Polavaram: Travails of tribals persist

Polavaram: Travails of tribals persist
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Polavaram: Travails of tribals persist.Tribal people have become the biggest victims of ‘development’ for several reasons – lack of numbers and political voice in a democracy run on a first-past-the-post ballot being foremost.

Details of the rights of tribals living in the submergence area of the Polavaram Project, as enunciated by the Forest Rights Act, are not even documented, and tribals are being hastily displaced. Though the government is providing land for land, such lands for cultivation are being given about 15 to 20 km away from the houses being provided to the tribals

Tribal people have become the biggest victims of ‘development’ for several reasons – lack of numbers and political voice in a democracy run on a first-past-the-post ballot being foremost. They have been scattered and unorganized and thus unable to employ their votes as a weapon of change. The fact that Dalits and other backward classes with no pan Indian leadership have grown from their ranks has added to their woes in a centralised majoritarian democracy.

People protesting against the Polavaram project (File photo)

Tribals constitute just eight per cent of country’s population but almost 50 per cent of them are displaced for different development projects since independence. The only thing worse than the displacement is the government’s track record in rehabilitating those affected. Between 1951 and 1990 only 2.12 million of the displaced 8.54 million tribal people were resettled; the government abandoning the rest to swell the urban poor population of the country.

The fate of displaced tribal population under Polavaram multipurpose irrigation project on river Godavari in Andhra Pradesh is a classic example in this regard. The State and the central government’s haste in completing this project is causing worry. The Hyderabad-based Human Rights Society, which constituted a fact-finding committee headed by retired High Court Judge A Gopala Rao, has demanded that no further works should be take place till rights of the tribals are settled as per law.

It was found that revenue records in villages are fudged so that names of outsiders are replaced with the names of original tribal residents who will end up not receiving any rehabilitation package.Details of the rights of tribals living in the submergence area of the Polavaram Project, as enunciated by the Forest Rights Act, are not even documented, before which the tribals are being

displaced.

Justice Gopala Rao observed that individual and customary traditional rights of the tribals have not been codified by the government yet. It may be recalled that details of the rights of each individual, his family, his community, lands under cultivation, and grazing lands need to be documented.The Supreme Court had directed the government in 2006 to constitute a monitoring committee.But it is yet to be constituted. As such, people cannot express their grievances to any body. For example, in Chegondapalli village a tribal nurse died in a blast and her mother’s legs were broken.But till now no assistance was provided to their family and authorities even refusing to acknowledge such incident.

Though government is providing land for land, such lands for cultivation are being given about 15 to 20 km away from the houses being provided to them, that would pose problems for their livelihood. The government till now has not taken any steps to bring all rehabilitee areas under the perview of Scheduled areas, so as to ensure continuation of their rights. All issues of Plavaram, except those of tribals, are being discussed.

Details of the rights of each individual, his family, his community, lands under cultivation, and grazing lands should be documented along with traditional customary rights and boundaries of the community enjoyment areas. It should be done under the supervision of Grama Sabha, and the recommendations accepted by the government. But nothing of this sort has taken place yet.Justice Gopala Rao deplored that the government has been revising project cost every time to benefit contractors, but keeps silence on rehabilitation packages. He said that funds for rehabilitation also should be increased as per requirements. (The writer is the President of Human Rights Society)

By Ch Narendra

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