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CM imprint in bill draft - Munda welcomes protection for tribals

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  • Published 30.07.11

Ranchi, July 29: The proposed land acquisition bill unveiled by the Centre today will not override provisions of two landmark laws that seek to protect the interests of tribal landowners, thereby addressing a serious concern of states like Jharkhand where bulk of the land being eyed by industry is in forests inhabited by tribals.

On a day the Draft National Land Acquisition and Rehabilitation & Resettlement Bill, 2011, was put in the public domain, chief minister Arjun Munda welcomed Union rural development minister Jairam Ramesh’s clarification that the proposed law would not have any provision for exemptions from rules under the Forest Rights Act (FRA) and Panchayat (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act that require plot takeovers to be cleared by gram sabhas or panchayats.

“The draft bill has vindicated our stand. We cannot avoid these laws. We will have to build confidence among villagers and also educate them. People must know what is actually required from them. Otherwise, they will rise in revolt,” the chief minister told The Telegraph.

The draft bill is in tune with Munda’s thinking. His July 9 statement ruling out direct purchase of land by private investors in scheduled areas may have set the cat among pigeons in a state that is trying its best to assuage big-ticket investors whose projects aren’t making headway because of serious land acquisition issues.

But, the chief minister stuck to his stand. The purchase and acquisition of land in scheduled areas would have to be routed through gram sabhas, he had pointed out, adding that such a provision already existed in the PESA Act, 1996, and that no fresh circular was needed to enforce it.

The Forest Rights Act, 2006, seeks to recognise the rights of forest dwellers who have been living in such areas for generations, but whose claims had not been officially acknowledged before.

PESA extends panchayat laws to areas that have been included under the Fifth Schedule of the Constitution. The overall aim of PESA is to safeguard the traditional rights of the tribals to natural resources.

PESA Act says the gram sabha or panchayat has to be consulted before acquiring land in scheduled areas for development projects and before resettling or rehabilitating people affected by such projects.

As many as 12 districts of the state, namely Ranchi, Lohardaga, Gumla, Simdega, Latehar, East Singhbhum, West Singhbhum, Seraikela-Kharsawan, Sahebganj, Dumka, Pakur and Jamtara, come under Scheduled Areas, besides some parts of Garhwa, Palamau and Godda.

At least two dozen investors have begun work on MoU signed to set up plants in scheduled areas. Among them are Tata Steel in Manoharpur (Seraikela), JSW in Sonahatu (Ranchi), JSPL in Asanboni (East Singhbhum), Bhushan Power & Steel in Potka (West Singhbhum), Corporate Ispat Alloy in Sini (Seraikela-Kharsawan), Hindalco Industries in Sonahatu (Ranchi) and Abhijeet Group in Chandwa (Latehar).

Most have reacted cautiously to the new development, not disputing the right of local elected representatives in deciding the fate of land, admitting nevertheless that the process would take more time.

Assistant vice-president of Jindal Steel and Power Ltd (JSPL) Amar Biruli pointed out that under the Chotanagpur Tenancy (CNT) Act, there was a provision of getting villagers’ consent to transfer the land with a permission from the deputy commissioner.

“There is a committee headed by the development commissioner to see whether the norms were followed in purchase of land or not,” he pointed out, but added that his company would consult gram sabhas too before deciding on a plot.

A. Prasad, senior executive president of Adhunik Alloy and Power Ltd, which is setting up a 1080MW power plant at Kandra in Seraikela-Kharsawan district, accepted that henceforth consent of the gram sabha would be a part of the game. “We will go for that, too,” he added.

R.N. Chaubey, regional director of JSW, said his company would follow the guidelines but added it would be a time- consuming process. “In fact, government acquiring land and handing it over to industrialists would have been the best way out,” he added.

Finally, industry representatives indicated they would like to see clarity on the part of the government on land acquisition. “The state government should issue a circular giving fresh directives to deputy commissioners as well as industrialists. The fresh circular should be in black and white,” said one of them.