Tribals march against Netarhat Field Firing Range pilot project
More than 400 tribals of Jharkhand marched for nearly 175km from Latehar to Ranchi spanning over four days to stage a dharna in front of Raj Bhavan on Monday and submit a memorandum to the Governor demanding cancellation of Netarhat Field Firing Range pilot project notification.
An eight-member delegation of tribals under the aegis of Kendriya Jan Sangarsh Samity, Latehar-Gumla, led by its central secretary Jerome Gerald Kujur, met Governor Ramesh Bais and submitted a petition to him, showing a survey report on army atrocities on women while conducting firing practice between 1964 and 1994 and also threat of displacement of 245 villages and adverse impact on ecology. The delegation also included the CPI-ML’s Bagodar MLA Vinod Singh.
“We expressed our apprehension to the Governor who is the constitutional custodian of Fifth Schedule Areas (administration of scheduled areas where tribal communities are in a majority) and showed him the survey report about rape of women by the army during the firing practice between 1964 and 1994. There is also the fear of displacement of lakhs of villagers and adverse impact to the ecology as the area is barely 5km from the Palamau Tiger Reserve. Since the area has been earmarked as eco-sensitive zone, firing of artilleries would damage the flora and fauna of the region,” said Jerome.
Jerome further said that the delegation tried to convince the Governor to cancel the notification of the erstwhile Bihar government earmarking the area for fighting practice. As the deadline for the renewal of the notification nears in May 2022, the adivasi community is revamping their struggle.
“The Governor, being the custodian of the Fifth Schedule Areas, can write to the current state government for cancellation of the notification and submit a report to the President of India,” said Jerome who also claimed to have submitted copies of the memorandum to chief minister Hemant Soren, chief secretary Sukhdev Singh and deputy commissioners of Latehar and Gumla district.
The tribals started their march from Tutuapani (at Netarhat in Latehar) on Wednesday morning and crossed Gumla district to reach state capital Ranchi on Sunday evening.
Tribals under the aegis of Kendriya Jan Sangarsh Samity, Latehar-Gumla, have been agitating against Netarhat Field Firing Range pilot project since the 1990s, when the erstwhile Bihar government had earmarked about 1,471 sq km in Netarhat Hills in Gumla and Latehar for field firing practice by the army.
Two state notifications of November and March 25, 1992, under section 9(1) of the Manoeuvres Field Firing and Artillery Practices Act, 1938, notified this area for periodical field firing and artillery practice for 10 years. Separate notifications in 1992 and again in 1999, extended the field firing and artillery practice till May 2022, Jerome said.
Owing to enormous resistance in March 22, 1994, practice in the range by the Army and the displacement of over 2 lakh tribals across 245 villages was stopped.
Last month, farmers’ leader Rakesh Tikait had also visited the Netarhat firing range site and extended support to the tribal villagers' agitation for cancellation of the notification.