Amendments in CNT/SPTA and their Socio-Ecological Impact

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The recent amendments in CNT/SPTA act has stirred massive protests across the state of Jharkhand. Lakhs of people, including schoolchildren marched the roads echoing rage and resentment followed by state crack down and arrest warrant of around 9,000 people, mostly students. This upheaval arose due to the three major amendments brought in the sections of 21, 49 and 71 of the CNT Act 1908 and section 13 of the Santhal Pargana Tenancy Act, 1949. Largely seen, the amendments allow the commercial use of Adivasis’ land, acquisition of agricultural land for non-­agriculture purposes and prohibition of land transfer through compensation. In fact the major reasons for amending these Acts are : More than 100 MoUs are pending in the state due to Adivasis’ resistance against the land acquisition; there has been slowdown in the real estate business because the buyers want the landed property free from conflicts of interest from CNT/SPT Acts and finally the small business entities need safeguard from the legal litigation because most of the hotels, shopping complexes, apartments, school buildings and hospitals are constructed on the Adivasis’ land. And of course, most of them are either fund sponsors or voters of the BJP, who had been constantly pressurizing the government to clear the dark cloud. Once, these Acts are amended, all the illegal occupations will come under the purview of legal acts. Most importantly, this amendment is all about ground clearance for Global Investor Summit in February 2017, being organized in Jharkhand, whereby Adivasi “zameen” and ‘asmita’ will be put to auction.

The Chief Minster’s promise that Adivasis will prosper by commercializing their land is thus nothing but a hollow claim. Jharkhand has already lost around 26 lakh acres of its land for the development projects but they continue to be left untouched by ‘real development’. According to the Annual Report 2004­ – 2005 of the Ministry of Rural Development of the Government of India, Jharkhand topped the list of Adivasi land alienation in India with 86,291 cases involving 10,48,93 acres of land. However, the CM doesn’t care about this data because his target is something other than safeguarding rights of the Adivasis. To cite an example from a recent past, Ranchi HCL which took hundreds of acres of lands from Adivasis did not return the unused land to the owners, instead it is being sold for different commercial purposes. A draft prepared by M.M Swaminathan discloses a disturbing fact. According to it around 85.39 Lakhs of Adivasi population were displaced due to development and industrialization which amounts to 55.16 per cent of the total persons displaced. Among those displaced, 64.23 percent are not yet rehabilitated. Lakhs of Adivasis from Jharkhand who are employed as wage labourers and maid servants across metro-cities is quite telling in itself. The ones who should have lived a life of dignity now have become ‘cheap labour’ for industries across the nation. And so, this affirmation of improving their socio-economic status is bereft of both historical evidences and pregnant with hollowness.

The industrial intrusion in these protected areas unleashes unrestrainable environmental damages. The original forest cover once destroyed cannot be replenished with the same sustained biodiversity which has proved so essential for a sustained source of life for species and humans equally. The forest cover of India is barely 12 per cent when the requirement is at least 33 per cent of the total land mass. However, the Union minister entrusted with the protection of environment, forest and climate change is busy issuing environment and forest clearances to private entities. From April 2014 to March 2016, the ministry diverted 34,620 hectares of forest land for industrial purposes and final clearances are expected for another 40,000 plus hectares. The economy cannot be expanded at the expense of ecology else it will hit us back.

The market fundamentalism under government patronage accompanying the amendments with all its hollow promises to bring prosperity to Jharkhand, therefore, should be understood with maximum scrutiny for it violates concerns of human rights, of equality and justice and of ecologically sustained earth. Fortunately, much of the natural reserve of forest, fauna and flora is still intact in these regions. This sustained co-existence of Adivasis and nature for thousands of years is informed by intimate knowledge of the ecosystem around them, their interdependence for livelihood, identity and culture. Their worldview towards nature is holistic which is a result of many generations of evolved reasoning, practical engagement with nature in everyday life and thereby reinforced by experience, trials and errors, and subsequently passed over from generation to generations. In recent decades indigenous communities across the globe are being recognized for their ecological sensitivity.

Therefore it is rational to protect the barely left ecological sound areas in India that Adivasis inhabit today. However, the means of protection should be charted out through the agency of Adivasi themselves rather than an imposed policy from outside, which most of the times displaces Adivasis to prepare shelters for tigers. Their rights should not be tampered in order to protect the nature. Rather it is through the perspective of Adivasis that the  policy should be framed for environmental protection for that region. However, we should not forget that once considered as primitive, naïve, inferior and incapable of cultured existence, they now offer important alternatives to a crisis-nearing world owing to the historicity of the nature of relationships they have maintained with nature. Their economic and social backwardness should be mitigated through and within their ecological framework and existence rather than by displacing them from their land and snatching all their agency. The present amendment in CNT/SPTA violates this principle of liberty, equality and self-determination of Adivasis, and in the long run endangers the survival of life on earth. Therefore the Acts must be restored to its original provisions for the sake of Adivasis and for the sake of all of us.

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Neelam Kerketta

Neelam Kerketta is PhD research scholar with Center for Political studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. His work and areas of interest are around climate change, political ecology and Adivasi’s ecology.

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