By Sudha Bharadwaj*

There would be little doubt in the mind of even the most cursory observer of contemporary events in Chhattisgarh, that the most burning issue agitating the peasantry and adivasis there today, is displacement on an unprecedented scale – for mining, setting up of industries, dams, sanctuaries, four laning of highways, the posh capital region, and even army and air bases.

Whether it be the sponge-iron belt of Raipur, the cement belt between Raipur and Bilaspur, the coal mines of Koriya, bauxite mines of Sarguja, the power plants of Korba, and above all “Jindal-land” – Raigarh – where the writ of the Jindal company runs – all these areas have been witness to widespread displacement, shockingly inadequate rehabilitation and compensation, and devastation of the environment particularly the clearing of pristine forests, toxic air pollution, drying up of water sources and dumping of ash in the past decade.

But now the pace and extent of the land grab has increased vastly, with not an inch of largely tribal Jashpur left unaffected by prospecting and mining licenses; 34 power plants coming up in the district Janjgir; and 7 cement plants in the newly formed district of Baloda Bazar where units of multinationals Holcim and Lafarge and of the Birla group – Ultratech, Grasim and Century are already situated.

In the entire mineral rich region of Orissa, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh, where even non-Naxal areas (Posco, Kathikund, Kalinganagar, Narayanpatna, Potka) are seeing brutal police repression, mining seems to be the motivating factor for a ground clearing of the adivasis – if necessary by war, as in Dantewada.

However, the present note does not seek to document the above in any detail, but only deals with a very specific aspect of the above process, namely the legal framework in which it is sought to be legitimized, and some of the serious issues that the “legal face” of this land grab raises. The understanding of these legal processes has come, not so much from an academic study of law, but from our experiences as a group of lawyers organized as “Janhit Peoples’ Legal Resource Centre” in Bilaspur, Chhattisgarh, which tries to provide group legal aid to peoples’ movements, village committees, NGOs, Trade unions etc.

Implementation of the PESA Act

The PESA (Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas)) Act mandates that in the Scheduled Areas the Gram Sabha must be consulted prior to commencing any project in the village and particularly in the case of any activity involving acquisition/ alienation of land. The Gram Sabha is specially empowered to act to prevent land alienation and to restore land unlawfully alienated from a tribal villager.

In practice, either  the Gram Sabhas are never informed nor consulted or else people are terrorized into silent acquiescence, or else, easier still, “No Objection Certificates” are forged. Petitions raising the issue of the enforceability of PESA, such as in Lohandiguda Bastar where the Tata Steel was to set up a steel plant, are pending in the High Court but in the meanwhile adivasis are being continually displaced. Here we present two case studies of villages which did try to assert their rights under the PESA Act:

The case of Premnagar:

Premnagar is a village in the Scheduled area of district Sarguja in North Chhattisgarh, where the organization “Gram Sabha Parishad” is active. This village shot into prominence when despite repeated and all sided efforts by the IFFCO to set up a power plant, they failed because of the resistance of the villagers. On 14 occasions the Gram Sabha passed resolutions refusing land for the project, there was vociferous opposition in the environmental public hearing and when the village leaders were arrested, there was a massive gherao of the thana forcing the police to release them.

The administration thereupon struck upon the diabolically clever idea of making the village a “Nagar Panchayat”, thus doing away with the Gram Sabha altogether and effectively short-circuiting the rights of adivasis in a Scheduled area! No matter that it is explicitly stated in Article 243ZC of the Constitution that nothing in the Part IX-A on Municipalities is applicable to the Scheduled Areas. In the past few years hundreds of Nagar Panchayats have been created illegally and unconstitutionally in the Scheduled Areas. Our group “Janhit” is helping the villagers of Premnagar to challenge this unconstitutional act of the Chhattisgarh State.

SECL is demanding damages from adivasis!

The adivasis of Village Choura, district Sarguja under the leadership of the Bharat Jan Andolan had been protesting because, when their lands were compulsorily acquired for mining under the project Mahan-II by the South Eastern Coalfields Limited – a Public Sector Mining Enterprise – not only was the PESA Act violated in that the Gram Sabha was not consulted before such acquisition, but the SECL submitted a forged Gram Sabha resolution to obtain clearances. About 5,000 adivasis of nearby villages decided to march to the Mines Offices to protest on 26th December 2009 (Gram Ganrajya Divas – the day the PESA Act was notified.).

The SECL, which has illegally begun mining and destroyed the livelihoods and environment of the adivasi villagers that are probably not measurable in monetary terms, is suing them for the loss of production on that day! A civil suit has been filed by the South Eastern Coalfields Ltd. against 6 adivasis for recovery of 36 lakhs with 9% interest! The defendants include Jangsay – a young adivasi leader of the Bharat Jan Andolan. Needless to say the villages are gradually organizing to see that the future expansion under Mahan III and Mahan IV cannot be carried out without compliance with PESA. Again “Janhit” is helping them to defend themselves and file counter cases on SECL.

Violation of provisions for non-alienation of tribal land

The Chhattisgarh Land Revenue Code prohibits the transfer of tribal lands to non-tribals vide Section 170(B).Indeed there are many similar provisions, laws, regulations in different states applying to tribal areas or tribal owned lands prohibiting the alienation of tribal land to non-tribals.

The celebrated majority judgment of “Samatha Vs State of Andhra Pradesh” (AIR 1997 SC 3297) has clearly laid down the constitutional logic to the demarcation of the Scheduled areas and the centrality of non-alienation of tribal land in the constitutional scheme, and also prohibited the transfer of government land – forest lands, common lands etc. to any other except a State entity or a Co-operative Society of tribal members. It is interesting that while the Samatha judgment has not been overturned or referred to a larger Bench, several smaller/ co-ordinate Benches have, in the passing i.e without specifically framing the same issue, made deprecating or dissenting comments about this judgment. This ambivalent attitude of the judiciary in “winking” at the transfer of government and forest lands to private parties, particularly mining companies, is a major factor in legitimizing corporate land grab of forest lands and in the Scheduled areas.

The strange case of Janki Sidar:

Two pieces of land in the name of this adivasi woman in the district Raigarh, a Scheduled Area, were fraudulently registered in the name of Monnet Steel (headed by a brother-in-law of Naveen Jindal) in the year 2000 by putting up another woman as Janki Sidar and registering the land in the name of a non-existent adivasi called Amar Singh, of course with the unstinted co-operation of the revenue authorities.

When Janki filed an FIR for fraud, she was fortunate that at the time the City Superintendent of Police was not a “company man”, so a Manager of the Monnet Steel – Shubendu Dey and sundry ‘zameen dalals’ were actually sent to jail for about 3 months before they got bail. The CSP was suitably rewarded by being transferred to Bastar.

The Revision Application filed by the non-existent adivasi in the year 2001 against the case filed by the State under Section 170B of the Land Revenue Code for restoration of the alienated tribal land – with no signature on the application, no vakalatnama, and no appearance in court for 10 years but of course being represented by the most top notch lawyers in Raigarh – remained pending in the court for 10 years despite repeated pleas on Janki’s part for it to be dismissed, until it was taken up by the “Janhit team”. However then, because the record had in the meantime been summoned by the Revenue Board, the original file became untraceable.

A writ petition filed by Janki Sidar in the High Court in the year 2011 was summarily dismissed by Justice TP Sharma at the motion stage. Finally the Writ Appeal before a Division Bench resulted in an enquiry against some clerical staff and permission to Janki to file afresh the Application under Section 170B. The pleas for compensation and enquiry against the erring Revenue Officers for the delay of 10 years were rejected. The application has been filed and we still await restoration of her land.

Janki Sidar alleges that many state officers, from Patwaris to Collectors, made a pretty buck in the course of her case, not to mention at least 7 lawyers whom she engaged from time to time only to be cheated. She talks of her village on the Orissa border where many liquor shops have been set up and it is common knowledge that in a certain Pushpa Lodge at 12 at night, land registries are carried out. The Patwari of her village, while updating her Land Record in the “Rinn Pustika” actually made one of her land plots vanish!

There are many Jankis. There is Haripriya Patel on whose land at Tapranga Jindal built a colony and then the Jindal security guards lathicharged the protesting villagers while the policemen remained mute spectators. There is Shivlal Sav, a “Nagar Sainik” on whose land Jindal dumped about a hundred dumpers of dust and built a cooling tower. He has an order of ‘removal of encroachment’ from the Collector, but so what? When he approached the High Court he was shocked to find that his land had been acquired 5 years after his complaint for the public purpose of ‘tree plantation’ and the acquisition has been upheld in public purpose.

Recently the son of the adivasi Home Minister – Shri Nankiram Kanwar – was caught red-handed using his adivasi status for transferring land of adivasis in favour of the Videocon company for setting up a power plant. Recently Videocon had flown in actor Salman Khan for the Chhattisgarh State’s “Birthday Celebrations” on 1st November in Raipur, and the entire Cabinet stood enraptured while he delivered his five minute dialogues from Dabang, exhorted the people of Chhattisgarh to co-operate with Videocon and flew back. All this would have been quite amusing had the consequences not been so devastating for the livelihoods of so many.

Mining without consent

“Coal” falls in Part A of The First Schedule of Specified Minerals as annexed to “The Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Act, 1957” and Section 4 holds that no person shall undertake any prospecting or mining operation in any area except under a prospecting license or mining lease granted in accordance with provisions of the Act and the rules thereunder. The Central Government has accordingly framed “The Mineral Concession Rules, 1960” under this Act which provide for grant of mining lease.

Since the Chhattisgarh Land Revenue Code lays down that all minerals below the surface belong to the State, so proceedings are conducted under Section 247(4) of the Code for the purpose of computation of compensation for “surface rights” and for ensuring the payment of such compensation prior to mining activity. However, they do not govern either the grant of mining lease or the legality of mining operations which are governed by the over-riding provisions of “The Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Act, 1957” being a Central Act occupying the field. Thus a proceeding under Section 247(4) does not do away with the mandatory grant of consent by private land owners for the grant of mining lease or commencement of mining operations as laid out in the aforesaid Central Act and the Rules thereunder.

Thus the legal position is absolutely clear. Land is not acquired for prospecting/ mining in public purpose. Theoretically the company enters into a lease agreement and is bound to return the land after the lease period in as nearly the original condition as possible. The application for either license specifically asks “Does the applicant have surface rights?” and “If not, has the consent of the owner and occupier been obtained?”

In practice, the State utilizes the loophole that consent can be granted even after the lease deed is executed, though actually by the Rules, an incomplete application has to be corrected within 30 days after a notice to that effect has been served, otherwise it is to be rejected. We have obtained a large number of applications made by Jindal Steel and Power, DB Power Group etc. for mining leases. All these applications state against the column “Does the applicant have surface rights?” – No, and against the following query “If not, has the consent of the owner and occupier been obtained?” – “Shall be obtained as and when required”!! A lease deed is issued on the basis of this incomplete application and on the basis of the lease deed, a newspaper notice is published asking the private landowners to come and collect their compensation under Section 247 of the Land Revenue Code to be calculated as per the Land Acquisition Act. The people, feeling that they have been served with a fait accompli and if they refuse the compensation it would be deposited in the treasury, accept the compensation, which is then interpreted as consent to mining.  This is the mechanism by which the state machinery is used to coerce people to give up land.

So far, the experience of peasants in Chhattisgarh is that no land, even that mined by the public sector coal companies like SECL, has been returned to the peasants at all, let alone in its original condition. The record for compensatory afforestation and for dealing with environmental damage is dismal. In Sarguja, where the private Hindalco company took lands of the peasants on lease for mining bauxite through an agreement entered into by the Collector, the conditions of the peasants being paid yearly rent exceeding what they would have normally  gained from agriculture has been blatantly violated. And if at all the displaced adivasi peasants have got employment in the mines, it is as temporary and contractual miners.

From a colonial Land Acquisition Act to … even worse?

The British Land Acquisition Act distinguishes between acquisition for public purpose and acquisition for companies. In the latter there are elaborate rules to be mandatorily followed including an inquiry into various aspects – whether there exist alternatives to acquiring agricultural land, whether the company has made adequate efforts to purchase the land etc. – and also the company has to enter into an agreement with the State Government inter alia ensuring compliance with the rehabilitation policy of the State. In practice it is being presumed that acquisition for a company is an acquisition for public purpose, a notion that though struck down by the recent judgement of the Allahabad High Court in the Reliance Dadri case, still continues nevertheless.

The only notional protection for people in the present, indeed draconian, Land Acquisition Act is the right to register objections under Section 5A, though of course such objections need not be given any “reasoned” consideration, but courts of law have insisted that since precious property rights are sought to be taken away by this expropriatory legislation, Section 5A must be strictly complied with.

But again, in practice, often Section 17, or the “urgency clause”, is invoked, and under sub clause (4) of this, the rights under Section 5A are done away with. The indiscriminate invoking of this urgency clause, whenever the State perceives a resistance to acquisition from people, has become common in Chhattisgarh and requires to be challenged. Interestingly a notification dated 31.01.2000 of the Madhya Pradesh Government, equally applicable to Chhattisgarh, clarifies that the mandatory consultation under PESA with the Gram Sabha would be applicable even in emergency acquisition proceedings under Section 17 of the Land Acquisition Act. Again this is violated with impunity. Some of the grounds taken in one of the many cases taken up by the Janhit team in regard to land acquisition of a private coal-based thermal power plant in the critically polluted district of Korba are given below:

Some of the Grounds taken in a PIL filed against the Vandana Power Plant by the villagers of Chhurikala, district Korba:

  • For the reason that an acquisition which was initiated vide the Memo of the Collector dated 28.11.2007 as an acquisition “for industrial purpose” could not have been converted into an acquisition “for public purpose” vide the Memo of the Collector dated 28.04.2008  in a colorable exercise of authority, only to bypass the unanimous opposition of the Gram Sabhas.
  • For the reason that the Nagar Panchayat Chhurikala lies in a Scheduled area, therefore compliance with the provisions of the PESA Act were mandatory.
  • For the reason that when the acquisition was for a company, the provisions of Part VII of the Land Acquisition Act ought to have been strictly complied with, including the compliance of Rule 4 of the Land Acquisition (for Companies) Rules, the agreement under Section 41 etc.
  • For the reason that invoking of Section 17 of the Land Acquisition Act by the Collector, Korba, and also the invoking of Section 17(4) to dispense with the hearing of objections under Section 5A was unreasonable, without any material basis and in a colorable exercise of authority, only to benefit the Respondent Company.
  • For the reason that the Land Acquisition Act being an expropriatory legislation, its provisions must be strictly complied with, in letter and spirit.
  • For the reason that the Respondent Company could never have been appointed as “Officer” for the purpose of enquiry under Section 4(2) of the Land Acquisition Act.
  • For the reason that the Respondent Collector Korba as well as the SDO/ Land Acquisition Officer ought to have made an application of mind and granted effective hearing to the objections made by the affected villagers under Section 9 of the Act and not simply sent them to the company and accepted the replies made by the company.
  • For the reason that the permission for establishment obtained by the Respondent Company on the basis of fraudulent and fabricated documents, claiming that Certificates of No-Objection have been issued by various Gram Panchayats and also the Gram Sabhas, cannot be sustained.
  • For the reason that the Tehsildar could not have issued Notices coercing the affected villagers into accepting compensation.

Tragically, although the new proposed Land Acquisition Bill was brought on the anvil ostensibly because of the fierce country wide resistance of the peasantry against land acquisition, far from addressing any of the above serious legal issues, it appears that the new Bill could actually facilitate corporate land grab.

We quote an excerpt of a joint critique of several peoples’ movements and political groups:

  • The 2011 Bill does nothing at all to plan or regulate land use. Instead, it gives an arbitrary license to acquire up to 5% of multi crop irrigated land without assessing projects in terms of their impact on food security. The earlier draft required that projects be the “least displacing” option; this has also been removed. The Constitutional powers of municipalities and panchayats over planning are simply ignored.
  • A hand-picked “state level committee” consisting almost entirely of bureaucrats makes all decisions.  A “social impact assessment” is to be done, but who will do it, and how, is unclear.  In fact the SIA is a mirror image of the discredited environment impact assessment process, which Shri Jairam Ramesh himself described as a farce. The SIA can neither consider the rehabilitation plan, nor whether the project is the “least displacing” alternative, nor the question of public purpose – yet the State level committee is supposed to decide all this based on its report.  Various public hearings and gram sabha consultations are suggested, but these are a mere formality; the views raised in them are not given any importance subsequently.
  • In the 2011 Bill, the definition of public purpose has been widened even further so that even real estate is exempt from 80% consent by the phrase “any site in the urban area”. Projects that are in “public interest” (which is not defined) or that “produce goods or services for the public” become public purpose. Is there any economic activity which does not satisfy these requirements? Thus land acquisition for practically any project, private or public, will be possible, only subject sometimes to the dubious “80% consent” requirement. Instead of making the process more rational, the Bill is opening acquisition to a free for all, giving private companies access to the state machinery for purposes identified by them. The Bill contradicts itself by first declaring that no change of purpose will be permitted (Cl. 93); and then reverting unutilised land to the government “land bank” (Cl. 95). What is this if not a change of purpose? This is an incentive to acquire large tracts of land on plausible grounds and hold them for later use.
  • The Bill says that “consent of 80% of the affected families” will be required for some types of acquisition. But it provides no procedure for taking this consent, for determining if it is given frely, for deciding what happens if consent cannot be obtained, and for deciding whose consent is to be taken.  The Bill provides no sound way for deciding who is affected and who is not; indeed no listing is even made until much later.  This is an open invitation for forgery and manipulation.  And when will consent be sought? Besides, those being asked for their consent cannot be told about rehabilitation as the package is not even drafted till much later. Besides, to get around this, all that private companies need to do is acquire a little land and approach the government for “partial acquisition” (which could even be for 99% of the total area) (clause 8 proviso read with clause 2(2)).
  • Those affected cannot approach local courts – they have to go only to a government appointed State or Central authority, thus undermining the separation of executive and judicial functions. This body can only award increased compensation, and can only be approached through the Collector (Cl. 58). Further, even if the law is violated, the acquisition will go ahead, as Clause 57 bars any court from issuing any stay order. . So if R&R is not provided, people will be displaced anyway, and can spend the rest of their lives chasing their rights in the Authority or courts (if they have the resources to do so). There is a negative provision limiting the scope of intervention by the High Court and Supreme Court…
  • The last straw comes at the very end – Clause 98 and the accompanying Fourth Schedule. After grandly stating that this law will create a new, just process of acquisition, these clauses exempt a whole range of activities – SEZs, coal mines, highways, uranium mines, railways etc. – from this law entirely. This is at a time when SEZs and mines have been sites of bloody, violent conflict across the country.

When we look back on the agitations at Jagatsinghpur, Odisha; Nandigram, West Bengal; Raigarh, Maharashtra; Dadri and Greater Noida, Uttar Pradesh; Dumka, Jharkhand; or Lohandiguda, Bastar etc. and the many Court verdicts that came in some of those cases which were rare examples of the Courts taking a pro-active stance in interpreting the colonial Act in favour of the peasantry and striking down “colourable exercise” of “powers of eminent domain”, it appears that the present Bill is not only not in consonance with the resounding demands of the peasantry, but is also being passed to restrict the intervention of the judiciary which, for a change, had struck a disharmonious chord in the globalization chorus!

Losing communal natural resources

Another serious livelihood issue intrinsically linked with acquisition for companies, mines etc. is the impact on the environment – on the air, water, soil, forest cover etc. There are a number of provisions in the Forest Act designed to preserve forest cover – particularly to ensure the non diversion of forest land to any other purpose. The “Green Bench” of the Supreme Court (the celebrated TN Godavarman case) in fact monitors this all over the country. Unfortunately recent decisions by this Bench – the “Niyamgiri” case is one in point where the Bench overruled its own Centrally Empowered Committee’s report – have often been in favour of companies and then, since they carry the weight of the apex judicial forum, have become unchallengable.

The Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Notification issued by the Ministry of Environment and Forests has a detailed procedure for a project of the “A” category (having significant environmental impact) to get environmental clearance – an Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) lays down terms of reference; the company accordingly gets a Summary EIA Report prepared; then the same is supposed to be widely disseminated; a public hearing takes place in which the project affected and environmental NGOs can voice their concerns; the local State Pollution Control Board forwards the modified EIA Report; and then finally the EAC grants the environmental clearance.

In practice, there is a fatal defect in the law. There is no locus of a citizen to enforce the pollution laws until the clearance has actually been granted, after which the National Green Tribunal, located at New Delhi, could be moved. Data shows that in only an insignificant proportion of cases filed, is a clearance actually set aside. Enforcement is solely left to pollution control authorities of the State and Union governments.

In today’s situation where the corporates have a stranglehold over all state institutions, this has meant in practice that every public hearing ends in clearance, no matter that the affected persons might have protested vociferously, or might have been dispersed by lathi charge, or that the project proponents and authorities might have been forced to run to save their lives! Where the law gives such limited scope for intervention it is a virtually impossible task to challenge the bogus “public hearings” and “clearances”. With the help of determined and untiring environmental activists who use the Right to Information Act effectively to expose the lacunae of procedure, Janhit is attempting this.

Implementation of the Forest Rights Act

The Preamble to the Forest Rights Act speaks of correcting historic injustices and seeks to provide rights – both individual and communal to tribal people and other traditional forest dwellers to live in, cultivate in, gather forest produce in and maintain nistari rights in forests – which since the British era have in the legal framework become “State property” and in which framework the adivasis, who have lived in and co-existed with the forests for centuries, have become “encroachers”. The critics of the Act rightly point out that the Act tries to limit and to privatize/ individualize ownership of forest lands, yet no doubt precious rights have been sought to be recognized by this Act. Chhattisgarh claims to be the “No. 1” State in FRA implementation, however the ground reality reveals something else together, namely:

  1. Around 50% of all claims filed were rejected and the total land for which pattas have been granted are less than estimates made of forest encroachments in the erstwhile State of Madhya Pradesh 20 years ago!
  2. No community rights applications were accepted or processed and in fact were not even provided.
  3. The centrality of the Gram Sabha in initiating the process of granting of forest rights; and the fact that, in the Act, the Gram Sabha is the investigating and certifying authority with regard to whether a forest dweller has been settled on certain land and the period and extent of such settlement has been disregarded in the process. As a result it is the Forest Department that has been the verifying or certifying authority.
  4. The provisions in the Forest Rights Act that explicitly lay down that the determination of the rights must be carried out prior to any displacement even when a Forest is declared a Reserve Forest/ Eco-sensitive Area, is of course being violated with impunity. The case of the adivasis displaced from various Reserve Forests such as Achanakmar (district Bilaspur), Udanti (district Dhamtari) or Badalkhol (district Jashpur) are obvious.

However, the issue of greatest concern is that, during the period when the process of determination of the Forest Rights of a forest dwelling community is underway, such communities – particularly adivasis and dalits are being forcibly displaced – despite again explicit provisions prohibiting this. This can be seen clearly in the cases below:

Case of the Singhdev Yojana and adivasis of Ambikapur – neither here nor there

The State is on a demolition spree in Village Gangapur, right next to the Ambikapur town, in the Scheduled area of district Sarguja. Despite repeated resolutions of the Gram Sabha, the Tehsildar arrived with a posse of police personnel and demolished the houses of a dozen Oraon families, handing them a 7 day show cause notice after the demolition had been carried out! The demolition is ostensibly been carried out for the Tribal Welfare Department!

In 1968-69, a scheme called the “Singhdev Yojana” had been initiated in Sarguja (the erstwhile Rajas of Sarguja were of the Singhdev family, and even today they are the MLAs of the area). In a sense this was a prophetic predecessor of the Forest Rights Act since it entailed denotifying forest lands which had been occupied and cultivated by adivasis for generations, converting them to Revenue land and fixing a Land Revenue on them in preparation for grant of pattas. But, as often happens with government schemes, the pattas never came. So for the past 40-45 years the adivasis, whose successors/ heirs had their houses demolished recently as “encroachers”, had been paying Land Revenue!

The greatest irony is that today Vijay Kujur, Lalsu Kujur, Butul Xalxo and others who have suffered cannot even apply under the Forest Rights Act, since the land is no longer forest land. So they are neither here nor there…the historic injustice, referred to in the Preamble of the Forest Rights Act, continues in a different form. The villagers of Gangapur apprehend that the “tod phod” has some vested interest behind it, and it must be a way to hand over such land, now made prime by proximity to Ambikapur town, eventually to private persons.

Case of dalit families of Village Chichour-Umariya, district Raigarh

The standing crops in 60 acres of land of dalits Ganda- Ghasiya communities were grazed by cattle let loose by the dominant caste of the village in leadership of the husband of the woman Sarpanch of the village. Around 5 homes were ransacked and harvested-chopped crops kept in the courtyard of the dalit families were burnt. Though 5 families have received notices for demolition of their houses on account of encroachment, but the fact is that these dalit families had been occupying land classified as “Chote Jhad Ka Jungle” for the past 40 to 50 years and were awaiting decision on their application for regular pattas under the Forest Rights Act.

Their livelihoods are based only on cultivation of these small piece of lands and as household helps. The husband of the sarpanch and other powerful persons abused the authority of the gram panchayat in order to enforce resolutions calling for a complete social boycott of the dalits from the village for some time, i.e. – no one was allowed to communicate with the dalits on pain of a fine of rupees 1000; doctors were not allowed to give any medical services to them; the provision stores and ration shops were prohibited to sell them any commodities. The written complaints given by the dalits revealing cognizable offences were not registered as FIR by the police including the Thana Pusaur and SP of the district.

The Gram Panchayat in this case has misused an Order passed by the Collector, based on erroneous interpretation and application of the order of the Supreme Court in Civil Appeal No. 1132/2011 in SLP(C) 3109/2011, directing removal of encroachments. Whereas the above Supreme Court order had directed the removal of encroachments of common village land grabbed by unscrupulous persons using money power, muscle power or political clout for personal aggrandizement at the cost of village community, and in fact the judgment had specifically mentioned that there were exception to this rule which permitted the Gram Sabha/Gram Panchayat to lease out some of these lands to landless laborers and members of the scheduled caste/tribes, the Collector’s Order makes the exception the rule and vice versa!

*Janhit Peoples’ Legal Resource Centre, Bilaspur, Chhattisgarh

These are excerpts from the paper “The Legal Face of Corporate Land Grab in Chhattisgarh”. Click HERE for full paper