June 5, 2012
(Original report filed by Aman Sethi on June 4)
(Jairam Ramesh responds to Aman Sethi’s report)
(Aman Sethi responds to Jairam Ramesh)
The construction of 24 fortified police bases in the midst of Saranda, an 800-sq. km. patch of forested hills veined with a quarter of India’s iron ore reserves, has sparked concerns among political activists who believe that a development plan intended for tribals in Jharkhand has been hijacked by mining corporations.
In October last year, Union Minister for Rural Development Jairam Ramesh and the State government, launched the Saranda Development Plan (SDP) to implement government schemes in 56 villages after a massive military campaign wrested control of the area from the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist) after nearly a decade of rebel rule.
Yet, interviews with senior administrative officials, villagers and activists in Saranda suggest that development efforts could hinge on 80 km. of a proposed 130-km. road connecting villages situated atop iron deposits in Kiriburu, Karampada and Dhobil to an arterial road at Birsa on the Odisha border. Ministry of Steel documents indicate that steel companies have lobbied for the construction of this particular stretch of road before and after the SDP was announced. News reports claim that the State government has received proposals for mining leases in more than 500 sq. km. of the 800-sq. km. forest.
17 camps get clearance
“The camps will be built along this [Karampada-Bisra] road to provide security for development projects and to prevent the Maoists from re-establishing their presence in the area,” said Arun Kumar Singh, Superintendent of Police, West Singhbhum, in an interview. “While the first camp at Saidal is already operational, we have begun work at our next camp at Ankua.”
Mr. Singh said that the police hoped to construct at least six camps in the next two months before the rains began but declined to provide exact locations for these bases.
“Thus far, 17 camps have received clearance from the Forest Department and land for another three camps is under consideration,” said S.R. Natesha, Divisional Forest Officer for Chaibasa. Mr. Natesha, who is also the Special Executive Officer for the SDP, said three major camps would require 5 hectares of land, the rest have been allotted 2.5 hectares of land each.
Mr. Natesha and Mr. Singh did not comment on the logic behind land allotment. Police sources said the five-hectare camps would function as battalion headquarters while the remaining camps would serve as forward operating bases housing at least a company (approximately 70 fighting men) each. While 17 of these camps shall be manned by the Central Reserve Police Force, Indian Reserve Battalions operating under the Jharkhand Police shall man the rest.
Mining not development
“This road is 110 per cent built for the mines, not the people,” said Sushil Bahrla, a Congress party worker and former director of Birsa, a Jharkhand-based NGO focused on land rights and mining. According to the minutes of the Inter-Ministerial meetings chaired by the Ministry of Steel held in December 2010 and again in February this year, a number of steel investors expressed concern that the Ministry of Environment and Forests was delaying clearances for mining projects in Saranda, particularly in Kiriburu, Karampada and Meghahataburu.
According to minutes of the February 2012 meeting, steel representatives requested forest clearance and lease renewals for Chiria, Barsua and Dhobil mines, and noted “the bad condition of State roads/highways, particularly on the border of the States of Jharkhand and Odisha…”
Government figures state that of the Rs. 248 crore allocated to the SDP, Rs. 104 crore shall come from the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana and will be spent on the 130 km of roads. “We have started the work for 7 km in the first stage,” said Santosh Satpathy, Jharkhand’s Rural Development Secretary. “The work will be completed in two stages. Already we have awarded work to contractors. So the road will soon be completed.”
Saranda plan intended to implement government schemes in 56 villages wrested from Maoists
Reports claim Jharkhand got proposals for mining leases in over 500 sq. km. of Saranda forest
I read Aman Sethi’s piece on the Saranda Development Plan (“Nine months on, police camps sole development in Saranda plan”, June 4) with great interest but with greater anguish. Before I deal with his main charge — that private mining interests are behind the SDP — I want to lay out what the SDP is all about. It is the first systematic experiment in combining a security-oriented and development-focussed approach in Maoist-affected areas on a large-scale. In July-August 2011, the CRPF and the State police jointly “liberated” this area of West Singbhum district of Jharkhand from 11 years of Maoist control and domination. One of the very first things I did after becoming Union Rural Development Minister in July 2012 was to initiate discussions with the State government on how best to consolidate on the success achieved by the CPRF and launch development activities in this most backward area. In October 2011, the SDP was prepared by the district
administration covering 56 villages in six gram panchayats of Manoharpur block. The population covered is around 36,000 (7,000 households).
The main elements of the SDP are as follows:
•Building houses for 6,000 households under the Indira Awaas Yojana which have already been sanctioned in December 2011.
•Appointment of 56 Rozgar Mitras from local tribal youth for MGNREGA works for which over 6,000 job cards have already been issued and something like Rs.60 lakh in wages have been disbursed.
•11 roads and one bridge to be constructed under the PMGSY for improving connectivity to all habitations, of which two roads are nearing completion.
•Implementation of the Forest Rights Act, 2006 under which 2,122 claims have been received and 176 titles have already been distributed.
•Distribution of 7,000 solar lanterns, 7,000 transistors and 7,000 bicycles paid for by SAIL which is to be completed by end-July 2012.
•Launch of five mobile health units, again as part of SAIL’s corporate social responsibility programme, of which three are in operation and two more will start by end-July 2012.
•Start of six watershed development projects covering an area of around 36,000 hectares, which were sanctioned in February 2012.
•Improving access to drinking water supply for which 128 hand pumps have already been installed.
I have personally visited Saranda twice in the last few months and in response to a suggestion made by a local human rights activist have set up a broad-based monitoring group to see how the SDP is being implemented. I have been receiving mixed feedback — some local reports are positive but some others have raised questions.
Now, to Mr. Sethi’s main charge — that the main purpose of the SDP is to protect and enhance the interests of private mining companies. As the full picture of the SDP highlighted above will reveal, the daily concerns of deprived tribal communities are the very core of the SDP.
It is true that a number of private mining companies have their eyes on the mineral wealth of Saranda. But I can categorically assert that there was never any thought given to private mining when the SDP was conceived. Indeed, I distinctly recall that when I was Environment and Forests Minister, the issue of mining in the Saranda area had come up repeatedly and I had taken the position that only SAIL should be allowed to mine. On February 9, 2011 I had, in a publicly available speaking order (as indeed were all such decisions of mine in that tenure), clearly laid out the reasons for this special treatment for SAIL and the conditions associated with the forest clearance. Subsequently I am on record as having opposed opening up Saranda to private mining. In Paderu in Andhra Pradesh, I have consistently taken the view that bauxite mining — private and public — should be banned.
Regarding the expanded presence of the security camps in Saranda, I have been guided by the views of the district and State administrations who feel that it is premature to withdraw police personnel completely at this stage. It is true that I have facilitated with my erstwhile ministry clearances for setting up such camps. I make no apologies for it. The presence of the police is essential for enhancing public confidence. One Rozgar Mitra — Srikrishna Mahato — was killed by the Maoists on March 2, 2012. The Maoists and their many “front” organisations obviously do not want the atmosphere of fear and intimidation to be dispelled so that people can lead normal lives. The security camps are necessary so that rural roads that tribal people — not private mining companies — want get constructed and MGNREGA works proceed unimpeded.
(Jairam Ramesh is Union Minister of Rural Development. )
With all due respect to Mr. Jairam Ramesh, I believe the Minister has misconstrued the central thrust of the article. As the lead paragraph makes clear, activists are concerned that “a development plan intended for tribals in Jharkhand has been hijacked by mining interests”.
At no point does the article imply that the Saranda Development Plan itself is a ruse by mining interests, or that Mr. Ramesh has interceded on behalf of said interests. Rather, it quotes activists who feel the SDP is being selectively implemented to suit certain powerful lobbies. As Mr. Ramesh himself has said in the past, a Union Ministry can only provide funds and guidance for projects like the SDP; implementation remains in the hands of the State government and local administration. This is why I chose to travel through Saranda and speak with villagers and local officials rather than rely on indicators like “funds sanctioned” or “projects okayed.”
Mr. Ramesh’s Ministry may be allocating funds on a war footing, but the results are yet to reach beneficiaries. On October 25, 2011, Mr. Ramesh wrote to the Chief Minister of Jharkhand, Arjun Munda, and outlined certain short-term interventions to be completed in six months (such as the distribution of solar lanterns, bicycles and transistor radios, distribution of BPL cards) and medium-term interventions to be completed in two years.
For the purposes of brevity, I offer the following anecdotes from a visit I made seven months after Mr. Ramesh’s letter to Mr. Munda:
— The Special Executive Officer in Charge of the SDP in Chaibasa said he was yet to receive his terms of office and his responsibilities were still being finalised.
— According to a SAIL official, in seven months the local authorities had distributed 200 radio transistors, 200 bicycles and 2,000 solar lamps out of an intended 7,000 of each.
— Not a single integrated development centre had been installed, though a foundation stone had most certainly been laid. Officials said the pre-fabricated structures were on their way.
— No BPL cards had been issued in the villages of Baliba or Thalkobad when I visited, and so neither village was eligible for houses under the Indira Awaas Yojana. While Mr. Ramesh may have sanctioned the construction of 6,000 houses, no official or villager could point me to a scheme beneficiary.
The only project that does seem to be progressing, my article notes, is the construction of 21 police camps. The article quotes the Superintendent of Police of West Singhbhum who says the camps will provide security for development works.
As a counterpoint, I spoke with Congressman Sushil Barla, who claimed that mining corporations have hijacked the SDP.
It must be pointed out that the SDP is primarily a confluence of existing schemes, rather than a special package. If anything, its implementation was supposed to set it apart from business as usual.
- Saranda Action Plan mockery for six villages (kractivist.wordpress.com)