucratic model of land takeover has been criticized by the NGOs in their press release.
It is widely believed that with the dilution of Forest Rights Act and recent amendments made to the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013 so as to ease land acquisition for industry and mining, such land conflicts are bound to escalate in the future.
Possible effects of recent amendments
As per the Annual Report of the Ministry of Rural Development 2013-14, some of the salient features of the land legislation passed by the UPA-2 are:
• In Scheduled Areas consent of the Gram Sabhas/ Panchayats / Autonomous District Councils is mandatory in all cases of land acquisition.
• To ensure transparency and participation, the Act provides for consent of at least eighty and seventy percent of the land owners in the cases of land acquisition for Private and Public Private Partnership Projects, respectively.
• A social impact assessment (SIA) study to be done compulsorily in all cases of land acquisition irrespective of extent of area.
• To safeguard food security and to prevent arbitrary acquisition, the Act directs the States to impose limits on the multi cropped irrigated land that can be acquired.
With respect to consent of land owners for land acquisition (for private as well as PPP projects), SIA study and restriction on acquisition of multi-cropped irrigated land, the recent amendments to the land acquisition law has exempted the following projects: (a) such projects vital to national security of defence of India and every part thereof, including preparation for defence; or defence production; (b) rural infrastructure including electrification; (c) affordable housing and housing for the poor people; (d) industrial corridors; and (e) infrastructure and social infrastructure projects including projects under public private partnerships where the ownership of land continues to vest with the Government (see section 10A of the amendment Ordinance).
There is disagreement whether during land acquisition in Scheduled Areas, consent of the Gram Sabhas/ Panchayats / Autonomous District Councils will no longer be required if the amendments become a permanent feature of the law. It is clearly mentioned in section 41(3) of the original land acquisition Act of 2013 that "in case of acquisition or alienation of any land in the Scheduled Areas, the prior consent of the concerned Gram Sabha or the Panchayats or the autonomous District Councils, at the appropriate level in Scheduled Areas under the Fifth Schedule to the Constitution, as the case may be, shall be obtained, in all cases of land acquisition in such areas, including acquisition in case of urgency".
The 2013 land acquisition legislation had the provision that if the acquired land is not utilised after a period of 5 years, it shall be returned to the owner. However, the recent Ordinance has relaxed the time period after which a piece of unutilised acquired land must be returned to its original owner, by amending section 101. The recent amendment has substituted in section 101 of the principal Act, the words, "a period of five years" with the words, "a period specified for setting up of any project or for five years, whichever is later".
Similarly, the recent amendment has substituted in the principal Act, the words, "private company" with the words, "private entity" wherever they occur. As per the Ordinance, "private entity" means any entity other than a Government entity or undertaking and includes a proprietorship, partnership, company, corporation, non-profit organization or other entity under any law for the time being in force.
Report of the High Level Committee on Socio-Economic, Health and Educational Status of Tribal Communities of India (chaired by Prof. Virginius Xaxa), May 2014, Ministry of Tribal Affairs (Please click here to access)
As Modi Government in India Proceeds with Economic Development Agenda, New Map Tracking Land Disputes Shows Disturbing Pattern of Conflicts with Local People, Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI)and Society for Promotion of Wasteland Development (SPWD), November 25, 2014 (Please click here to access)
Amendments made in the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013. Source: Press Information Bureau, dated: 29 December 2014 (Please click here to access)
The Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement (Amendment) Ordinance 2014, promulgated by the President on 31 December 2014 (Please click here to access)
The Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013 (Please click here to access)
Map of Land Acquisition related disputes 2013-14 (Please click here to access)
Annual Report of the Ministry of Rural Development 2013-14 (Please click here to access)
Govt's land law revives lost order of sarkar raj -Nitin Sethi, Business Standard, 6 January, 2015 (Please click here to access)
Clauses on land return, action against officials diluted -Nitin Sethi, Business Standard, 2 January, 2015 (Please click here to access)
Before he cleared land ordinance, President asked Government why the hurry -Maneesh Chhibber & Abantika Ghosh, The Indian Express, 2 January, 2014 (Please click here to access)
Forest land: Govt finalising dilution of tribal rights -Nitin Sethi, Business Standard, 1 January, 2015 (Please click here to access)
250 conflicts over land acquisition recorded in 2013 and 2014 -Nitin Sethi, Business Standard, 31 December, 2014 (Please click here to access)
Image Courtesy: Himanshu Joshi
Tagged with: adivasi Displacement Forest Dwellers forest rights forest rights act Land Acquisition Land Acquisition Act land acquisition and rehabilitation Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Rehabilitation and Resettlement law scheduled tribes Tribal Welfare