21 February 2012, Palamu
On 21 February the first halt of the
journey was at village Sarja in Palamu district where a public hearing had been organised by the ‘Nilambar Pitambar Health and Education Research Center’. The chief of this organization Shri Banarasi Bhai said that since 2002 they have been running a school for the tribal children. 600 children study in this middle school where education is provided till class VIII. Since the region does not have government schools the people are dependent on their school for the education needs of their children. The organization also undertakes awareness raising work on the issues of people’s rights pertaining to water, forests and land in about 100 villages of the region. However, he said, for the past five years the workers of the organization are constantly being harassed by the administration so much so that some of them have been implicated in false cases and sent to prison. He wanted to know if it is a crime to take forward the legacy of Nilambar and Pitamber who had fought against the British and raised the issue of land rights against the zamindars of the region? Elected representative of the Gram Panchayat Smt Hemlata said that this region is often in the grip of drought and every year there are incidents of crop losses but even then the poor farmers don’t get compensation for the losses suffered. More than 40 percent of the people in the region are agriculture labour and have no option but to migrate whenever there is large-scale loss in crops. Every year, she said, more than 100,000 people migrate from this region. Huge corruption in the implementation of MNREGA (Employment Guarantee Scheme) is also responsible for continued exploitation of the agriculture labour in the region, she added. Tribal leader from Ramgadh region Shri Ganesh Bhai said that despite this being an area where the Chotanagpur Agriculture Code is applicable, large-scale illegal mining for graphite and coal is prevalent. While this is going on the one hand on the other the people who have been cultivating occupied lands for generations are being denied their rights through government inaction on claims filed by the people under the Forest Rights Act. Shri Jayant Bhai of ‘Nilambar Pitambar Society’ said that in the entire Jharkhand the rate of government land registration is a mere 4-5 percent and this proves that most land transfers are taking place in the tribal areas. He wanted to know why the government was giving huge subsidies to coal and power companies in a region where drought was a constant livelihood problem for the people? The local people are not likely to get any employment from the industrial and mining companies that the government is so keen on inviting for the destruction of the region, he said. He announced that his society and other organisations would support the Jansatyagrah movement in October 2012.
The second halt of the journey was at Padwa Mod in Palamu district where a dialogue had been scheduled through the efforts of ‘Sajha Manch’ between the Jansatyagrah team and the local MLA Smt Sudha Chowdhry. Shri Kalpnath Ji of Padwa Mod said in this region prior to 1925 the landless people were given land by the rulers of Medni Kingdom who have cultivated them for four generations now.
However after 1980 the forest department has planted trees on 600 acres of this land. In the absence of proper land settlement process the situation is now becoming tense and disputes are emerging in the open. Smt Vimla Behan said that the condition of the women belonging to these landless families is becoming worse as days go by. They spend long hours collecting firewood from the dwindling forests and earn mere Rs40-50 by selling it every day. Since there are no other job opportunities the women are forced to collect wood from the forests despite constant exploitation and threats from the forest department. Tribal leader Shri Tabsingh said that the government wants to give their land in Padwa Mod to a company for the establishment of a power plant. The touts and middlemen of the company are roaming the village lanes and pressurizing people into giving up their land. Local MLA Smt Sudha Chowdhry said that the Jansatyagrah process is providing people with an opportunity to raise their issues and the district and state administration as well as the government should pay attention to what is being said by the styagrahies. She said that as an elected people’s representative she would do her best to ensure that the land on which cultivation is being done by the landless families is not transferred into the hands of an industry or company.
The last halt of the journey was at village Meral where ‘Sajha Manch’ had organised a meeting with the villagers. Social worker Shri Hemant said that Meral village is located on the land between Jinjoi and Amanat rivers thus the land is very fertile and the 1500 or so resident families are largely engaged in agriculture and vegetable cultivation. However since 2010 the Abhijit Industrial Group has become active in the purchase of land in this village for the purpose of coal mining. Since another company Usha Martin is already engaged in coal mining in another nearby village called Kajari the people have seen the havoc that has been caused in the lives of the people and are therefore not willing to give their land for mining. As per the agreement details between the Abhijit Group of Industries and government of Jharkhand the two rivers Jinjoi and Amanat have been shown as ‘nala’ or drains but this is absolutely false. Not only this but the administration and the middlemen of the company have joined forces and standing against the people of the Meral village. He said that the people of Meral would join the Jansatyagrah movement and fight for their rights.