Democracy in Niyamgiri


Khambesi, the village of Dongria Kondh tribals, is not easily accessible as it isn’t connected by road or rail networks. It can be reached only by walking through nine kilometers of thick forest and thereafter crossing four streams and a river. But on thirteenth August, several government officials, social workers, research scholars, and journalists headed for Khambesi to witness the proceedings of a Gram Sabha, which was to decide whether the villagers accepted the proposed mining project. Whether the people’s religious sentiments and environmental concerns would take a back seat in favour of economic growth and development, or would such an initiative be rejected. India thus hosted its first Environment referendum.

So what is this furore all about?

In 2003 a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed between Odisha Mining Corporation (OMC) and Vedanta for mining in the tribal-dominated Niyamgiri forest areas of the state. But the Ministry of Environment and Forest (MOEF) rejected the Stage-II forest clearance for diversion of forest land to establish Lanjigarh Bauxite Mines in Kalahandi and Rayagada Districts of Orissa for mining of bauxite ore. This led OMC, to approach the Court under the Writ of Certiorari to quash the order passed by MOEF. The Supreme Court passed a landmark judgment, applying Forest Rights Act for the first time. The decision stated that it was up to local communities discretion to decide whether the project should proceed through public consultations and votes in each of the surrounding villages. Thereby a directive was issued to the Orissa Government to gauge the opinion of the villagers on the prospect of bauxite mining in their habitat. The government drew up a list of 12 villages “likely to be affected” (which drew a lot of flak from the Ministry of Tribal Affairs, since it limited the number of villagers who would have a say in the matter, when the mining would have affected them as well.)by the proposed mining. However the Niyamgiri tribals living in that area completely rejected the idea of the mining project as it defiled their religion that was embedded in the hill’s pristine ecology. While the Odisha House in New Delhi celebrated the unanimous refusal of the mining project achieved by the tiny Dongria Kondh hamlets in Niyamgiri, in London on the other hand, there were demonstrations at the shareholders assembly of Vedanta Ltd asking this company to quit the Niyamgiri Hill and the Lanjigarh alumina refinery in Odisha.

Tribal Affairs Minister, Kishore Chandra Deo remarked that ” having a MoU with Vedanta itself was wrong because it goes against the letter and spirit of both Article 244(1) and provisions of Schedule V of the Constitution,”Meanwhile, Vedanta has declared the firm was now looking beyond Niyamgiri hills to source raw material for the refinery and was hopeful of securing an alternate mine soon.

It is indeed heartening to see the local Dongria Kondh tribal community, with the backing of the Supreme Court, stand up against a corporate giant and voice their opinion regarding their religious rights over the Niyamgiri hills. The community reveres the Niyamgiri as the abode of their deity Niyam Raja. As a consequence of this overlap of a sacred place with a resource-rich area, the environment is being preserved from a systematic exploitation of its natural resources.

Niyamgiri is fortunate to have the local Gram Sabhas decide its future. However, other similar resource-rich areas have not been so fortunate, as many development projects have been instituted across the country against the wishes of the people. Under the Mahan coal block in Singrauli in Madhya Pradesh, 90 per cent of the allocated coal block is within the Mahan Forest Reserve which is also home to 600 wild animals. Additionally, for the locals, the forest is said to be the abode of the Dih Baba.Similarly, Dhari Devi in Uttarakhand and the Sethusamudram project are some more examples of instances where economic desires of a few have taken forefront overriding the environmental concerns and desires of the masses. Although in India we have multiple development projects on the anvil at any given point of time, there is a complete absence of community participation and their subsequent endorsement of these projects. The end result is that development projects are disconnected from the society and serve the purpose of a select few only. The shareholder survives and the stakeholders are often forgotten. We need to look at the real costs of development. But Economics cannot be the only lens to view development.

In many countries, non-governmental organizations and activist organisations are increasing, playing a vital role in ensuring Government accountability towards the environment. The Environment Support Centre and Conservation Voters of British Columbia in Canada is a not-for-profit society, mainly tracking the ‘environmental performances’ of their elected candidates, working on a progressive policy agenda and supporting ‘environmentally-minded’ candidates for office. This, in turn, causes political parties to accord high priority to environment conservation in their respective manifestos. India could think along the lines of adopting such a model for itself.

Backed by an active judiciary, peoples’ referendum on environmental issues can help change the woeful state of affairs of the environment in India. Assisted by NGOs and activists, the concept of environmental referendum can compel political parties to have a healthy commitment to environment and push the legislature to pass laws that reflect the views of the majority. It will also deliver direct power to the people and, therefore, bypass the otherwise long-winding deliberation process and party politics. However, the challenge would be to balance the need for progress and rational use of a concept such as ‘environmental referendum’ with larger developmental goals.It is only natural that the local community to think of its immediate surroundings and not take into account the broad regional economic development and other allied benefits such as employment and rise in per capita income.

It is ironic to see that all of this happened around the time Indian celebrated its Independence.However it with instances such as these that we realize that it has taken nearly seventy years for the Republic of India to fulfill the promises that it made at the time it gained independence, to the Adivasis. The current exercise at Niyamgiri will set an interesting precedent and be a valuable case study in understanding the balance between religious sentiments, environmental conservation and economic growth.


Removal of ex-CJI as the NHRC chief: Corruption and integrity of the NHRC Top Boss

Kavita Kumar (ILS, Pune)

“One of the major contributors to encouraging corruption is judiciary,” – (Justice Hegde , former Indian Supreme Court Judge)

Taking note of the above statement made by Justice Hegde ,corruption is rampant in the highest House of justice and therefore judiciary needs ‘cleansing’ for the positive growth of the nation and delivery of justice to the people of our country

In recent years, pressure to avoid corruptive practices within the judiciary, has been intensified with the introduction of the Judicial Accountability and Standards Bill 2010 which  lays down enforceable standards for judges. The Bill  requires judges to declare details of their assets and liabilities and more importantly it creates mechanisms to allow any person to complain against judges on grounds of misbehaviour or incapacity. 

In the author’s personal opinion, it may be a little early to predict the lasting impact of this Bill but the move for the same began way back in  (August 2009)  when all the hurdles related to the clearance of the Bill were looked upon in great  detail. The then( Chief Justice of India) Hon’ble Justice K.G Balakrishnan was quoted saying  “Failure to declare or declaring false details can be presumed to be a misconduct on the part of the judge and this can be a ground for removal of the judge”.( Press Trust of India  Chennai, 25th JULY 2009)

 Just 48 hours after the Supreme Court judges unanimously passed a landmark resolution to disclose their assets publicly on the official Supreme Court website, the then  Chief Justice of India K G Balakrishnan expressed his reservations on the matter, fearing that the information associated to the disclosure of assets could be misused. In consonance with what the  Ex CJI K.G Balakrishanan stated, it creates a cloud of suspicion whether it was a deliberate effort to hide personal and potentially embarrassing details in the light of recent allegations of disproportionate wealth being raised against him. On the contentious issue of whether the office of the CJI is within the purview of RTI( Right To information Act , 2005) it was a straightforward `No‘ from him as he believed that  most of the information held in the  office were confidential and  cannot be divulged to the public.

Regarding the issue of whether the appointment of  the ex CJI K.G Balakrishnan as the chief of NHRC was the best possible choice, when his tenure as the Judge of the Apex court was plagued by controversial decisions and a plethora of allegations were being raised against him is a deeply contentious issue.

The list of allegations  that have been levelled against Justice Balakrishan are  endless. It all began in December 2010 when Justice H. L. Gokhale, accused K.G Balakrishnan of misrepresenting facts to conceal the misdeeds of the sacked DMK Telecom minister A. Raja who had  attempted to influence Justice R. Reghupathy of the Madras High Court on behalf of two murder accused known to the DMK minister. Following this, a Senior Advocate  of the Supreme Court of India , Prashant Bhushan had  made a sincere request towards  Justice Balakrishnan asking him to  step down as the Chairperson of the National Human Rights Commission(NHRC) on moral grounds. On the (3rd JANUARY 2011), a  judicial probe was ordered against son-in-law of the Ex CJI,  P.V Srinijan, on the grounds of  amassing  wealth worth  crores of rupees disproportionate to his known source of income. The  State Home Secretary was instructed to start the investigation meanwhile the Advocate General of Kerala asked Justice Balakrishnan’s brother KG Bhaskaran, to resign from the post of Special Government Pleader, on the ground that the latter had undervalued properties registered in his name.

Hon’ble KG Balakrishnan, who  earlier opposed the  disclosure of the judge’s assets, also asked the Income Tax Department not to reveal his I-T returns . A Kochi-based RTI activist had filed a petition in January ( news published on 15th Feb 2011 seeking information on Justice Balakrishnan’s tax returns but according to the Ex CJI, “disclosure of  such information did not serve any public interest, and instead amounts to an invasion of privacy”. The IT Department further rejected the appeal filed in by the Ex CJI  in furtherance of which Justice Balakrishnan filed a letter dated  5th FEBRUARY ( year not mentioned) (15th FEBRUARY  2011 new published) stating that disclosure of information sought is exempt from disclosure  under certain circumstances as per mentioned in Section  8(i) of the Right To Information Act 2005 which states.

 “Information which relates to personal information, disclosure of which has no relationship to any public activity or interest or which would cause unwarranted invasion of privacy of the individual are completely exempt from disclosure unless the Central Public Information officer or state Public Information Officer of the appellate authority, as the case may be, is satisfied that the larger public interest justified the disclosure of such information,”.

Different civil society groups had made various complaints against Justice Balakrishnan to the United Nations. On (23rd MAY 2011) an enquiry was to be conducted by the UN against the corruption charges made against  the NHRC Chairman and former Chief Justice of India KG Balakrishnan. Even after the shocking revelation by a fellow judge that former Chief Justice of India KG Balakrishnan could be “approached” for fixing cases, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) chief refused to step down, justifying his stance of being right . Instead, Justice  Balakrishnan hit back, accusing Justice Shamshuddin of being ‘approachable’. While the Opposition demanded an investigation, the Centre continued to distance itself from the controversy. A three judge bench of the Supreme Court headed by the Chief Justice of India SH Kapadia asked the Attorney General  G.E Vahanvati  to submit a status report but nothing happened. The Central Bureau of Direct Taxes (CBDT) decided to investigate charges of financial misconduct, which if proven, would  have be sent to the President for the removal of CJI as the Chairperson of the NHRC. The CBDT investigation put a big question mark over Justice Balakrishnan continuing as NHRC chairman. In legal as well as in political circles, the view was that he should quit to at least save the credibility of an important organisation which addressed human rights issues like the NHRC .

On (5th June 2011), A Public Interest Litigation (PIL) was filed by a Delhi based Advocate Manohar Lal Sharma  against Justice  Balakrishnan seeking a judicial inquiry and his removal as the Chairman of National Human Rights Commission(NHRC) over his family’s alleged disproportionate assets and land deals. In support of his demand, Mr.Sharma also quoted former Supreme Court judge, Justice VR Krishna Iyer’s statement to the media, seeking  high level investigation into the alleged amassing of wealth by P.V.Srinijan ,  the son-in-law of KG Balakrishnan.

While old allegations still persisted, newer skeletons kept tumbling out of the closet and the problem for the NHRC Chairperson kept growing with each revelation. More reports of dubious land deals and more details of unaccounted wealth of his family members kept appearing in the press. His second son-in-law Advocate NJ Benny was in the news for the same reason. The state of Kerala ordered an investigation by the State Vigilance Department against P.V Srinijan on charges of possessing disproportionate wealth. The  direction to look into these allegations was issued to Kochi Police Commissioner by the First Class CJM A.M Basheer on a private complaint by the petitioner Francis Pardeeplal who sought an enquiry against the three family members( P.V Srinijjan , M J Benny and K.G Bhaskaran). The directive for the same came days after a vigilance court in Thrissur admitted a petition filed by an NGO seeking a probe into the charges levelled against Balakrishnan’s family members.

While allegations against Justice Balakrishnan and his kin were making news for almost a year, things only took a serious turn when Supreme Court Chief Justice S.H. Kapadia admitted the petition of Mr. Sharma as well as took cognisance of a complaint by a Delhi-based doctor and activist Mohammed Furqaan, who alleged that a corporate family dispute between two brothers which the judge ( Ex CJI)  had adjudicated was influenced by a contact in Dubai. A troubled phase for Justice Balakrishnan was approaching when the Income Tax department   in Kochi found evidence against the family members of Balakrishnan having possession of wealth above their known sources of income.

An NGO, Common Cause, sought the removal of former CJI KG Balakrishnan as the NHRC chairman for his alleged misconduct, and informed the Supreme Court that a key document of the Centre dealing with the probe into the disproportionate assets case against KG Balakrishnan and his kin had gone “missing” from the apex court files and the counsel for the same. Adv Prasant Bhushan expressed his surprise as to how a two page report on the status inquiry disappeared suddenly from the court. The needle of suspicion fell on the Ex CJI. The NGO then moved the apex court in January 2013, stating that the Centre had failed to take any decision on the complaint, despite the apex court’s order, which had on (MAY 10) last year asked the concerned authority to take a decision on the complaint.  If there was to be any truth in the allegations, then it was for the President to make a reference to the Supreme Court, on the advice of Council of Ministers, for inquiry against the former Chief Justice of India.

On 24th February 2013 the Centre turned down the NGO’s plea for a Presidential Reference for removal of National Human Rights Commission Chairperson K G Balakrishnan, over allegations of misconduct during his tenure as Chief Justice and judge of the Supreme Court. The government felt that the Presidential Reference against him cannot be recommended for his “alleged instances of misbehaviour” during his stint at the Apex court as his conduct does not appear to be relevant ground for making a Presidential Reference to the Supreme Court under  under 5(2) of the Protection of Human Rights Act 1993.

All the accusations that were being raised against the EX CJI K.G Balakrishan as the Head of the National Human Rights Commission got further strengthened with over  15 complaints in total being filed against him from across the country. There is an Honest  feeling among all concerned that the investigations should be speeded up so that the truth can be made public before forming opinions about an issue which is of paramount importance in the Legal Field . Meanwhile, everyone agrees that it will be in the national interest for Justice Balakrishnan to at least take a break from the NHRC till such time that the probe against him clears his name. A letter written by Deputy Secretary P. K. Ahuja states, “The functions of NHRC include to inquire, intervene and review the violations of human rights and to study and spread human rights literacy among various sections of society. These functions of the Commission cannot be said to be an elongation of the judicial functions which Justice  Balakrishnan discharged in the Supreme Court as Chief Justice of India. So, considering all the views and opinions of the legal luminaries like Hon’ble Justice J.S Verma , Rachinder  Sachar ,  ( former CJI Delhi Court), Senior advocate Prasanth Bhushan , former RTI activist Shailesh Gandhi and political leaders like Ravi Prasasd it would be desirable that the  Hon’ble Ex CJI K.G Balakrishnan resign on voluntary basis to maintain the sanctity of  such a high position till all the investigations are duly complied with.

While KG Balakrishnan has managed to pull along so far with allegations of corruption following his every step, all these  contentions have some veracity, owing to the number of complaints filed and evidence adduced by the competent authorities. Allowing  Justice KG Balakrishnan to continue as the Chairperson of the highest human rights commission of the country lowers the image of such an organization and that such a person was elevated to the position of the CJI makes one feel less sure of the judiciary. It is very easy to tarnish the image of the Judiciary by elevating persons with dubious integrity as a Supreme Court Judge but very difficult to restore the good image of the Judiciary that one loses in the process.


Meanwhile in Bastar, a Rapist is a national hero…



By: Guneet Kaur Ahuja, HNLU

Barely a fortnight has passed since the protests after the Delhi rape case have cooled down. The Verma Committee is out with its report. The trial of the Delhi rape convicts has started in a fast-track court (and in all probability the whole country is praying for death for the rapists, although most would have preferred castration but thank God that option is not there in our laws currently). The country cried for speedier justice for rape victims the whole of Dec-Jan, with the Supreme Court Chief Justice inaugurating the fast track court and saying he feels the pain of the after rape protestors. Soni Sori’s case came before the Supreme Court on January 8 in a bench that included our Hon. Chief Justice Altamas Kabir. While she was to be shifted from Raipur Jail to Jagdalpur Jail, her bail application will only be heard in March because the counsel was too busy before that. There goes our fast-track justice for rape victims. Here is a woman who has accused the police authorities of sexually torturing her but she has been forced to be under those very police authorities for almost about one and a half year now.  Noone burns candles for her. She is a tribal woman who doesn’t watch movies in a south Delhi cinema. For Delhi’s protesting middle class, Soni Sori doesn’t exist. For the Media (except for Tehlka), she doesn’t count if the middle class is not interested in her story. It took hours of refreshing the homepages of most of the media houses before I finally got an update on her case on January 8 and that too from senior social activist Himanshu Kumar’s facebook feed. For those who are hearing Soni Sori’s name for the first time can read her story here.[1] While protests were going on from a small section of civil society against the President’s medal that was awarded to the policeman SP Ankit Garg who allegedly raped her and inserted stones inside her vagina, our new president decided to award another policeman from Chhattisgarh with President’s Medal. This policeman IGP Kalluri has been implicated in the rape of Ledha Bai.[2] It seems if you are police officer from Chhattisgrah, then rape is a benchmark for meritorious service. Kalluri is also accused of fake encounters including that of Ledha Bai’s husband and the attacks on Jean Dreze and Swami Agnivesh. He created quite a stir two years back when he called international humanitarian relief organisations like ICRC and Doctors Sans Frontiers naxals in a press statement. That was quite a meritorious service to the state for which he was awarded a President’s medal this republic day. I often wonder what is it that we celebrate on 26th January? The birth of a constitution through which we promised ourselves a sovereign, socialist, secular and democratic republic? Res publica: the realisation of justice, liberty, dignity and equality to citizens. Are we ready to celebrate this Republic?

Fortunately, Justice Verma Committee for the first time has recognized sexual crimes by our armed forces and uniformed men and has asked for their trial under ordinary criminal laws. This fight for woman’s equality and freedom will be very narrow if we don’t stand up today for Soni Sori, Ledha Bai and others like her. International Law obligates states to respect, protect and guarantee human rights. India as a signatory to CEDAW, ICCPR and UDHR has failed in all these three duties when it comes to its indigenous populations. But while the state has failed them, its time we don’t fail them too. Stand Up for Soni Sori and Ledha Bai. Write a letter to the President of India to take back Ankit Garg’s and Kalluri’s medals. Spread the word. Their story deserves to be heard too.

Bride Trafficking in India: 21st Century Slavery

Aanchal Kapoor (GNLU)

Premila lived in a rural area of Bihar. Her parents lived in extreme poverty. Desperate to escape their plight she was sold to a man in Punjab. There was no marriage ceremony and her body was used and abused by her ‘husband’ and his other male relatives. She was then sold to a prostitution ring in New Delhi.[1]

Bride trafficking is a recently developed form of trafficking. In an era where women are given the right to choose a suitable groom for themselves, there are those unfortunate ones who are forced into the practice of selling into marriage against their wishes. This is also known as ‘marriage of convenience’. The traffickers in this case pretend to be marriage brokers/ intermediaries for families in distant areas. Violence is used to convince women to leave their homes. These women are from rural villages. They get lured by false promises from traffickers. The traffickers then sell the women to those who are willing to pay for brides. To keep them from escaping during the transaction to transportation and being sold, women are often drugged. It is a common scenario that one woman will be sold multiple times as a bride to different men. Their roles could vary from sexual slavery to performing hard labour all day and suffering physical and verbal abuse.

The Haryana province has a great gender difference and is hence known as the destination for bride trafficking.   It is an area where female children are considered a financial burden and cases of female infanticide and foeticide are common practices which lead the imbalance in the sex ratio. This leads to men not being able to find wives. So, the men folk are now buying, sharing and selling and re-selling wives. Women are not treated as human beings but are now a commodity. The society here believes that its cheaper to buy a bride than to raise a daughter.

The supply of this so called commodity comes from the areas of Bihar, Assam and West Bengal. According to a report, the price of the bride, if bought from the sellers, may cost between Rs. 4,000 to 30,000. The parents of the women are normally paid an average of Rs. 500 to 1,000.

Since, women are being seen as a commodity, men are looking at new ways of procuring them. The concept of bride trafficking is yet another version of domestic sex- trafficking. Women in this whole scenario are not being given their real status.

Bride trafficking can be the primary purpose of trafficking or it could be a by-product. The brides can be used for a combination of purposes. They could be enticed with false promises of a good job or an attractive lifestyle. Those who are at maximum risk are the dalits and the tribals. This is because the traffickers target the most vulnerable i.e. the poor, the marginalized and the displaced. This phenomenon is being ignored by the law agencies. Day in and day out the enforcement agencies fail to curb this crime, fail to save a girl, a daughter, a sister from being sold to people who see women not as a wife but a commodity of their satisfaction.

[1] Premila’s Story,

Recommended: Al Jazeera’s section on 21st century slavery and video on bridal slaves

Related: Our earlier post on human trafficking across the Indo-Nepal border titled ‘Juice Bar Trafficking: Bihar’s Children sold to Kathmandu’

Jal Satyagrah in Madhya Pradesh: Big Dams versus Rural India

Radhika Agarwal (NALSAR)

It was only after 363 Bishnois lost their lives in the famous revolutionary Chipko movement that people started taking their love for the Khejri trees (regarded as Gods of the desert) seriously. Similarly, it took the Government of Madhya Pradesh 17 days to finally give in to the demands of the villagers who stood neck deep in water in the Khandwa district of the state of Madhya Pradesh. It is ironical that while it is the Government that has been entrusted with the duty of protecting the environment and ensuring the welfare of the people of the State, it is doing everything in its power to harm the environment and to deteriorate the well-being of the citizens. The Government has often placed environmental rights and human rights secondary to industrial development and economic progress. This is evident from the fact that numerous development projects for nuclear power enhancement, hydro-electric power enhancement etcetera have been undertaken by the Government.

While embarking on the ambitious Omkareshwar Dam project on River Narmada, it completely disregarded the rights of the villagers residing nearby. The villagers stood neck-deep in water for days on end, without receiving any medical aid. They refused to give up their Jal Satyagraha. It was after seeing the undeterred spirit of the Jal Satyagrahis of Khandwa, that the Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh, Mr. Shivraj Singh Chouhan decided to reduce the height of the dam to 189 metres and to give land to the people who were displaced from the nearby villages as part of the project. The reluctance of the Government in listening to the demands of the people is thus evident. Taking inspiration from this Jal satyagraha, another Jal satyagraha has been carried out against the construction of the Indira Sagar dam in Harda District in Madhya Pradesh. Shockingly, the Government instead of providing any kind of relief to the satyagrahis cut off power supply and water supply to the villages in the district in order to “teach a lesson” to these devotees of nature. The Government had undertaken such a step in the hope that lack of basic amenities would make the people give up their Jal Satyagraha.

The Supreme Court has read right to shelter under right to life given in Article 21 of the Indian Constitution.[1] By constructing huge dams for generation of colossal units of hydroelectric power, the State is putting at stake the lives and the livelihood of millions of people who have lived in the river valleys for ages. As a result of the construction, the surrounding villages will be inundated with water! Although there are laws that provide for the rehabilitation and resettlement of people displaced as a result of such construction activities, such laws exist only on paper! Moreover, the compensation given to the displaced people is often inadequate.[2] People have no say in such matters. For them, it is a crushing reality to wake up one day and to be told that they have to vacate their homes. How then are the rights of such people protected? Isn’t this a blatant violation of the right to life?

The Madhya Pradesh Satyagraha is not the first of its kind. In the past, similar satyagrahas have been taken such as the famous Narmada Bachao Andolan. This involved a nation-wide protest including hunger strike against the construction of the Sardar Sarovar Dam on river Narmada. The Court in this case allowed the Sardar Sarovar Dam to be constructed, but subjected the construction to certain conditions, emphasizing resettlement of the people with the help of the Grievance Redressal Authorities. However, the people are still dissatisfied with the Court’s decision and continue to vehemently oppose this project. Although these protests to protect the precious elements of nature have done a lot to bring awareness about the need to protect the rights of the people, unfortunately, little has been done by the Government to actually alleviate the violation of these human rights.

The question with which I would like to conclude is: How many more Chipko movements and Jal Satyagarahas will the people have to undertake before the Government finally opens its eyes and is sensitive to the plight of the rural population of the country?!

[1] Shantistar Builders v. Narayan Khimalal Totame (1990) 1 SCC 520: AIR 1990 SC 630; Chameli Singh v. State of U.P.[(1996) 2 SCC 549 ; Ahmedabad Municipal Nagarpalika v. Nawabkhan Gulabkhan, in (1997) 11 SCC 121

[2] TheAsian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has received a report from the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) that a large group of villagers who have been evicted from their land without compensation for the construction of the Omkareshwar Dam

 available at (last visited October 7, 2012)

An Act That Was Missed By The Maneka Gandhi Bandwagon: Death Penalty under the NDPS Act

Ninni Susan Thomas (NLU-J)

3 persons- Paramjit Singh, Omkarnath Kak and Ghulam Malik, were sentenced  death for the offence of carrying narcotic substances. An offence that, even if not for the same purposes as the convicted, might have been committed by very many people reading this article. India is a country that has seen the use of cannabis and opium for ages. It was used for medicinal, recreational and spiritual purposes and the use was regulated by social rather than legal norms.  Even after the plethora of changes towards the betterment  of the criminal justice system in India faced after the celebrated case of Maneka Gandhi, here is an act that strikes against the concept of fair trial and fundamental rights granted to citizens.

The cultivation, production, manufacture, possession, sale, purchase, transport, import, export, use and consumption of narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances, except for medical and scientific reasons, under license was made a legal impropriety by the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act (NDPS) in 1985. It was subjected to amendments in 1989 where severe provisions were added, including mandatory death sentence upon subsequent conviction if the quantity of contraband exceeds the threshold under Section 31A of the Act. The judgment of Mithu v. State of Punjab which declared that a mandatory sentence of death penalty was violative of Articles 14 and 21 of the Constitution and hence unconstitutional was not heeded. Other constitutionally significant cases likes Bachan Singh and Macchi Singhwhich extolled the importance of pre-sentencing hearing and giving the death penalty only in the ‘rarest of rare’ cases after weighing the mitigating circumstances and also when the alternative option of life sentence was foreclosed were also not looked into.

As it stands, the NDPS Act provides the most stringent penal framework for activities relating to narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances, seen in the presumption of guilt and reversal of burden of proof (Section 35, NDPS Act), discouraging grant of bail (Section 37, NDPS Act), bar on suspension, remission and commutation of sentences awarded (Section 32A, NDPS Act), bar on release of offender on probation (Section 33, NDPS Act), enhanced punishment for more than one convictions (Section 31, NDPS Act) and a mandatory death sentence for subsequent conviction for specific offences (impugned Section 31A).  By such provisions, the NDPS Act overrides provisions of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 (hereinafter referred to as “CrPC”) such as the power to suspend and remit sentences (Sections 432, 433, and 434 CrPC) and the power to release offender on probation or admonition(Section 360, CrPC).

 In June 2011,  the Bombay High Court while hearing a petition filed by a consortium of NGOs working for human drug policies , instead of declaring the impugned section as unconstitutional, read down the expression ‘shall be punishable with death’ to ‘may be punishable with death’(the full judgment available here). It said that the provision prescribing mandatory death sentence is uncalled for as it takes away the discretion of the judge on sentencing the convict. The judge has no other choice other than handing down the death penalty. Hence it preludes judicial discretion and takes away from individualization of sentences.

The statement of objectives of the Amendment Bill seeking to amend the original NDPS act entailed that the judge would have the power under the law to provide for death penalty but the text does not leave the judge with any alternative but to punish an accused second-time convicted under the offences given under Section 31A with death. More so, the other existing provisions in the NDPS Act are in itself harsh enough to deal with offenders. It provides for an enhanced sentence of up to 30 years of rigorous imprisonment for subsequent offences.

Surveys have shown that there is no nexus between stringent laws against drug use and the drug related offences that prevail. Countries like the United States and Iran where punishment is very severe still remain to be the ones with the highest level of drug trafficking. Iran, where more than 10000 drug traffickers and users have been put to death in the past few decades, sees 1,30000 new addicts every single year.

This practice of handing down capital punishment for offences that do not include taking of life of another person has been heavily denounced by many international organizations also. The UNHRC has advised India to limit the number of offences carrying the death penalty to the most serious crimes, with a view to its ultimate abolition. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights specifies that in countries which have not abolished the death penalty, the sentence of death may be imposed only for the “most serious crimes”. The concept of “most serious crimes” is limited to those where it can be shown that there was an intention to kill which resulted in the loss of life. It is clear that carrying narcotics does not cross this threshold.

It was announced in the Rajya Sabha by Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjeerecently that a Paliamentary Standing Commission on Finance while looking to redraft  the Act has proposed to make an amendment in Section 31A and replace the words ‘shall be punishable with death’ with the words ‘may be punishable with death’. While an amendment is made to the provision, it is the lives of 3 men and probably of more to come that is at stake. The words of Justice Krishna Iyer resound in my mind- ““Every saint has a past and every sinner has a future.”

*This is a re-post from Lawinrem on WordPress.

Conflicting Truths: The Kotteguda Killings – An interview with Sudha Bharadwaj, PUCL

Guneet Ahuja (HNLU)
Sudha Bharadwaj is the General Secretary of PUCL Chhattisgarh. She is the founder of Jan Hit and is associated with Chhattisgarh Mukti Morcha. She is also a civil rights and trade unionist lawyer.
This interview seeks to highlight the case of the civilian killings in Kotteguda and the controversies that surround the CRPF’s battle for internal security.

Can you, for the benefit of our readers, give the brief facts about what happened in Kotteguda and Basaguda on 29th June?

Source: AHRC

Fortunately in the case of this incident, which is extremely rare in cases of police action in the Bastar region, there have been several independent reports – from the national as well as local media; from the Congress Party and the Adivasi Mahasabha; from a team headed by Nandini Sundar, as well as the most detailed one from the Co-ordination of Democratic Rights Organisations being a joint report of several civil liberties groups. So there is not much controversy regarding the basic facts. I am quoting a few excerpts from the CDRO Report:-

“All three villages are small settlements located close to each other and in the jurisdiction of the Basaguda police station which is located about a km. away. There is a CRPF camp at about three km from the three villages. While Sarkeguda with 25 households and Rajpenta (12 households) are in Korsagudem panchayat, Kottaguda with 30 households is in Cheepurupatti panchayat. Most residents of the three villages belong to the Dorla Koya tribe.

About 60 adivasis of these three villages assembled from around 8 pm on June 28 in an open area between Sarkeguda and Kottaguda. Such meetings where decisions have to be taken collectively are usually held during the night since adivasis are busy with work most of the day. As the sowing season was upcoming, the meeting was held to discuss several issues related to farming including fixing the date for the traditional seed sowing festival known as bija pondum- (this was to have taken place a few weeks earlier but was delayed because the pujari who conducts the ritual had died), distribution of land for tilling, lending help to those families who were without cattle, deciding the amount of rent for using the new tractor they had brought and how to raise fish. Arrears of Rs 10,000 due to the adivasis since two years for tendu leaf collection were paid only recently and they also wanted to discuss what use to put it to. It was a fairly cloudy night and visibility was poor. All those in the gathering were adivasi residents of the three villages and unarmed.

While the meeting was going on, a large contingent of CRPF personnel and CoBRA (Commando Battalion for Resolute Action, a specialised anti-naxalite guerilla unit of the CRPF) commandos numbering well over a hundred, cordoned off the area. According to the villagers, at about 10 pm there was gunfire without any warning. The first burst was from towards the west and it hit three adivasis who died instantly. This was quickly followed by firing from three other directions. Terrified villagers began screaming and running. Most ran towards their respective villages. Some tried to hide in a hay-storing enclosure. Those who were fleeing for their lives were also fired upon. The firing continued for about 30 minutes after which, as if to survey the dead, the CRPF forces fired two flare guns that lit up the area. The forces stayed on in the area.

It was clear to the fact-finding team that a peaceful gathering of adivasis, none of whom carried any firearms, was surrounded by the CRPF and without any warning fired upon indiscriminately. As a result of this firing, 16 adivasis died — 15 that night and Irpa Suresh (15) in Bijapur hospital the next day. Six of the dead were minors, including a 12 year old girl Kaka Saraswati, daughter of K Rama. She was hit while fleeing towards her house in Kottaguda. Of the other five minors, two — Kaka Rahul (16) and Madkam Ramvilas (16) — were studying in class 10 at a school in Basaguda. Both stayed at a hostel in Basaguda and had come home during the summer vacations……..”

“According to the villagers, those who did not die from the bullet wounds were killed by the police with axes they picked up from the village itself. Several eyewitnesses from outside the village, including mediapersons who saw the bodies before they were cremated, referred to some of them as having been brutalised with deep hacking cuts on the chests and foreheads……..”

“The 17th victim of this senseless butchery was Irpa Ramesh, husband of I Lachmi and father of three children. After the firing began, he ran and made it to the safety of his house and stepped out at dawn at about 5 am to survey the area. He was fired upon immediately and though he was hit, managed to get back inside his house. The CRPF men followed him in and clobbered him to death with a brick in front of his family members. According to Ramesh’s father Irpa Raju, the CRPF men also stole Rs 5,000 from their house. The same night the police also stole Rs 30,000 from Irpa Narayana’s house in Rajpenta as well as Rs 2,000 from the house of Madkam Nagesh.”

Those killed are:

From Kottaguda:

  1. Kaka Saraswati (12), daughter of K Rama
  2. Kaka Sammayya (32), farmer, husband of K Nagi.
  3. Kaka Rahul (16), student of Class 10 at Basaguda, son of K Narayana.
  4. Madkam Ramvilas (16), student of Class 10 at Basaguda and classmate of Kaka Rahul, son of M Butchaiah.
  5. Madkam Dileep (17), studied upto Class 8 at Pamed, assists his father M Muttaiah in farming.
  6. Irpa Ramesh (30), farmer, husband of I Lachmi, father of three children.
  7. Irpa Dinesh (25), farmer, husband of I Janaki, father of four children, is  younger brother of Irpa Ramesh.
  8. Madkam Nagesh (35), farmer, also a professional dholak player who  performed during festivals, husband of M Sammi, father of two children. His  wife is pregnant with their third child.
  9. Madkam Suresh (30), farmer, husband of M Sammi and father of two  children, is younger brother of Madkam Nagesh.

10. Irpa Narayana (45), farmer, husband of I Narsi, father of four children.

From Rajpenta:

11. Irpa Dharmayya (40), farmer, husband of I Bheeme, father of five children.

12. Irpa Suresh (15), studied upto class 5, son of I Chandrayya. Died at Bijapur hospital on June 29.

From Sarkeguda:

13. Sarke Ramanna (25), farmer, husband of S Somulu, father of three children.

14. Apka Meetu (16), son of A Sukhram, helps his father in farming.

15. Korsa Bichem (22), son of K Gutta, worked earlier for a borewell firm at Hyderabad, came home a month ago to help his family in farming.

16. Kunjam Malla (25), farmer, son of K Lakmadu.

17. Madvi Aithu (40), farmer, husband of M Kamli and father of four children.”

“Six adivasis were injured in the firing. Four of them, Kaka Ramesh (11) and Kaka Parvathi (10), Irpa Chinnakka (40) and Abka Chotu (16) were admitted to hospitals in Bijapur and Jagdalpur and have since returned home after treatment. Madkam Somayya (30) and Kaka Senti (19) were taken to a hospital in Raipur and are still undergoing treatment but are out of danger. Among the injured Kaka Ramesh (13) and his younger sister Kaka Parvathi (11) escaped narrowly. After the firing began, they ran in the direction of their house in Kottaguda and sustained bullet injuries on their left arms. Irpa Munna (26) and Sarka Pullaiah (20) who were also injured were not taken to the hospital by the CRPF. They are being treated with traditional medicine by their fellow adivasis in Sarkeguda and Kottaguda respectively. A few cattle also died in the firing.”

The civil society and the media, has made a lot of noise ever since the killings. But in this fight against Naxalism, collateral damage is bound to happen. Don’t you think the civil society is over-reacting?

We should be very careful in using a term like “collateral damage” in a loose or casual manner, because it has a very specific meaning in international humanitarian law. ‘Military necessity of an action’, ‘distinction (that is distinguishing between combatants and civilians)’ and ‘proportionality (that even if civilians have to be harmed unavoidably then the incidental civilian injuries should not be in excess of the anticipated military advantage)’ are three basic principles in international humanitarian law which govern the legal use of force in an armed conflict and determine whether the outcome could be considered to be justifiable collateral damage, or otherwise.

 In the circumstances of the Kotteguda case:-

(i)      There was obviously a total lack of military intelligence in regard to the meeting of villagers which took place a mere1 km away from a police station and 3km away from a CRPF camp, and the ‘military necessity’ of the action as claimed by the security forces is not convincing.

(ii)     The conflicting figures of “Maoists” which came from various authorities, and the fact that many so-called “Maoists” were found by the media to be resident villagers with valid legal identities, and later admitted to be civilians, shows that proper ‘distinction’ between combatants and civilians was not actually made while carrying out the police action which appears indiscriminate. Particularly the acts of following villagers to their houses and injuring them with axes, or battering in one person’s head the next morning were clearly neither acts of self defence, nor carried out against armed combatants, nor even acts carried out after some preliminary enquiry, and cannot be justified under any circumstances.

(iii)    The injuries and deaths of civilians in this case obviously outweigh any military advantage that might have been sought to be gathered and violate the principle of proportionality.

But it is often said that the civil society keeps mum when security force personnel are killed by Naxalites or tribals are given inhuman punishments in Kangaroo courts. Are human rights only for Naxalites?

This is far from the truth.  Rather it is one of those Goebbelsian lies, which when repeated endlessly start seeming like the truth, and is actively promoted by the State only to discredit civil liberties organizations and silence their legitimate critique of the actions of the State.

When security force personnel are killed, FIRs are lodged by the State, the police acts to arrest and jail suspects, special and stringent laws are invoked, trials are conducted, the entire society condemns the incident, the families of the security personnel are condoled and compensated, memorials are held, editorials are written.

I can say with personal knowledge that on such occasions the statements issued by the People’s Union for Civil Liberties – both at the National and the State level – expressing grief at the death of security personnel, condemning the politics of abduction, and making it absolutely clear that the PUCL does not support violence, are either deliberately suppressed by the media or mocked at, so that such allegations can continue to be made.

But let us remember that the task of a civil liberties organisation is a much more difficult one, like swimming against the tide – that of protecting the civil rights of citizens enshrined in the Constitution when they are violated by the State itself, and that too in a situation where the State uses all means at its command to prevent such violations from being exposed i.e when there are no FIRs, no arrests and it is the complainants rather than the culprits who are harassed and threatened. This explains why the civil liberties organizations are so very unpopular with the Government, the police and the corporates; and in situations of fascism, hatred is whipped up against them in the media by insinuating that they are unpatriotic or anti-development.

A civil liberties organisation tries to respond to citizens – usually the marginalized –  who complain of  police atrocities like custodial death or rape or fake encounters precisely because, if citizens are pitted against a mighty State, where else can they seek redressal? And then how would we uphold Article 21 of the Constitution? We have to perform this difficult task even if we are bad- mouthed, foisted with false cases, or even face threats to our lives as a consequence. Many of you would not be knowing that seven lawyers belonging to the Andhra Pradesh Civil Liberties Committee were murdered in the past three decades only because of their work as human rights defenders..

The demands made by the civil liberties organisations are absolutely legal, constitutional and in accordance with the International Covenants to which India is a signatory. Often we are only demanding the implementation of guidelines already laid out in Circulars of the National Human Rights Commission.

As regards any form of abduction, summary execution of police informers, or others forms of torture indulged in by any non-State actors – whether insurgents, Naxalites, or other militants – the PUCL and other civil liberties organistions equally clearly and unequivocally condemn them. Cases such as the Jamui mass killing in Bihar or the beheading of policeman Francis Induwar or the killing of Niyamat Ansari in Jharkhand were collectively condemned by civil liberties organizations. These organizations also believe, however, in conducting independent probes when such incidents are alleged, and not merely believing police versions blindly. I have personally investigated an incident of killings of teachers and students in Village Golapalli, then district Dantewada and now district Sukma, by the police and security forces which had first been reported as killings by Naxalites, and then as deaths in crossfire.

The other thing that has to be appreciated is that in many parts of our country today, situations of insurgency or civil war are going on, there are armed combatants on both sides, and ultimately de-escalation of violence has to be through politically addressing the underlying causes. Often human rights violations in the name of “area domination” by security forces has led to entire populations becoming hostile and perceiving the State as an “occupying force”, so actually civil liberties organizations do a service to the State by reinforcing Rule of Law and redeeming its human face.

The consistent demand of the civil liberties organisations has been that, in areas where there are prolonged armed conflicts and civil wars, all parties to the conflict – and certainly non-State actors are included – must abide by the Geneva Protocols established by the United Nations in their treatment of non-combatants, civilian populations and prisoners of war.

You would again be surprised to know that the official stand of our government, which has deployed lakhs of army and paramilitary personnel against its citizens  in several parts of the country for decades and calls Naxalites the greatest internal security threat, is that there is no internal armed conflict in the country! Indeed, otherwise, it would have to permit international observers of the United Nations and international humanitarian agencies like the International Red Cross, Journalists without Borders, Amnesty International etc. access to these areas to monitor human rights violations.

After the killings did Mr. Raman Singh or any one from the Union Home ministry visit Kotteguda or Basaguda?

Not to my knowledge, no.

The Sub Divisional Magistrate did visit with a truck load of rations which the villagers angrily refused saying, “If we are Maoists, then why are you giving us rations?”

What has been the opposition’s response to the incident?

The State Congress Party sent a fairly large fact finding team of senior leaders to investigate the incident and the Report was submitted to their National leadership, However, while Shri Charan Das Mahant – Minister of State for Agriculture – who hails from Chhattisgarh, and Shri Kishore Chandra Deo – Union Minister for Tribal Affairs condemned the incident in no uncertain terms, the Union Home Minister Shri P. Chidambaram continued to insist for many days after the incident that the security forces had indeed shot down Maoists, and he only made a very reluctant and partial apology later that if those villagers had “nothing at all to do with any Maoists” , then he was sorry! Thus while the Congress raised the issue vociferously in the Vidhan Sabha, it could not make the Union take any effective steps.

The Adivasi Mahasabha and the CPI conducted a fact finding and had a massive protest on 17th July at Bijapur. Broadly the left parties protested the killings nationwide.

Thousands of adivasis protested at Bhopalpatnam, and when adivasis from Narayanpur had been gathering to protest, some 700 to 1000 of them were lathicharged as Naxalite supporters.

The Chhattisgarh Bachao Andolan – a loose platform of 21 mass organizations were stopped near the Raipur Jail when marching to the Vidhan Sabha in protest on 16th July.

And of course civil liberties organisations, a small but determined force, raised their voice all over the country. Unfortunately two members of the Andhra Pradesh Civil Liberties Committee along with some villagers of the affected area were arrested on 15th July 2012 under the Andhra Pradesh Special Public Security Act when they were planning to come to Delhi to file cases in this regard.

The CDRO has come out with its report which does establish death of civilians. What has been the state government’s and home ministry’s response so far?

 There was a Special Investigation Team by the State Government constituted which apparently has admitted that 7 persons killed were villagers.

The Report of the Magisterial Enquiry, routinely instituted in cases of police action, has not yet been made public but as reported in the media, no villagers appeared before the Magistrate, This is despite the fact that there are explicit guidelines of the NHRC that in such Magisterial Enquiries the relatives of the deceased must invariably be involved.

I believe the government has set up a judicial probe to look into the incident and so has the CRPF. What’s been happening with those inquiries so far?

 The Government had announced a judicial enquiry by Retd. Justice VK Agrawal of Madhya Pradesh in the month of July, which was to be preferably concluded in 3 months, but to the best of my knowledge, the process of enquiry has not yet begun.

An in-house enquiry by the Central Reserve Paramilitary Force led to guidelines being framed for so-called Special Operations in Naxal affected areas.

 There have been reports that this was not the first time that Kotteguda was attacked. Is that so?

 Kotteguda was one of the villages which was attacked in the early days of the Salwa Judum (2005-6) and had been emptied out during that period. Most of the villagers had been forced to migrate to Andhra Pradesh. It is only in 2008 that they came back and attempted to resettle being emboldened by the successes of Village Nendra and Lingagiri which had been helped by the NGO Vanvasi Chetna Ashram to resettle. Even today many Kotteguda residents are yet to return and the villagers had been planning on facilitating this eventually.

Indeed, this less known aspect of the Kotteguda situation makes the police action even more reprehensible, particularly in the face of specific interim directions of the Supreme Court to the Chhatisgarh Government to resettle the adivasis internally displaced by Salwa Judum. It also discloses a possible motive for an action that otherwise defies logic – namely ground clearing.

 Is there normally any Naxal presence in Kotteguda, given the fact that it was the second time the village was attacked?

 I do not think that the fact that the village was attacked is proof of there having been Naxal presence. The Naxals have very dispersed though not continuous presence in many parts of Bastar region and make occasional forays right upto the town of Dantewada, would that justify a police action there?

What is the response of the villagers who survived? There have been reports of migration to Andhra Pradesh.

 Yes, I had also seen newspaper reports quoting the Sarpanch to that effect, but I have no first hand information about it.

 The government keeps saying that Naxalites are the biggest threat to India’s security. How come they suddenly became such an emergency in the last one decade in Chhattisgarh that the government can afford such huge collateral damage of mass exodus, tribal killings and extra-judicial arrests but they have to weed out naxalites at any cost?

 The presence of Naxalites in the Bastar region is well known since the 1980s when there were large movements regarding enhancement of tendu patta plucking wage rates. For two decades police, forest and revenue officials have been unable to enter (though teachers and doctors were able to work unharmed) the Abujhmaad region where the police admits that a parallel “Janatam Sarkar” of the Naxalites presides over local agriculture and village markets, runs its own school curriculum, has barefoot doctors and cultural troupes, and publishes magazines in Gondi language in its own press. In the year 2005 DGP Rathore used to claim that there are about 50,000 Sangham members (members of mass organizations associated with Naxalites) in the region. Yet, they were not seen to pose such a threat to the Indian State.

It seems that what gave impetus to the State and Union Government’s counter insurgency operations in this area since 2005 was the large number of prospecting and mining licenses issued and the MOUs signed with Tata and Essar to set up steel plants at Lohandiguda (district Bastar) and Bhansi-Dhurli (district Sukma) respectively, both in June 2005. At present, according to the official website of the Directorate of Geology and Mines, Government of Chhattisgarh – 549 acres in district Kanker, 5247 acres  in district Dantewada, and 4070 acres  in district Narayanpur are covered by Prospecting Licenses for mining, which would doubtless be difficult to execute because of the presence of Naxalites.

Is the practice of Salwa Judum over after the Nandini Sunder judgement?

 The Chhattisgarh Government, by a Notification created a Chhattisgarh Auxiliary Force, within weeks of the judgment, absorbing the majority of SPOs who had been directed to be disbanded by the Supreme Court. A contempt proceeding in this regard is under consideration by the Court.

 So, while the existence of Salwa Judum – incidentally meaning “Purification Hunt” in the Gondi language – as an unaccountable private vigilante force has ended, the same players have now been legalized as SPOs – foot soldiers in the current “Operation Green Hunt” launched by the State.

The judgment that has been passed in the Nandini Sundar case is an interim one basically dealing with the issue of the legality of the SPOs. The issue of atrocities committed by the Salwa Judum – in support of which documentation of about 500 killings, 99 rapes and some 2000 cases of arson and loot which took place in the Konta block alone have been filed – is still pending adjudication.

Meanwhile, the PUCL has forwarded to the NHRC a list of 132 alleged fake encounters by security forces which occurred in four months of the launching of Operation Green Hunt, and requested that an enquiry be conducted. We have yet to get a reply.

But its strange how lakhs emerge for candle light marches for Jessica Lal while no one says a word as hundreds of Soni Soris are being tortured in jail or when incidents like the massacre of Basaguda and Kotteguda happen. Any comments?

We often don’t realize how much our sensibilities are shaped by the position we occupy in society. If you are a pedestrian, you will curse those who whizz by in a limousine splashing mud on you, but if you are sitting in that limousine, you would probably curse the pedestrians for being such a nuisance and getting in the way!

Let alone the adivasis of Kotteguda whose situation we would find very difficult to even imagine, how sensitive are we to the situation of poor persons whom we see laboring around us all the time – the domestic help in our house, the construction workers working on high rise buildings or tarring roads in the summer heat, the sweepers of the municipality carrying away our garbage. Often we justify the inequality we see and their deprivation by lamenting about their laziness, their thievish ways, their indiscipline, their background (read caste), their drunkenness and “miss the forest for the trees”.

The plight of the adivasis of Kotteguda is as much the ugly under-belly of our glittering cosmopolitan India fattened on indiscriminate corporate loot of resources, as the suicides of farmers, the workers’ strikes, the trafficking of young girls.

Most of us have too much of a stake in this model of development, we benefit too much from it materially, to have the courage to question it. Perhaps that courage is what is most necessary today to save the world from the self destructive path down which it is hurtling!

 Anything else you want to add?

 Today there is a serious global financial crisis in full bloom. The only two ways out of this for the capitalist system are – either to reduce social security and governmental welfare expenditure in the West including hard won rights of labour, or else to intensify the loot of natural resources. We can already see in the West from the “Occupy Movement” in the US, the strikes of teachers and doctors in Britain and students and workers in Greece, that withdrawal of social expenditure is being resisted tooth and nail there. The other option therefore is the loot of resources – by war if necessary. We can all easily see that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are primarily concerned with the control of oil.

In India, there has been an intensification of loot of mineral resources on an unimaginable scale – the recent coal block scandal is the tip of that iceberg. Multinationals like Holcim and Lafarge have acquired prestigious Indian companies like ACC, Ambuja and are making net profits (12%-14%) several times their global profit rate (1.33%) and are expanding to exploit limestone deposits. Vedanta is into bauxite, Rio Tinto and De Beers are prospecting for diamonds. How can Chhattisgarh, and particularly mineral rich Bastar hope to remain pristine?

In the entire tribal belts stretching from West Bengal and Jharkhand, through Chhattisgarh, Odisha and Andhra Pradesh to Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra, there are myriad tribal resistances against mining and land acquisition. Unfortunately for the Chhattisgarh government, the tribal resistance in Bastar has dovetailed with the Maoist movement and is refusing to lie down and die.

The history of capitalism in the West bears many bloody scars of massacres of indigenous communities. Now faced with devastating environmental consequences, there is much rethinking on these issues. Only recently the Prime Minister of Australia tendered an apology to the lost generation of Australian aborigines.

This is why, rather than decrying the saner voice of the civil liberties organizations, real efforts must be made to resettle the abandoned villages of Bastar,  grant community forest rights so that the “historical injustice” referred to in the Preamble of the Forest Rights Act can be redressed, truly implement PESA genuinely devolving powers to the Gram Sabhas, implement a moratorium on fresh mining and MOUs to instill confidence in the administration among the adivasis, and thus demilitarize the context and bring peace to that region.

HRLN Campus Volunteers thanks Advocate Sudha Bharadwaj for the interview.