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Mainstream, VOL LI, No 26, June 15, 2013

Tribal Minister’s Letter to Governors

Saturday 15 June 2013, by Humra Quraishi

MUSINGS

What are we going all over looking for solutions to try settling the anger of the tribal population, when one Minister in the Central Government (GOI) has come forth with an elaborate backgrounder? Before I write any further just this one-liner: you could call this tribal anger by any other term of your choice; call it Naxal terror but the fact remains that it is the anger of the tribal-cum-village-cum-rural population against the political-cum-adminis-trative rulers of the day.

Now coming to this rather elaborate letter which V. Kishore Chandra Deo, the Minister for Tribal Affairs and Panchayati Raj, Government of India, has written to the Governors of the Schedule V Areas. In this letter he has been blatant and direct. It is a five-page letter so space constraints will come in the way in quoting rather too extensively from it but here it goes: “The main challenge that is staring at us today is the explosive situations that are prevailing in the Schedule V Areas of our country. These areas are inhabited largely by people belonging to the Scheduled Tribe communities, forest dwellers and other marginalised and deprived sections of our society. It is, therefore, not a matter of coincidence that we are today faced with a situation which is threatening to strike at the very roots of the basic structure of our polity and has become a threat to our national security... The root cause of this situation is, however, the result of continuous exploitation, oppression, deprivation, neglect and indifference for decades... Denudation of forests on a massive scale by the timber lobbies and the diversion of forest land for industrial purposes along with indiscriminate mining activities and the inundation of large forest tracts, for irrigation projects have deprived the local inhabitants of all their pre-existing rights along with their sustainable sources of livelihood. People who have been living in such areas in different parts of the country have been rendered homeless and lamentably hundreds of children have been orphaned. Our insensitivity to the plight and problems of this entire population is the greatest challenge that the nation is facing at present ...”

And with this start, Kishore Chandra Deo comes to the very crux. I’m quoting once again from this letter. “Schedule V Areas, as you would all agree, are very sensitive regions. The occasion for my addressing this letter emanates from the situations in several sensitive areas which have assumed alarming proportions, rendering governance for all practical purposes marred to such an extent that in certain areas governance has come to a standstill by the upsurge of extremist activities. The crucial fact which needs to be underscored and which forms the root cause of disturbance in Schedule V Areas is the yawning gap as far as development and provision of basic needs of the people such as provision of potable drinking water, communication facilities, education and health needs in most of the areas located in the Schedule V Areas....The main threat today is the mining in the Schedule V Areas which has shaken the confidence and faith of the people in the region in our democratic system. In many cases powerful lobbies are trying to encourage mining themselves in flagrant violation of the constitutional provisions and safeguards guaranteed by the founding fathers and also in utter contempt of the land transfer regulations....”

As I have mentioned, it is a detailed letter, with this Minister not just highlighting the plight of the tribal/rural population but focusing on the Forest Rights Act and also on the executive powers that could be invoked by the Governors, to try and halt the violations.

One is left asking this very basic—what has the Minister and his government been doing all along? After all, these violations are not an overnight affair, but have been on for years. Also, when this Minister and his government are well aware of the ground realities, then why isn’t this mess sorted out through a peaceful process and not through the boot!

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