Land laws a curse for son of the soil in Chhattisgarh

The sal seed harvested by tribals through large parts of Naxalism-affected districts of Orissa and Chhattisgarh is…

The sal seed harvested by tribals through large parts of Naxalism-affected districts of Orissa and Chhattisgarh is bought by global chocolate manufacturers. But those chocolates cannot come to India.

Under the Food and Adulteration Act, use of butter extracted from sal seed in place of cocoa is prohibited in the country.

?We have asked the Centre to amend the rules for these seeds to get a wider market in the country,? Chhattisgarh chief secretary P Joy Oommen told FE. But there has been no progress on it, he said. So any downward global movement in chocolate prices, hits the tribals.

Oommen said this happened in 2009-10 because of which the state government had to step in as buyer. The measure cost the state Rs 100 crore as subsidy as there was no buyer for the seeds. But that could have been averted had the anti-adulteration measure been corrected.

The anti-Naxal plans of states like Chhattisgarh have sputtered on such self-inflicted wounds which weaken the income of the tribals and strengthen their incentive to join the terrorists.

For instance a tribal cannot sell his plot of land to a non-tribal, even if he is in desperate need. When he wants to sell his land to a tribal, the owner has to approach the district collector for permission.

?We usually do not encourage sale of land. Even among non-tribals, it is not a very easy process,? said Kamalpreet Singh, the collector of Sarguja district, the northern-most part of the state.

Yet, this district will be the home to an ultra-mega power project due to be bid out soon.

In adjacent Korba district, Sterlite’s aluminum plant and NTPC’s mega-thermal power project dominate the skyline. The districts also have rich coal mines and Sarguja’s headquarter Ambikapur is the thriving trading centre for aluminum and potatoes. P Ramesh Kumar, the state industry secretary, says, requests are pouring in from industries to set up shop, worth about Rs 5 lakh crore at current prices.

But none of these developments benefits a tribal even though they drive up the value of the land. The effective ban has instead opened the way for a massive black market. On the road leading into the town, on the Varanasi road, smart shops have come up on the tips of agricultural land that abut the roads. But the shops are owned by the non-tribals.

Imposed 20 years ago in a misplaced zeal to prevent exploitation of these people by sharp land agents, it has made the only valuable piece of property of the tribal instead a piece of junk. The amendments to the Land Acquisition Act has given the village Gram Sabha the vetoing power on all sale of tribal land. The tribal therefore often abandons his land to either migrate to towns like Ambikapur or Korba for work. When those options fail, he turns to naxal leaders.

Oommen said he is also concerned that in the densely forested Bastar region, the villagers often can’t get the payment for the labour they put in under the NREGA programmes, as those have to be channeled only through banks. He said he has even requested the Prime Minister to modify the act to allow for distribution of weekly and fortnightly wages as cash by the local administration, in those areas.

?Since the villagers have to walk long distances to even reach post offices, they are reluctant to take up the labour?. The plans are pending.

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First published on: 10-06-2010 at 22:19 IST