Mining War in Chhattisgarh

23 May, 2008    ·   2577

Devyani Srivastava explores the impact of the industrialization drive in Chhattisgarh on the Naxal problem

Industrial and socio-economic development of the backward regions constitutes a core component of the state of Chhattisgarh's counter-Naxal policy in cooperation with the central government. In particular, the state's mineral policy is designed to exploit the state's rich mineral resources (including coal, iron ore, bauxite, limestone, dolomite and corundum); it also provides incentives, including simple procedures and secure land rights to attract both domestic and international investors. This has triggered a violent reaction from the Maoists who have resisted the state's attempts to acquire and exploit people's land to serve the multinationals. They have stepped up their attacks on the multinationals in Chhattisgarh, the latest being on the ESSAR steel pant on 25 April. What are the main issues underlying this mining war in the state? How are the development policies of Chhattisgarh influencing the conflict situation?

Since the adoption of the Chhattisgarh State Mineral Policy, 2001, the government has concluded deals with several steel and power companies to establish plants in Chhattisgarh by 2010, resulting in a total investment of Rs.3.26 trillion. These include a MoU signed with Tata Steel in June 2005 for a five million tonnes per annum (MTPA) plant in Bastar district's Lohandiguda block with an investment of Rs.100 billion, and the Essar Steel MoU in the same month for a 3.2 MTPA plant in Dhurli and Bhansi villages of Dantewada district with an investment of Rs.70 billion. The government aims to modernize the tribal economy, and with it the lives and livelihood of the advisasis.

However, the tribals in the Bastar region, constituting 80 per cent of its population, have protested against the acquisition of their land for industrial purposes. This came to light when the National Mineral Development Corporation's plan to set up a steel plant in 2002 in the Nagarnar village of Bastar district met with strong opposition from the tribals. The protests revolved around forcible acquisition of land despite protests by the villagers and police excesses committed by the state officials. A report by the Indian People's Tribunal on Environment and Human Rights substantiated the claims of the villagers and found violations of Clause 4d of the Panchayat Raj (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act 1996, which necessitates consultation with the Gram Sabha for acquisition of land in scheduled areas for development projects. In addition, it also found fabrication of facts in the notification issued in the Official Gazette for land acquisition (as required by the Section 4(1) of the Land Acquisition Act, 1894) which declared the land to be acquired as 'totally fallow' while the people claimed the land to be their best agricultural lands.

The same issues arose during the protests against the ESSAR steel plant. A memorandum submitted by people of Dhurali and Bhansi villages to the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes reveals the extent of coercion by the local administration and police while consulting the Gram Sabha on 30 August 2006. Demands were also placed before the local administration including a higher rate of compensation than that being offered by the government, 40 pe rcent of their compensation package to be invested as shares in the company, another 40 per cent to be invested in cooperative societies to be set up by the company (in which the company would also invest 20 per cent of its profits) and a permanent job for at least one member of each affected family. Similar demands were made by the people of Lohandiguda village against the TATA steel plant. The administration however acted with total lack of sympathy, beating and arresting a number of protestors.

The issue of land acquisition and control over mineral resources has since provided a fresh impetus to the Maoist movement in Chhattisgarh. In the December 2007 issue of People's March, the Maoists highlighted the downside of the development work in the region. Firstly, the construction of roads and railways is primarily designed to facilitate the export of resources - iron ore from the Bailadilla mines in Bastar is exported to Japan; as many as 32 goods trains operate from the Bailadilla mines to Vishakhapatnam port, whereas only one passenger train operates on this line. Secondly, these projects are polluting the rivers in the region, the main source of livelihood for many adivasis. With few irrigation sources in the region, the only source of pure water for the adivasis is getting contaminated. And most importantly, since these projects are mostly capital-intensive, they do not generate much employment for the illiterate tribal population, confining them to physical labour only.

The mining war in the Bastar region symbolizes the core of the development dilemma surrounding the Indian state owing to its fuel-and-mineral-hungry economy. As the state surges ahead with its industrialization drive, the lack of basic facilities like roads, irrigation, education and electricity, inadequate rehabilitation measures, and repeated use of coercion against the tribals will again result in the exclusion of tribals from the benefits of development. Unless governments act with sensitivity towards tribal culture and land, the path of development will only result in greater violence.