APMDC has no right to issue tender for calcite mining in scheduled area: EAS Sarma

The Hindu | April 09, 2021

‘It should be first discussed in the local adivasi Gram Sabha’
Former secretary to GOI and former Commissioner for Tribal Welfare, A.P. Government, E.A.S. Sarma, has taken strong exception to the way in which the AP Mineral Development Corporation (APMDC) has issued an E-Tender for ‘Working of Calcite Mining Lease’ of 8.725 hectares at Nimmalapadu village in Ananthagiri mandal in Visakhapatnam district, on ‘Raising-cum-sale contract basis’.

In a letter to the Chief Secretary, he stated that the APMDC has no right to unilaterally issue such a notification and it was in gross violation of the provisions embedded in the Panchayat (Extension to the Scheduled Areas) Act (PESA) and the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act (FRA).

Speaking to The Hindu, he said that both the Acts are applicable to the Nimmalapadu village, as it lies within the notified Scheduled Area of Visakhapatnam district.

According to him, in the Scheduled Areas, as per the provisions of PESA, the question whether any mineral should be extracted and, if so, by whom, should be discussed first by the local adivasi Gram Sabha.

Such a prior discussion had not apparently taken place, he alleged. Even under the FRA, it is necessary that the individual and community rights to the land and the forest resources should be subject to prior discussion by the local adivasi Gram Sabha, which appears to have been bypassed, he added.

As such, the e-tender notice is patently illegal and liable to be set aside, he said.

The Samata Judgement and the judgement in the case of bauxite mining by Vedanta in the scheduled area of Odisha, holds good in this case also, said Mr. Sarma.

It is learnt that a local tribal cooperative has approached the AP High Court to obtain a stay on the e-tender.

A few years ago, the same tribal cooperative had approached the government for lease for mining and was denied.

Why the Sarna Code Will Have a Long-Term Impact on Jharkhand’s Tribes

The Wire | Nov 27, 2020

The move will allow tribal communities to identify as Sarna, instead of the earlier options of Hindu, Christian and Others.

The passing of a resolution by the Jharkhand state assembly allowing members of tribal communities in the state to identify themselves as ‘Sarna’, a distinct religious category, is likely to have a long-term socio-political impact. According to the experts, it is a move towards realising the purpose for which the state was created in November 2000.

“I think we need to understand the rationale behind the state’s move. I feel that as the state (Jharkhand) was created to protect the interests of tribal communities, this move is to recognise the uniqueness of tribal communities’ religious practices,” Jagannath Ambagudia, dean of School of Social Sciences and Humanities, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Guwahati campus, and co-editor of the forthcoming book Handbook of Tribal Politics in India told The Wire.

On November 11, during a one-day special session convened by the state assembly, a resolution was passed for the provision of a separate ‘Sarna Code’ for members of tribal communities. The resolution was tabled by chief minister Hemant Soren leading to its unanimous passage by a voice vote in the assembly. If approved by the Central government, the upcoming census in 2021 will have a separate column for the community, allowing members of these communities to identify themselves as belonging to a distinct religious community. Currently, they are not classified as a separate religious category.

Chief minister Soren said he does not want any politics on the code and expected support from the opposition parties on the issue. “Sarna Code is important for tribals and the government is committed towards it,” said Soren, adding that it will give a good message to the country.

However, opposition leaders alleged that the Soren government is indulging in politics on the issue. “I wanted to raise some technical issues related to the proposal, but I was not given time to speak in the house,” said BJP legislature party leader Babulal Marandi.

Welcoming the move, tribal rights activist and researcher Neetisha Xalxo termed it as a good sign for members of tribal communities. “It was a historic day for tribal communities and will always be remembered in the future,” Xalxo told The Wire, adding that the members of these communities have been demanding the code for several decades now.

According to her, between 1872 and 1941 there was a column called “Adivasi religion”, and Adivasis were identified as the third-largest population of the country, but during the 1951 Census it was changed and since then, members of these communities have to be enumerated as Hindu/Christian or Others.

In the past few months, there have been state-wide protests demanding the code. According to a Telegraph report, in August this year, 32 tribal groups of Jharkhand had decided to boycott the upcoming Census if their longstanding demand for the inclusion of “Sarna” as a specific option in the column for religion is not accepted.

Moreover, early last year representatives of tribal communities from 19 states staged a protest at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi demanding the right to choose tribal or aboriginal religion as an option in the census or any other forms.

Concerns about nomenclature

While the resolution is being widely welcomed and a procession was organised by tribal groups at Ranchi’s Albert Ekka Chowk to celebrate it on the day it was passed in the assembly, a section of activists have raise some concerns about the nomenclature.

According to Ranchi-based activist Sanjay Basu Mallik of Jangal Bachao Andolan, there are two specific problems with the passage of the Sarna Code.

“One, the term Sarna is not common to all the adherers of a naturalistic religion based on the worship of forests, rivers and mountains. These debates have been settled earlier…equating the idea of a naturalistic religion with only the Schedule Tribe population is problematic. It should be open to all,” Mallik has been quoted as saying by DownToEarth.

Ambagudia also believes that it requires deeper thinking. “Since not all tribes consider themselves as Sarna, to what extent this will have implications over politics is a debatable one,” he told The Wire.

According to Xalxo, in different parts of the country, members of tribal communities identify themselves with different names, hence it will be difficult if only “Sarna” is used.

Impact on state politics

However, others believe that these are merely technical issues and would not have much practical impact. Ranchi-based tribal scholar and activist Mahadev Toppo says most of the people who have been actively demanding the nomenclature will have no problem with it. He said it is unlikely that the nomenclature will become a big issue.

According to him, with this recognition, the tribes have regained their lost identity and dignity. “Over the decades, we have been ridiculed for being Hindus or Christians. The new identity will give us a new dignified life, especially to those who consider themselves as nothing but members of tribal communities,” he added.

Ranchi-based senior journalist and co-editor of Jharkhand Encyclopedia Sudhir Pal agrees with Toppo. “Sarna or Aadi Dharm is hardly an issue on the grassroots level at least in Jharkhand. In fact, on the local level, members of tribal communities in the state are more likely to identify themselves as Sarnas,” Pal told The Wire.

He believes that if cleared by the Central government and enumerated as a separate religious group, the move will also have an impact on ‘resource politics’ because a tribal religious identity is very much linked to natural resources such as Jal, Jangal, Zameen (water, forest and land). “What is noteworthy is that even churches (Christian organisations) have welcomed it,” he added.

It can be noted that Hindutva groups have often tried to pitch Sarnas against Christians and have been campaigning that tribal communities are part of Sanatan Dharm. “With this resolution, the state government has put Hindutva forces in a difficult situation,” Pal further noted.

Meanwhile, BJP leaders have been raising technical questions such as how can a religion be named after a place of worship. Popularly, the tribal place of worship is called Sarna. However, Toppo dismissed this objection terming it as part of “diversionary tactics”.

“In reality, in local language, the place of worship is not called Sarna but Chala Tonka. Sarna is a name given by non-tribals,” he added.

The BJP seems to be caught in a Catch-22 situation. In the run up to the Lok Sabha polls last year, the party leadership had promised that if voted to power it would implement the long-pending demand of the tribal communities for a separate Sarna code.

“If we get a clear mandate, both in the Centre and the state, we will implement the long-pending demand of the tribals for a separate Sarna code in 2021, when a fresh Census takes place,” senior BJP leader and then chief minister of Jharkhand Raghubar Das reportedly said while addressing an election rally in the state.

Experts are of the view that no matter what decision the BJP-led Central government makes, Hemant Soren and his Jharkhand Mukti Morcha will gain ground because of the move.

Chhattisgarh govt begins process of framing rules for PESA Act

Business Standard | Nov 19, 2020

Chhattisgarh Panchayat and Rural Development Minister held the first meeting with tribal leaders and other representatives of panchayats in Kanker district to discuss the framing of rules for PESA Act

Chhattisgarh Panchayat and Rural Development Minister TS Singhdeo on Wednesday held the first meeting with tribal leaders and other representatives of panchayats in Kanker district to discuss the framing of rules for the Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996 or PESA Act.

Singhdeo along with Sarva Adivasi Samaj leaders organised the meeting in village Kherkheda of Kanker where tribal representatives from 16 blocks of 5 districts were also present.

Addressing a press conference later, the Minister said that the residents of tribal areas were waiting for a long time for the implementation of the law after its enactment.

He said that the purpose of this law is not to violate the rights of the Central or State governments but to provide the rights to the rural areas that were pending for decades.

Singhdeo said that Congress in its 2018 election manifesto included PESA Act and the government is now moving forward to implement this after some delay to lockdown.

The Minister said that when the law is for the gram sabha then the views of the villagers are very important.

“Villagers have the right on issues like water, forest, and land, hence they should ensure the right of management on these subjects,” he said.

No light at the end of tunnel for tourist guides of Borra Caves

The Hindu | B. MADHU GOPALVISAKHAPATNAM | Nov 19, 2020

Borra Caves, located at an elevation of 2,300 feet, draw tourists from different places across the country. They are also a good revenue earner for the AP Tourism Development Corporation (APTDC). Lakhs of tourists visit the caves and the rush peaks during the festival and winter season from October to January every year.

The caves drew about 5 lakh visitors on Sundays during November 2019. The rush fell to 2 lakh during weekends in November, this year in view of the pandemic threat, but it is fast picking up. However, the services of tourist guides, who were recruited by the APTDC on contract basis about 25 years have not been regularised till date.

“We were given training in Hyderabad and 20 of us have been posted at Borra Caves over two decades ago by the APTDC as contract staff. We have to work from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and are paid ₹16,000 a month without any additional benefits. Five of our colleagues had died due to various reasons over the years but no compensation was paid to their families by the corporation,” says Somesh Borra, a tourist guide.

“Many of us have completed our degree and PG but have not got promotion. We belong to the ST community but even the rule of reservation is not being implemented,” he says.

“When Ms. Chandana Khan was the Special Chief Secretary of AP Tourism and Culture, she had issued an order directing that tourist guides appointed on contract basis should be paid on par with regular employees. The order was said to have been withdrawn by those who had succeeded her,” says Somesh, who has done his PG from Andhra University.

“Before the APTDC took over the caves, they were under the control of the local tribal communities and guides. After APTDC came, Samata had a discussion with the then Sub Collector, Paderu, in 1992-93, and got proceedings that the 20 tribal guides would be paid 20% from the ticket income. This was continued till 1999 but later stopped,” says Ravi Rebbapragada of Samata, who was instrumental in getting the historic Samata judgement from the Supreme Court that the basic process of recruitment and payment is unconstitutional.

“Since then we have been asking the government to give 20% of the revenue to the Borra Panchayat. Though the panchayat got a grant once or twice but the issue has not been settled,” adds Mr. Ravi.

Tribal Rights Compromised for National Highway in Andhra, Say Locals and Activists

News Click | Ayaskant Das | Nov 07, 2020
Locals and activists allege no public hearing is being conducted for NH 516-E while officials say full transparency is being maintained since the project is partially funded by the World Bank.

New Delhi: A 390-km long national highway project is being developed by the Andhra Pradesh government in the Eastern Ghats, in a predominantly tribal area, allegedly without proper public consultations. The proposed two-lane highway, National Highway (NH) 516-E, partially funded by the World Bank, will link Rajahmundry with Vizianagaram in Andhra Pradesh and affect several tribal-dominated villages alongside its alignment.

The allegations, made by locals and activists, have however been denied by the Union Ministry of Road Transport & Highways (MORTH) who have claimed total transparency in their operations. Though the project is 390 kilometres in length, ministry officials said it needs no Environmental Clearance as per law because none of the individual packages are over 100 kilometres in length, nor more than 60 metres in width.

In October, a group of activists wrote to the collectors of three districts of eastern Andhra Pradesh alleging non-compliance of laws in the execution of the project.

The proposed highway would run through three districts—Vizag, Vizianagaram and East Godavari. Two of these districts, Vizag and East Godavari, have regions under their jurisdiction that have been declared as Scheduled Areas by the Union government owing to preponderance of tribal population and their economic backwardness.

An analysis of Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) reports for two sections of the proposed highway, that is, the Bowadra-Vizianagaram section and the Paderu-Araku section, shows that not only were many villages kept out of public consultations but the number of attendees in the hearings were abysmally low. Reports for these two sections prepared by the Andhra Pradesh Roads & Building Department are dated November and December 2019, respectively. These two sections will be funded by the World Bank.

As per the EIA report of the Paderu-Araku section, which is 49.37 kilometres long, public consultations were conducted in October 2018 only for Gram Sabhas of four of the nine affected villages. Each hearing was attended by 30-50 people. The cumulative population of all nine villages, as per Census 2011, is 16,307. However, the number of people from amongst this population who belong to the Scheduled Tribes category is 12,365, which is a whopping 75.82%.

This Paderu-Araku section of the existing road is in an unusable condition and roughly four per cent of it is double-laned. According to locals, the region through which the road would traverse is moderately rich in wildlife as well. Boars and bears are found in the forested areas of the region apart from isolated instances of sightings of cheetahs and tigers.

The proposed highway in this section will affect local vegetation, forest cover, agricultural crops and human habitations too at certain locations. Most of the land along the project road is adjacent to agricultural area, built up area and forest area, whereas there is nominal barren land.

The EIA reports further state that widening of the existing unusable road to a double-laned highway will require land acquisition that may lead to loss of property and livelihoods apart from loss of standing productive crops and vegetations.

Similarly, as many as 18 villages are located along the proposed highway’s Bowadra-Vizianagaram section, which is 26.94 kilometers long. Yet, public hearings through Gram Sabhas were held in March 2018 in only five of those villages in this section, according to the EIA report. Each hearing was attended by 15-30 persons only. The EIA report does not even mention the names of the people who attended these public hearings as is required under the law.

The entire highway project is being developed in nine packages, out of which 209 kilometres will be built with assistance from the World Bank. Officials said construction will soon commence on three packages for which work orders have been awarded.

“There are a number of coffee plantations alongside the proposed highway where farm owners are reluctant to part with their productive land. Even if land is acquired, a good rate of compensation is expected as per the new land acquisition act. Several bridges and culverts are part of the proposed highway project,” said Venkat Rao, a resident of Araku, expressing his concerns over the project’s impact.

“Also, where are the environmental safeguards for quarrying stones and boulders that will be used to build these bridges and culverts?” Rao asked.

Quarrying of minor minerals will also be required for black-topping of the entire stretch of the highway.

Activists say that public consultations are a must in all project-affected villages as per a judgement of the Andhra Pradesh High Court. In 2013, the high court had reversed a notification of the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF), as it was called back then, ruling out the need for public consultants in case of linear infrastructure projects like roads, bridges, canals and so on.

“Notwithstanding the MoEF guidelines dated 5th February, 2013, Authorities responsible for implementation of PESA Act [Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act] in the state and central government are required to ensure consultation with the gram sabha or the panchayats at appropriate level as required under the PESA act even in case of projects like construction of roads, canals, laying of pipelines, optical fibers, transmission lines etc. in scheduled areas where linear diversion of use of forest land in several villages is involved,” stated the high court order.

The proposed highway would run in close proximity to coffee plantations and deciduous forests of Araku and Lambasingi. The project is also close to Borra Caves in the Ananthagiri Hills which are considered the deepest caves in the country. Locals from tribal-dominated villages have been asking for proper public consultations while activists have demanded the state government to ensure compliance with rules.

“Not conducting Gram Sabhas in all project-affected villages is a direct violation of the PESA Act. In the Samata judgement, the Supreme Court had held that transfer of land to non-tribal people in Scheduled Areas is illegal,” said Rebbapragada Ravi of mines, minerals & PEOPLE (mmP), a network of individuals and organisations affected by mining. “There is a need for black topping of the entire stretch of the highway. The quarry leases for minerals that would be needed for black topping have not been considered in the EIA report. These leases cannot be given to non-tribal people either as per law,” he added.

The Supreme Court had, in the landmark Samata judgement in 1997, held that in accordance with the PESA Act, “tribal autonomy of management of their resources including the prevention of the alienation of the land in the Scheduled Areas and taking of appropriate action in that behalf for restoration of the same to the tribals, is entrusted to the Gram Panchayats.”

When contacted, officials of the Andhra Pradesh Roads & Building Department told Newsclick that the project is being directly implemented by the central government through the MORTH and that the Department’s role is limited to land acquisition matters only. A senior official of the MORTH in Andhra Pradesh said the land acquisition procedure is underway – notification has been issued in some of the villages while many other villages are awaiting notification.

“Land acquisition is not complete in any case and compensations are yet to be awarded. The allegations that public consultations are not being conducted are totally baseless. Gram Sabhas are being conducted in each village. Since this is a project funded by the World Bank, total transparency and accountability are being maintained. These are Scheduled Areas and consent of local villagers for land acquisition is a must for the World Bank before it renders assistance for the project,” SK Singh, Regional Officer of MORTH in Vijayawada told NewsClick.

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