Were only 1,064 Tribal families displaced in Odisha for mining in the last 10 years?

The Ministry of Tribal Affairs answer in the Parliament’s Budget Session offers unlikely statistics that do not reveal the actual state of tribals in Odisha

TribalsRepresentation Image | The New Indian Express

During this Budget session of the Parliament, a list of questions was raised by Lok Sabha member Ms. Chandrani Murmu (Biju Janta Dal) regarding the Tribals in Odisha enquiring about:

  1. the number of tribal settlements that have been removed to pave way for mining;

  2. whether the Government made any assessment of the area of tribal land acquired for mining in the last twenty years in the country and particularly in Odisha and the people displaced;

  3. the details of the percentage of tribal land taken away for mining in Odisha;

  4. whether the Government has been able to resettle the displaced population adequately; and

  5. the details of resettlement policy of tribal population and the monitoring mechanism thereof?

Answering the abovementioned questions, the Minister of State for Tribal Affairs, Shri Bishweswar Tudu revealed that neither does the Central Government maintain information regarding tribal settlement removed for mining, nor does the Department of Land Resources maintain information relating to land acquisition and resettlement by various State Governments and Central Ministries due to mining in tribal areas. The minister reasoned that the State Governments are the owners of the minerals located within their respective boundaries and mineral concessions are granted by the State Governments as per the provisions of the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) (MMDR) Act, 1957.

As per the information provided by the Government of Odisha, 529 tribal families from Jharsuguda district, 179 families from Angul district and 356 families from Sundergarh district have been displaced due to mining in the last 10 years. However, the Minister does not disclose where have the tribals been moved to. It is only informed that the that they have resettled the displaced population as per Orissa Resettlement & Rehabilitation Policy, 2006.

Moreover, it is hard to believe that only 1,064 families have been displaced in the span of 10 whole years when it has been reported by the Hindustan Times in 2020 that about 32,000 hectares of the land to be acquired for mining in Angul district itself was estimated to displace up to 10,000 families. “The auction of these coal block at one go would not just devastate the lives of thousands of families, they would alter the landscape for all time to come putting in peril the lives of wildlife in the region. Angul district is already among the most critically polluted areas of the state as per Central Pollution Control Board due to coal mining in Talcher area. Once these 8 blocks are mined, living in Angul would be nothing less than a nightmarish experience,” noted environmentalist and wildlife activist Biswajit Mohanty was quoted by Hindustan Times.

Meanwhile, in the Ministry’s response before the Parliament, the Minister goes on to mention that each displaced family has been provided with Employment, Provision for Homestead Land, House Building Assistance, Maintenance Allowance, Assistance for Temporary Shed, Transportation Allowance but resettlement of Tribal people and forest dwellers is more than providing just a roof over their head. What’s important to note here is that driving these people out of their natural or traditional habitat exposes them to hostile environments which lead to exploitation, poverty, malnourishment and mental trauma. As reported by The Wire, they are deprived of their food security and diversity, livelihood’s security thereby resulting in poor health.

The Minister fails to disclose the details of the percentage of tribal land taken away for mining in Odisha and without providing any further clarification on the issue it merely reiterates the legal provisions of the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement (RFCTLARR) Act, 2013; Minerals (Other than Atomic and Hydro Carbons Energy Minerals) (MOAHCEM) Concession Rules, 2016; (Welfare of Tribal Communities) of National Mineral Policy, 2019.

The answer dated April 4, 2022 may be read here: 

Ground reality

In reality, tribal people in Odisha have been enduring police brutality and repressive State-sanctioned acts only because they stood up to protect their rights. For instance, on January 14, 2022, in the Dhinkia village, Jagatsinghpur district of Odisha, villagers were brutally assaulted by security personnel for peacefully protesting a Jindal project. The Movement leaders Debendra Swain, Murlidhar Sahu and INSAF State Convener Narendra Mohanthy were arrested shortly after they released a fact-finding report on previous crackdowns by the administration.

According to villagers, the leaders were illegally detained by the Abhaychandpur police while several villagers suffered injuries during lathicharge. Residents also claimed the personnel houses and targeted women and children. 

Years ago, POSCO withdrew its proposed steel project after facing fierce resistance from locals. However, instead of returning this land to the people, the state government put the area in a land bank where it was transferred to Jindal Steel Works Ltd. The company planned to build an integrated steel plant, a captive power plant and a cement factory.

The district administration, between August and November this year, called for a fresh notification for further acquisition of land, Panchayat hearings to ascertain people’s grievances and trifurcation of Dhinkia revenue village – all amidst heavy police deployment.

Further, villagers accused the government of ignoring their demand for the implementation of the Forest Rights Act-2006 since the time of anti-POSCO movement. Earlier, the two centrally-instituted committees recommended that the forest land be distributed to the people, who will then decide if they want the project in the area.

However, according to the movement spokesperson Prasant Paikray, “The Odisha Govt is forcibly grabbing the fertile agricultural land and homestead land of 11 Villages for JSW. As you are well aware, with a lot of hardships and sacrifices our villagers drove POSCO from our soil. The irony is that we are forced to confront the same reality now because of the government’s love for another election fund provider, JSW.”

According to the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act (LARR) of 2013, “Land acquired and possession taken over but not utilized within a period of five years from the date of possession shall in all cases revert back to the original land owner.” Yet, ignoring this provision, the Odisha government on February 7, 2015 declared, “Land acquired… but not utilized within a period of five years from the date of possession shall in all cases revert back to the state and be deposited in the Land Bank automatically.” This notification went against the Forest Rights Act 2006 as well that recognises legal rights of local communities over forest land and community forest resources. Three different official committees i.e., the Saxena Committee, the POSCO Enquiry Committee and the FAC found that the law was violated in the proposed POSCO area. The Movement demanded that the administration acknowledge that there is no provision which provides for land acquisition for any land bank. As such, the land must return to the original inhabitants.

“The government must respect the unanimous resolution passed by over 2,000 people at a Gram Sabha held in October 2012 that the land used for betel cultivation was under the rights provided to the Gram Sabha under the Forest Rights Act (FRA), 2006,” said Paikray. He warned that continued state conflicts would also violate the IPC and the SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act 1989 and the amendments done in 2016.


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