Mining and land acquisition: an analysis of mineral rich tribal regions in Odisha.

Author:Sahoo, Minati


Minerals constitute the backbone of economic growth in India, a country generously endowed with these natural resources. Unfortunately, to a great degree, minerals, forests, and tribal tracts are concentrated in the same geographic areas. Odisha is such an area. In recent times, large-scale industrialization, marked by the development of mining projects, has emerged as the biggest threat to the survival of tribal communities. The present paper will explore the magnitude and impact of land acquisition for such projects on the tribal inhabitants in the mining districts of Odisha.

Since the inception of the current epoch of Economic Liberalization, Privatization and Globalization (LPG), the areas inhabited by indigenous people have been subject to constant social unrest and protests. The large-scale exploitation of the natural resources of these regions through the development of mines and other types of industries has adversely affected the indigenous people, who are systematically and methodically dispossessed of their ownership of the means of production, products, and the very ways of their existence. They have also been deprived of their political autonomy, as their communities have been broken up in the name of "development" in the "national interest." (1)

In the process of modernizing less developed regions and "enlightening the less civilized" indigenous peoples in these areas, the current form of LPG development is creating wealth for the leaders at the cost of the livelihood and security of the local population. (2) Arguably the new liberalization policy of the government and the opening of the mining sector to private concerns and multi-national corporations will lead to further destruction of the area by these vested interests. The leaders believe that investment by multinational companies (MNCs) in mineral-based industries in the tribal regions that are rich in mineral resources will increase export earnings and accelerate economic growth, which in turn will develop basic infrastructure and bring about socio-economic transformation of the indigenous population. (3)

Mineral extraction is one of the most environmentally-destructive processes and very little attention is paid to the people who have been over the ages subsisting on these environmental resources. The tribal people have paid the highest price for national development precisely because their regions are resource rich.

Many have been displaced without proper rehabilitation from 1990 onwards due to the so-called economic liberalization policies of the Center. One of the major causes of land alienation and displacement in the area is the mining industry. For every 1 per cent that mining contributes to India's GDP, it displaces 3-4 times more people than all other development projects put together. (4) To promote development, many public sector mining companies started extraction of mineral resources, which are found mostly in the tribal areas of the country. Local communities in mining areas have consequently lost their symbiotic relationship with nature. The market has interfered with their lives and destroyed communities. Those who owned land have become wage laborers due to these mining activities. (5)

Over the years, the tribals have witnessed continued dispossession of both individual and community control over their resources. The industrial acquisition has not only intensified their poverty, but also seriously threatened their identity in their own homeland. (6) According to the India Rural Development Report of 1992, nearly half of the country's rural population was absolutely or nearly landless. The rate of landlessness has been steadily rising among the Schedule Castes (SC) and Schedule Tribes (ST). SC & ST are two groups of historically-disadvantaged people who are recognized in the Constitution of India. Articles 341 and 342 of the Constitution define members of SC and ST with respect to any state/union territory. According to the National Sample Survey Organization (NSSO) data (2003-04), about 41.63% of tribal households did not own land other than their homestead. (7) A number of mega-projects are coming up in tribal areas, mainly in mines, steel plants and the power sector. Special attention needs to be paid to the acquisition of tribal areas because it has a severe impact on the tribal way of life.

According to the World Bank, development projects every year displace one million people from their land and homes in developing countries. (8) In India alone, between 1951 and 1990 around 21.3 million individuals were forcibly relocated, among whom 8.54 million (40%) were tribal or indigenous peoples, and only 2.12 million (24.8%) were resettled. (9) According to the latest estimates, the total number of people displaced in India during the last 60 years has reached almost 60 million. (10)

In recent years this dislocation has become more intensified due to the conditions created by globalization and economic liberalization, which favor the growth of many mineral-based industries set up by the MNCs and large Indian corporate houses in the mineral rich tribal regions of the country. The MNCs are almost at the verge of exhausting the non-renewable mineral resources in the developed countries. Fortunately for them, the LPG model of development has opened avenues for MNCs to locate their mineral and metal processing activities in the developing countries at the cheapest possible price for both the land (natural resources) and the local labor they need. As a result, in recent years the regions inhabited by indigenous peoples all over the developing world have witnessed massive social, economic and ecological changes. In the name of economic development, the indigenous peoples are involuntarily removed from their lands and homes without any meaningful efforts made for their proper rehabilitation and integration into the modern development process. (11)

India's major mineral reserves lie under its richest forests, and these lands are also the home of India's poorest tribal people. The three tribal-dominated states of India, namely Odisha, Chhattisgarh, and Jharkhand are the most productive mineral bearing states. Of the top 50 mineral--producing districts in the country, almost half are tribal. This point highlights the reality that mining activities have resulted in little local benefit; in fact, they have taken place at the cost of environmental degradation. Governmental and non-governmental projects adversely affect the tribal communities in India and, understandably, mining imposed with little forethought is the root cause of tribal unrest.

After Independence in 1947, the Indian government adopted the "Land Acquisition Act-1894." Since then various amendments have been made to the 1894 Act; however, the administrative procedures have remained the same. The Ministry of Rural Development processes proposals for revising the various provisions of the said Act from time to time. There have been a number of amendments, including the Protective Land Laws, Legislations, Regulations, Forest Laws, Government Policies, Court Orders and Judgments, and Government Orders (GOs), which prohibit land transfer in Scheduled Areas, a term defined in the Indian Constitution as "such areas as the President may by order declare to be Scheduled Areas." The criteria for designating a "Scheduled Area" include the preponderance of tribal population, compactness and reasonable size of the area, the under-developed nature of the area, and the marked disparity among its residents in terms of economic standards. Though not spelled out in the Constitution, these criteria have nevertheless become well established. In spite of all these protective and welfare laws made by the Government for the welfare of the tribal population, the Governmental agencies have been acquiring tribal lands in the name of the national interest in violation of all of these constitutional provisions.

Thus, the protective laws of the tribal areas are manipulated to the point where the tribal population's legal access to lands and resources is denied despite explicit legal stipulations to the contrary. (12) The Chhattisgarh Land Code, the 1970 Act of Andhra Pradesh and several other laws in Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand and Odisha prohibit the transfer of tribal lands to non-tribal people, yet even before the advent of corporations in mineral rich areas, non-tribal organizations had acquired the lands through mediators.

Given the growing protests and unrest over land acquisitions during the past few years, the Central Government was forced to reexamine the existing eminent domain framework as laid out in the 1894 Land Acquisition Act. On September 7, 2011, the Ministry of Rural Development presented a new Land Acquisition Rehabilitation & Resettlement Bill (LARR) to the Union Cabinet, and subsequently referred it to the Standing Committee on Rural Development, for examination and report. Based on the suggestions and comments of the Committee and various stakeholders as well as discussions with the Ministry, an amended version of the LARR Bill 2011 was re-presented to the Union Cabinet, which cleared it with few additional amendments in December 2012. The Bill was then discussed at various all-party meetings, and in September 2013 it was approved by both houses. The Bill has been named "The Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Bill 2013" (LARR 2013 or Bill), and it went into effect on January 1, 2014, thus replacing the previous Land Acquisition Act of 1894.

The full impact of land acquisitions and displacements remains...

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