Betrayed innocence

By Gladson Dungdung

29 August, 2008Adivasis are mostly victimized in the development process in India but they are still untouched of development even after 61 years of Indian independence. The three buzz words – compensation, rehabilitation and development are widely propagated during the land acquisition for dams, industries, mining companies, power plants and other development projects but one must have to check the status of displaced masses to understand the ground realities of these.

The agony of 56 Chero Adivasi families who were displaced in 1983 during the construction of Malay Dam, situated at Satbarwa block of Palamu district in Jharkhand, discloses the truth of how they are struggling for survival after betrayed in the name of compensation, rehabilitation and development.

These Adivasis had been living happily at Katautia and Dodang villages for generations, submerged in Malay Dam. They had adequate agricultural land, where they used to cultivate paddy, wheat, mustard, pulse and vegetable for their consumption and the surpluses were sold in the local market to meet other needs. 70 years old Ganeshi who had 29.85 acres of fertile land, received merely Rs. 36,000 as compensation and became a daily wage labourer says, “My family members had never experienced of earning livelihood through daily wages as we had more than enough land to sustain our families for years.” “None of 56 families had ever gone for daily wages but we were simply betrayed in the name of rehabilitation. Now we have only daily wages as major source to sustain our families,” he added.

According to land acquisition Act 1894, the affected families must be served a notice prior to land acquisition but these Adivasis were not served any notice. The construction of Dam was initiated in 1980 without any information. The purpose of Dam was irrigating approximately 65 thousand acres of land of three development blocks – Satbarwa, Lesliganj and Daltenganj of Palamu district. The Adivasis were promised for adequate compensation for their land, government jobs to all 56 families and rehabilitation with all facilities including hospital, school, drinking water, pitch road and electricity. A promise was also made to make their village as a model village in the district.

But even after these overwhelming promises the Adivasis were not in the position to leave their ancestors’ land therefore they started a resistance against the displacement. According to Budhan (65), they were fighting with the police with their traditional weapons including bows and arrows but when the Dam was almost ready in 1983, they were asked to vacate the village. When they denied it, the police came in night and put them into trucks forcefully, taken them to Land Acquisition office, Daltonganj and locked them in the campus. They were threatened of facing dire consequences if they try to escape of the campus. “Police told us if we agree to vacate the village then we are safe otherwise our remaining goods will submerge in the Dam,” said Budhan.

Finally, the Adivasis were dumped into a new rehabilitation site and the village was named as “Kushikarma”. They were paid compensation for their multi-crops land at the rate of Rs. 2 thousand per acres including compensation of rabby harvest. All 56 families were given 25 decimal barren lands each in hilly area for house construction. But merely 34 of them were given jobs as peon in the irrigation department in the name of government jobs and 22 of them are still in waiting list. Their struggle for livelihood began in the new rehabilitated village as it is situated in uphill therefore they can only cultivate maize. They started clearing trees and bushes for agriculture practices to sustain their families, but their search for livelihoods became crime in the purview of the forest department, who filed cases against all 56 families alleging them of cutting trees and encroaching the forest land. A few of them were sent to jail for months but most of them were escaped after bribing the forest officials.

Bhudhan (65) who had 7.44 acre of agricultural land paid Rs. 16,000 as compensation for his land including rabby harvest and 25 decimal barren lands for housing. When he cleared bushes for agriculture practices, he was thrown behind the bars for 1 year and a case is still going on. He fears for being thrown behind the bars for the second time. He is still not able to forget the nightmare of displacement says, “We had demanded to shoot all 56 families rather than displacing us, which would had pained us only once but we were dumped here to die everyday.” The local MLA Indarsingh Namdhari had supported the Dam and said, “Submerging of two villages have no value if formers of Palamu get water for their land.”

According to Lalan (35), who was merely 10 years old while his family was forcefully displaced from the land, the family had 21.62 acres of land, which was sufficient for their survival. The irrigation department paid them Rs 2 thousand per acre as compensation for land and rabby harvest. His brother was given a job of peon in the irrigation department and 25 decimal barren land was also given for house construction. When the family was settled down at Kushikarma village, Lalan started clearing bushes and prepared a few patches of land for agriculture practices to sustain his family. But his hunt for livelihood became illegal. Consequently, the forest officials filed a case against him alleging as an encroacher of the forest land. He pleaded to the forest officials to withdraw case against him and his plea was heard after bribing the forester.

Irrigation was the main purpose of Malay Dam but the water never reached to the proposed areas of Lesliganj development block, where 10 Dalits families faced hunger death in 2004 as they were agriculture labourers but did not get work due to drought. Ironically, the canal of the Dam crosses nearby the rehabilitated village “Kushikarma” but water is not channelized to the land displaced families though the water reached to Daltonganj, which is situated at a distance of 20 KM from Kushikarma. If the displaced people get water for their barren land, they can go for two crops each year which would help them to sustain. Due to lack of livelihood resources, the male members migrate to Panjab, Gujarat and Delhi in search of livelihood. The Adivasis had been promised to make their village as a model village but “Kushikarma” became one of the worst villages in the district. The village still lacks of school, health centre, electricity, pitch road and sanitation facilities.

Presently only 30 displaced families are remaining in the rehabilitated village and others migrated. A few of them went back to Dam site where they at least get the opportunity to cultivate rabbi harvest in Dam site and also catch fishes in the Dam for their survival. The state cabinet of Jharkhand has passed the Resettlement and Rehabilitation Policy 2008, which is propagated as panacea for addressing the issue of displacement but there is no such provision for rehabilitation of already displaced masses. The basic question arises is if the government is not able to rehabilitate merely 56 families then how can it would rehabilitate the mass displacement? The question remains unanswered is how long the innocence masses will be betrayed in the name of development of the “Nation”?

Gladson Dungdung is a Human Rights Activist. He can be contacted at gladsonhrights@gmail.com

 

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