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Report on Independent People’s Tribunal

Posted by Admin on April 13, 2010

Independent People’s Tribunal (Day 1)

Posted on Radical Notes

Press Release: 9th April, 2010

9th – 11th April, 2010, Constitution Club, New Delhi

Stop structural violence against adivasis

Stop destructive development and restore the faith of the adivasis in the Indian Constitution

The Independent People’s Tribunal on Land Acquisition, Resource Grab and Operation Green Hunt, organized by Citizen’s against Forced Displacement and War on People, kicked-off today to a packed hall, consisting of students, academics, activists and the media. The Independent People’s Tribunal is being held in New Delhi, Constitution Club.

Dr. Vandana Shiva, well-renowned environmental activist presented the inaugural address and spoke about the “urgent need to develop democratic spaces”, such as the IPT. She said “the complex issues related land acquisition, mining and exploitation of the tribals as well as mechanisms of state suppression need to be discussed in a open manner by concerned individuals and intellectuals without the threat of arrest”. Advocate Prashant Bhushan, continuing in a similar vein, referred to the mining mafia that was bleeding the nation of its resources. According to him “rampant mining is displacing adivasis from their lands and leading to the ecological ruin of India’s forest land”. He questioned the logic of undertaking such activity ‘in public interest’ when 80% of the profits were pocketed by private companies, while people were left dispossessed and left to suffer health hazards. Mr. Bhushan then introduce the People’s Jury comprising of Hon’ble (Retd) Justice P. B. Sawant, Justice (Retd) H. Suresh, Dr. V. Mohini Giri, Professor Yash Pal, Dr. P. M. Bhargava and retired IPS officer Dr. K. S. Subramanian. (Jury Bios are attached at the end of the press note). The first session was also addressed by Mr. S P Shukla who spoke about the deep injustice being met out to the tribals and the unfair polarisation of the debate in the media and the state. He said that violence by the Maoists was representative of years of injustice suffered by the poor in these lands and that use of excessive force, clamping down on democratic spaces by arrests and detention of activists like Binayak Sen would only exacerbate the situation. He strongly recommended that the State should engage in widening the discussion on the issue if it wanted to solve it. Dr. B D Sharma, a retired civil servant and ex-chairman of the SC/ST Commission, Bastar spoke about the continuous denial of rights of the tribals by the state – in the form of violations of the Vth Schedule of the Constitution, Panchayati (Extension) to Schedule Areas, Forests Rights Act.

Day 1 of the Independent People’s Tribunal focussed on the current situation in Chhattisgarh. Sudha Bhardwaj, lawyer and labour rights activist, Chattisgarh Mukti Morcha deposed on the intricate nexus between the State and Corporations in expropriating the land for industrial and mining purpose. She deposed on the ground situation in Chhattisgarh where in gross violation of the PESA Act, gram sabhas were being manipulated to take decisions on land use and sale, against collective community decision-making process. According to Sudha the scale of corruption was enormous. The district officials were facilitating the transfer of tribal land, flouting all legal and procedural conduct. She recommended that there should be strict enforcement of the Forest Rights Act and procedures of granting environmental clearances. In all cases, corporate acquisition of tribal land was to be stopped to restore the faith of the tribals in the State. Goldy M George, rights activist in Chhattisgarh also reiterated the corporate land grab and pointed out to the number of secret MOUs that were being signed, without adequate public consultation. Activists in these areas were being targeted by insidious campaigns by the State and corporates. The politics of alienation of the tribals was part of a larger strategy to use the politics of genocide in the game of Power. Harish Dhawan, human rights activist, Peoples Union for Democratic Rights spoke about the terror unleshed by the Salwa Judum and its role in the current operations.

The second part of the session focused on narratives by tribals, from the state of Chhattisgarh. The general narratives were different in details but similar in the pattern – atrocities by the police and Sulwa Judum SPOs; torture, interrogation and illegal detention for being an alleged ‘naxal’ supporter. Lingaram who was tortured and forced to join the Judum spoke about how the Gram Panchayats were mute to the cause of the tribals, and in fact, detrimental to their existence. He questioned the enormous amount of money spent since independence on the ‘welfare plans’ for the tribals and the lack of any progress in this regard. Lamenting on the lack of education and health services, he said that tribals needed development on their terms and not of the kind that was being enforced upon them from all quarters. Himanshu Kumar, Gandhian activist, spoke about the advisory, legal and rehabilitation support provided by the Vanvasi Chetna Ashram to the tribals and the consequent attempts by the state to squash the same by terrorizing villagers. Dr. Binayak Sen, offered a different perspective on structural violence that is embedded in the treatment meted out to the tribals. According to him, statistics on malnutrition revealed a severe hunger crisis and are emblematic of the neglect that these regions had been subjected to for long. He derided the state for using the development rhetoric when masses were dying of hunger and malaria.

The Independent People’s Tribunal will continue from 9th – 11th April, 2010, at the Constitution Club, New Delhi. This is organized by a collective of civil society groups, social movements, activists, academics and concerned citizens in the country.

Independent People’s Tribunal (Day 2)

Social Scientists, Experts and Adivasi representatives depose before the Jury;
Testimonies on Land Grab and Government/Corporate Atrocities in Jharkhand and West Bengal

A poignant session (9.4.2010) on Chhattisgarh and the situation of adivasis was presented at the Independent Peoples Tribunal on Land Acquisition, Resource Grab and Operation Green Hunt on 9.4.2010. This was followed by a second session focusing on two other states (where the Operation Green Hunt has recently commenced) with presentations and depositions on 10.4.2010. Speakers from Jharkhand and Orissa testified on numerous violations of laws, relating to land acquisition, tribal protection, pollution, and other violations of the Indian Constitution by corporations and the state governments.

At the Jharkhand session, several eminent speakers, including academics and leaders of popular resistance movements spoke about the situation of displacement, resistance and the looming threat of Operation Green Hunt recently commenced in Jharkhand as well. Prem Verma, spoke about the strength of the movements that have powerful grassroots support and have been largely successful in their struggles to keep their land.

Dr. Alex Ekka, spoke on the umbilical relationship between tribals and their forests. He said: “Our worldview is cosmocentric. Every being has a place in this worldview, whether it is a rock, a bird, or a person. This is the worldview that will lead to a sustainable and peaceful life on what we adivasis call our Mother Earth.”

James Topo spoke emphatically on the pathetic state of education in tribal areas. The content of textbooks is completely irrelevant to the needs and context of adivasi children with the content-writers unable or unwilling to grasp that difference. The failure of education is exploited by officials; an example was given of a land acquisition officer giving a cheque to a tribal, assuring him that it was only a record of their conversation.

Gladson Dungdung, a tribal rights activist spoke on the atrocities on civilians in the name of Operation Green Hunt in Jharkhand since March 2010. Adivasis in the area are experiencing this operation in the form of harassment, detention, looting and beating. The result, as it is being manifested now, and only likely to grow, is that the village economy has ground to a complete halt, threatening the delicate balance of sustenance on which the adivasis survive. Fear has set it, villagers are unwilling to go into the forest to collect minor forest produce, rural markets are empty and all democratic space for protest has been closed to the adivasis. Migration out of the forest has commenced. Gladson Dungdung stated: “Operation Green Hunt is not for cleansing Maoists but for establishing corporate houses in the mineral corridor, which was labeled the Red corridor only after the State realized that corporations were not signing MoUs for certain areas where protest was likely. The adivasis will never give their land – we tell the steel corporations that we don’t want to eat steel, we want to eat foodgrains.”

Dr. Bani of the Azadi Bachao Andolan spoke of the many hurdles faced in the successful struggle to stop the huge NTPC thermal power plant, which would have ruined thousands of acres of prime agricultural land. Most members of the Andolan have at least 10 false cases booked and pending against them. He spoke of the farce that is the public hearing for approval of projects. Hearings scheduled say, for 6th April at a distance of 20 km from the site of construction (in violation of the law) get secretively held on the 5th April, 11pm, to dissuade people from attending and participating (sited from a real 2009 incident).

Dr Bani also mentioned demonstrated alternatives to power production (touted as a mode of development) for example, where the government wants to buy land with mineral resources worth 40-60 crore/acre for a pittance from farmers, ABA have instead started small power plants, fully owned by the villagers, which utilize the local coal resources to power 50-60 households and all revenues would be split evenly between the villagers. He stressed on importance of development that was locally imagined and with locals benefitting and deciding on operations and economics.

Radha Krishna Munda of the Jharkhand Jungle Bachao Andolan spoke of ground realities in the implementation (or lack thereof) of the Forest Rights Act in Jharkhand. Additionally he talked of the harassment that adivasis and popular movements are facing. “An atmosphere of suspicion and intimidation has been created” he said – instead of implementing the Forest Rights Act, the nexus of police, civil administration and Forest Department is actively conniving with corporations to illegally give away adivasi land.

The West Bengal session saw a re-presentation of protests and peoples movements consistently dubbed Maoist in the past, Lalgarh being an example. Local activists and leaders of peoples’ movements are being branded as Maoists, a common thread that was also seen in the testimonies from Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh. Sujato Bhadro talked about the grave situation in Lalgarh, where a day after the Chief Ministers convoy was blown up, the police attacked villages 40 km away and mistreated the villagers. A village woman’s eyes were brutally gorged in the attack, another miscarried her baby. Currently, joint forces in the “affected areas” run amok, in violation of Constitution of India and international norms to which India is a signatory. People are being abducted, not produced in 24 hours and night raids are being conducted. In an unprecedented move, the entire area of Lalgarh has been governed under Section 144 of the CRPC since 17th June 2009.

Anup Mandal, a marathon runner at the national level, spoke of being beaten by the police despite protesting about his lack of any Maoist connection and had to be recognised and rescued by a journalist after considerable damage. He was confined to bed for 4 months, putting an end to his dreams of competing at the international level. He said: “I want the SP to be held responsible; as it was due to him that my life was ruined.”

Montu Lal and Gajen Singh, activists, also testified on atrocities in Lalgarh. Government has set aside funds for Joint Forces and for the Harmat Vahini but there is no funding for the poor. People have evacuated the villages and the paramilitary forces have taken measures that seem to be designed to take vengeance on people – such as polluting village wells and forcibly recruit people for petty work. “It feels like these are actions of a foreign occupying force”.

The Independent People’s Tribunal will continue from 9th – 11th April, 2010, at the Constitution Club, New Delhi. This is organized by a collective of civil society groups, social movements, activists, academics and concerned citizens in the country.

Independent People’s Tribunal (Final Day)

The Independent People’s Tribunal concluded today with the jury comprising of Justice (Retd.) Sawant, Justice (Retd.) Suresh, Professor Yash Pal, Dr. P. M. Bhargava, Dr. Mohini Giri and Dr. K S Subramanian presenting an interim recommendation report to the public, Government and the media on the issues of on Land Acquisition, Resource Grab and Operation Green Hunt. The interim report was drafted by the jury members after three days of deliberations and hearings of depositions and testimonies from affected people and activists from the states of Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, West Bengal and Orissa.

Presenting the recommendations of the jury before the media, public and Government, Justice (Retd.) Sawant said “There is a perception within the Goivernment and media that by organising meetings like the IPT, we, everyone present in this room are supporting the Maoists and the death of the 76 CRPF jawans. Let me clarify this position for once and for all: We are not supporting the Maoists. We do not support violence in any form, State or otherwise. We here are discussing problems of the tribals and the crisis that is pushing people to a brink of desperation and escalating the cycle of violence.” It is clear that the state had let the tribals and the poor of this land down. Instead of restoring their faith in the Constitution of India, its judiciay and its spirit, the Government asked for abjuring of violence. “Are these morals only to be remembered in such times, and to be forgotten when atrocities are committed by the state itself?” Dr. P M Bhargava noted that the civil society needs to stand resolute in resisting the current development paradigm and that the case of the BT Brinjal was a case in point for small victories of the people. “The patience of the masses is running out if some serious rethinking is not.” Dr. Mohini Giri lamented on the fact that the Government took no notice of People’s Tribunals like these and recommendations that emanated from it. She criticised the Government for their lack of understanding of the issues that were affecting people and implored them to do so immediately.

The interim report of the Jury states “gross violation of the rights of the poor, particularly tribal rights, which have reached unprecedented levels since the new economic policies of the 90’s. The 5th Schedule rights of the tribals, in particular the Panchayat Extension to Scheduled Areas (PESA) Act and the Forest Rights Act have been grossly violated. These violations have now gone to the extent where fully tribal villages have been declared to be non-tribal. The entire executive and judicial administration appears to have been totally apathetic to their plight. It could well be the severest indictment of the State in the history of democracy anywhere, on account of the sheer number of people (tribals) affected and the diabolic nature of the atrocities committed on them by the State, especially the police, leave aside the enormous and irreversible damage to the environment. (Attached is the interim jury report).

The first session of the day took stock of the situation in Orissa with regards to industrial and mining projects, land acquisition and people’s resistance movements against such displacement, disposession. Addressed by activists Praveen Patel, Praful Samantra, Abhay Sahu and photographer Sanjit Das, the narratives pointed out to how corporate greed colluding with government officials was bleeding out the tribals. Praveen Patel presented a paper on the ‘Political Economy of Mining’ and pointed out that under the current policy, foreign companies were getting away with virtual robbery, taking huge profits, paying very little in taxes and in fact exacting a huge price from the poor (especially tribals) who are displaced and who suffer severe health and livelihood impacts from the rampant pollution.

The problematic exploitation of iron and bauxite ore was further highlighted in Praful Samantra’s talk. For example, the sites containing the most bauxite ore are located atop mountains and correspond to the sources of numerous streams. Mining the ores amounts to ruining the water supply for the adivasis living in the area, while leaving the company with zero liability. Protests are suppressed in a manner similar to that seen in other states: “…in the last year 14 people have been shot dead. In the last 6 months, villagers have been banned from leaving their areas, even to go to the hospital. In September 2009, 30 innocent villagers were put in jail and branded as Maoists. We went there and fought for them because they were innocent. The administration assured us that they would be released but they are still in jail now. Their families are starving now.”

Abhay Sahu, a leader of the Anti-POSCO movement, spoke about the situation on ground. Local people have been protesting the proposed port project, to be built by POSCO which would ruin the lucrative beetle vine cultivation as well as destroy the livelihood of lakhs of fishermen. He testified on the intimidation tactics used by the State-company nexus to kill the protests: “On 29 November 2007, state and company goons set fire to a village in my area. They occupied all schools and building in the area. When people started fighting back, the police had to abandon their posts.”

Lingaraj Azad, a tribal rights activist, talked about the delicate balance of nature in Niyamgiri, Orissa where the Dhongria Kondh tribe has dwelled for centuries. The Niyamgiri hill is under threat from Vedanta Resources for its bauxite reserves. “We have abundant herbs and trees. In the hills, there are 8000-9000 people in 200 villages. These people know nature and nature knows them. Soil, earth, water, trees—these are regarded as God and prayed to. They have no material possessions except Nature and all of it. There is no concept of private property, it is all for common use”. The Niyamgiri mining project has been receiving international media attention after the human-rights violations at Vedanta mining sites were made public.

Ajit Bhattacharjea, a journalist, stressed that lands in tribal areas were community property and did not belong to the State. Handing these lands to corporates needed to stop. Banwari Lal Sharma appealed to the politicians: “We need to spread a message of peace and make these politicians understand that we are not their enemies but we are all friends. When they sell away the country they are selling away parts of themselves.”

The session after break saw several eminent personalities addressing the audience, including Arundhati Roy, Shoma Chaudhury, Bianca Jagger, Arun Aggarwal, Kavita Srivastava and Advocate Shanti Bhushan. Arun Aggarwal presented a well researched paper on the Economics of Mining. According to him, revenue from mining activities to the state accounted for a measly 1.4% of total profits while the rest was pocketed by the corporation. The politics of mining was so complicated and corrupt that the nexus could be tracked between the corporations, politicians and police. For him, the fact that the ultra left movement was situated in areas of mineral wealth concentration, mining activities and displacement of people was a point of great importance and not to be ignored. He recommended that all mining activity should be conducted by Government owned enterprises so that the profits could be distributed more equitably. Shanti Bhushan, in a surprise address, asked the civil society to not remain silent but condemn violent acts by Maoists. Accepting the fact that tribals had been exploited for years, he added that civil society’s silence on condemning the recent carnage was being perceived as their support of Maoist violence. “How can you accept an armed resistance and overthrow of the State with violence? What is the agenda of the Maoists? If they mean well, then why don’t they give up arms and participate in elections? Let it be all done in the open.” Shoma Chaudhury, Editor-Features, Tehelka spoke on the role of the media and accepted that the debates and discussions on television channels were resolutely and sadly binary. The discussions on these topics needed to be made more complex, because they required a combination of solutions. “Keeping out perspectives – whether the Government’s, Civil Society’s or the general public will only narrow down the discourse on these complex problems that we find ourselves in. This exclusion in itself is a very dangerous trend and needs to be arrested”. She added “There is no place for violence in a democracy. Agreed. However, did democracy exist in the states of Chhattisgarh, Orissa? Democracy does not only mean election. The judiciary, police, forest officials and magistrates all represent India’s democratic structure and it is these very institutions that have failed the people.” Bianca Jagger, returning from a visit to Orissa, spoke about her experience with the Dongria Kondh tribe. She said that despite being a foreigner she related to the problem of India’s tribals. Her experience of having worked as a human rights activist in Latin and Central America shows that indigenous communities everywhere are being pressurised by the current development paradigm. Saying that there is a lot to be learnt from indigenous communities and their ecologically sustainable lifestyle, she added “I request the Government of India to retrospect into why there is an armed insurrection to begin with?”. Arundhati Roy began by asking a very poignant question “Does the government want war or peace?”. In the current context of anti-maoist operations and rampant industrial activity that was displacing people, she said “it seems to me that war is a synonym for creating an ideal investment climate.” According to her, in the 1970’s and 80’s, democracy was the single largest threat to imperialist, capitalist western nations, who overthrew democracies in Latin America. Now however war is being in Afghanistan and Iraq to install democracy and all its associated institutions. She questioned the nature of democracy, as it existed today, saying that “democracy and democratic institutions have been reduced to being vessels of Free Market Capitalism”.

For more information, please contact: Sherry 9953466107; Purnima 971178868


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