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Mainstream, VOL LV No 25 New Delhi June 10, 2017

DVC Still to Compensate its Displaced: Quest for Justice Kept Alive

Saturday 10 June 2017

by Krishna Jha

On May 5, 2014, a letter was received by the Home Secretary, Government of Jharkhand, from the Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India, stating that according to the Seventh Schedule of the Constitution, the State was responsible for taking steps to prevent, detect, register and investigate crime and prosecute the criminals through law-enforcing agencies; hence, steps must be taken in the context of inordinate delay, in fact more than six decades, in granting compensation to the evacuees of the Damodar Valley Corporation, involving the States of Bihar and Bengal, and now Jharkhand. It was also said that the Union Government cannot suo motu entrust the CBI to investigate an offence that has taken place in a State, hence the State must approach the Ministry of Personnel, PG and Pensions, Department of Personnel and Training under which comes the CBI, to investigate the grievances.

As a follow-up to the letter, since no action was taken in this context by the State, on June 6, 2015, a letter was sent from the Prime Minister’s Office to the Chief Secretary, Govern-ment of Jharkhand, for action to be taken on the petition sent by Ramashreya Singh, the represen-tative of the Ghatwar tribals, uprooted during construction of the Damodar Valley Corporation. The letter from the Centre remains unanswered since then, even after almost two years. According to an RTI, asking information about what action was taken on the letter from the PMO to the Jharkhand State Government, the reply was that no such letter was ever received. Suffering for the afflicted, meanwhile, continues without any respite stretching for three generations, still without land, without shelter, and also without livelihood.

As the Damodar Valley Corporation (DVC) was coming up in 1953, a dream-turned-reality for the then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, it was to provide irrigation and electricity to the region. The peasants parted with their fertile land, were given promises of livelihood, land and a homestead for the family, in the regions of Dhanbad, Jamtara in Jharkhand. At least 250 villages in Purulia and Bardhaman districts of West Bengal were asked to part with their land and habitat with promises of due compensation and employment in the Corporation itself. It was for the extension of Panchet and Mython dams in Asansol and the years were between 1953 and 1956.

More than twelve thousand families were uprooted, forty thousand acres of land taken away and four thousand dwellings demolished. At least seventy thousand people and their descendants are still awaiting justice. By 1976, only 350 persons got employment and several more got part of the compensation. It was in clear violation of the agreement that had said that along with compensation, and a plot of land, one from each uprooted family was to get employment in the Corporation. It was a large- scale betrayal leaving hundreds and thousands of people stranded, with a bleak future staring at them.

To save face, the Corporation claimed to have employed 9500 of the victims. Out of that only five hundred oustees were given jobs. The rest of the nine thousand, thus employed, were not those among the victims as it was discovered that there was no mention in their service record of the land they could have possessed in the dam area and that it was taken away by the DVC or of their getting even uprooted. Obviously, the claim to employ them as victims of dam construction was not based on facts.

Today the third generation has taken up the struggle. The DVC had taken away their land, homes and left them uncompensated, but it does not end there. When the pressure was built up, they employed those who were not among the dam victims. The two-edged scam has to be investigated and the Ghatwar tribals have to be resettled with compensation, jobs and land. For this they have even demonstrated baring themselves, with not even a thread to cover them bodily as they have been left with nothing to lean upon. Today their demands are that each of those uprooted by the DVC dam must get compensation, land in lieu of land, and employment to at least one in each family. Also the landless and marginalised peasants must get employment. The panel that was made for offering employment to the DVC victims was unconstitutional since the basic agreement with the peasants whose land and habitat were taken away, promised employment, among other facilities, to them.

They also want termination of jobs for those who have replaced the real victims and demand that the employment thus created must be given to those who have sacrificed everything for the DVC, and hence their next generation too has the right to get employment. In fact against eleven of those who were given jobs, and were in reality only sham oustees, the court passed an order to terminate them, but no action has been taken against them till date.

Finally they have demanded only justice as against injustices meted out to them by the forces of vested interest. They want implemen-tation of Land Acquisition Act 2011, according to which all those uprooted from their land and home must get justice.

The Ghatwar tribals realised after struggling for long years that they have to organise themselves to march ahead; and that is why they formed an organisation, elected Ramashreya Singh as their leader in 2006. Since then they had launched many struggles, dharnas, hunger strikes and long-term agitations and huge rallies, but to no avail. They have appealed to the Chief Minister, Prime Minister, even the Supreme Court that unveiled the scam of appointment of sham victims of land acquisition by the DVC-Mython-Panchet project. But hardly any investi-gation has been made in these scams. The Jharkhand State is ruled by a BJP Government and at the Centre, there is again a BJP Government. The aggrieved tribals expected that the declared aim of ‘Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikaas’ would be followed, but it keeps deluding them, though they still prefer to wait, which has proved to be an endless wait. While the DVC project is under the Central Government, the Power Ministry is its nodal agency. In the last several years, tribals have written to the Prime Minister many a time demanding investi-gation in the scam, letters have been sent from the PMO, but no response has come from the State and the DVC office either in action or in letter. The directive to ask for a CBI enquiry has also been left unattended. The Ghatwar Sangh leader had also written to Raghuvar Das, the BJP Chief Minister of Jharkhand. In reply to the letter, the Chief Minister, on April 22, 2015, had expressed anguish over the delay in justice and promised to get a response from the concerned persons within 30 days; it is still awaited after more than a year. The President of India has written twice and the Vice-President five times; still no step has been taken.

The irony was that when the Santhal Pargana Commissioner wrote in his report to the Chief Secretary of the State that the DVC had been the trying to conceal certain facts that go against them, responding to the letter, the government handed over the investigation to the DVC itself. The accused has been asked to investigate the accusations against itself.

After giving employment to nine thousand sham victims, and suppressing and not responding to letters written and directed to the Jharkhand Government seven times from the PMO, shows the real worth of not only the State’s BJP Government, but also that at the Centre stands exposed. Meanwhile, the inheritors of pain and suffering continue to fight for justice. One such victim is Kanhai Manjhi, from the village of Seemapathar, a serene, peaceful settlement, home for 1670 families before the DVC came up, then at a distance of 15 km from the Damodar river. Fifty years back, 85 per cent of peasants in the village had ten to fifteen acres of fertile land. Every family had enough to eat and spend for their meagre needs. Hundreds of labourers used to come to the village in search of employment every year. Today the same village has been resettled two km away from the river, desolate, dusty, devastated. Only 110 families are left. They have in fact lost their roots.

Though Kanhai has no illusion about the DVC meeting any of the promises made during evacuation, he is still fighting along with others for justice, for which his father and grandfather kept waiting. Kanhai is the inheritor of the struggle that they fought all their lives.

Kanhai says his grandfather was asked to hand over his land and house to the DVC and in return, they would pay him compensation, give land and employment. The grandfather gave the DVC bureaucrats all that they had asked for, and got nothing in return. Land, that was the source of their livelihood, was sub-merged, and their house crumbled; they had been left without any resources to feed their kids, themselves starving, many migrated to other parts, but the rest remained keeping up the post. Kanhai is one of them. First his grandfather thought Kanhai’s father would get the job, and died with the hope kept alive by his son who believed Kanhai would manage to get justice. But Kanhai is disillusioned. The story is the same for Kameshwar Marandi, Lakhidas, and Pawan Murmu. They know their rights have been robbed, sold out to someone else. But it is not for them to come off the battlefield.

They resorted to a unique form of protest, the ultimate in one’s lifetime. In Dhanbad, by the end of 2016, the uprooted families, men and women both, tore off their clothes, and demanded justice, from governments, at the State, and the Centre. Surprisingly, it fetched zero reaction. The media, both local and national, though stunned, kept their distance. The State kept its silence, the Centre refused to respond.

Was it just for a livelihood, and pittance as compensation? No. Kanhai and his comrades refuse to let down the great values for which they have been fighting for generations. They have decided to launch an agitation in the streets of Delhi if Dhanbad is too far for those sitting at the helm, that is, the government and the media. They are resolved to continue the struggle, without succumbing to defeat.

The author is a senior journalist and writer.

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