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Mainstream, VOL XLIX, No 44, October 22, 2011

Damodar Valley Corporation’s Inhuman Treatment of Tribals

Tuesday 25 October 2011, by Girish Mishra

The DVC (Damodar Valley Corporation) is one of the oldest and prestigious river valley projects in which Jawaharlal Nehru took very keen interest. It was intended to provide irrigation facilities and generate electricity so that both agricultural development and industrialisation of two important States, namely, West Bengal and Bihar (now Jharkhand), would get a big boost. Not only would agricultural and industrial production increase but lots of jobs would also be generated in the services sector. The tribal areas of both the States would be modernised. Education and technical skills would follow.

In 1953, the DVC acquired 41,000 acres of land, mostly from the tribal people, in the districts of Dhanbad and Jamtara (Jharkhand), and Purulia and Burdwan (West Bengal). As many as 70,000 people were displaced. The displaced lost their houses, homestead land and livelihood. The DVC promised to pay them adequate compensation and jobs. But only 350 displaced persons received compensation and jobs, some others were paid monetary compensation but no jobs. After a great deal of agitation and struggle, a new panel of names of displaced persons was prepared, but this also turned out to be incomplete because as many as 91 names were completely absent from it.

THESE 91 people approached the Calcutta High Court which ruled in favour of these displaced persons and directed the DVC to take care of their grievances. The DVC management, instead of complying with this order, went to the Supreme Court in an appeal against the High Court judgment. The Supreme Court dismissed the appeal and directed the management of the DVC to redress the grievances of the displaced people by giving them adequate monetary compensation and jobs. This ruling came in 1992, but till now it has not been fully implemented. Obviously, this amounts to contempt of the Supreme Court.

The displaced people put their grievances before the then West Bengal Governor, Gopal Krishna Gandhi, who wrote twice (on March 29, 2009 and April 13, 2011) to the management of the DVC to do the needful. The Governor of Jharkhand, too, wrote a letter on October 1, 2009. In between heads of the district administrations had also pleaded for displaced persons with the management but there was no response. On February 6, 2009, one District Deputy Commissioner termed the DVC management as “dictatorial, inhuman and irresponsible”. The matter was raised in the legislature too, but without any concrete result. Since 2006, the Ghatwar Adivasi Mahasabha has been fighting for the cause of displaced persons who are without viable sources of livelihood and on the verge of starvation. It has mobilised and led dharnas and demonstrations at block and district headquarters as well as Kolkata and Ranchi. It has submitted a memorandum to the West Bengal Chief Minister. It is now holding dharna and hunger strike at Jantar Mantar, New Delhi. The stir in the Capital is still in progress.

It is high time that the Government of India wakes up and addresses the genuine grievances of the poor tribal people who have been moving from pillar to post for more than 50 years. They must be satisfied. One must not forget that the areas from which they come are strongholds of the Maoists and both the Central as well as State governments seem to be seriously exploring ways and means to bring back people from the path of violent agitation. If something concrete and fruitful is done, it will strengthen the hands of Ramashray Singh who has been leading their movement for decades and also others who believe in the peaceful path of struggle. It will have a tremendous demonstration effect.

Dr Girish Mishra, a well-known economist, used to teach Economics at Kirorimal College, University of Delhi before his retirement a few years ago. He can be contacted at gmishra@girishmishra.com

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