Friday, June 13, 2014

Gujarat tribal farmers' new aspiration: Allow us tractors, give quality power to irrigate agricultural land

Tapi adivasis meet to raise major issues 
By Our Representative
In a development that may create some flutter in the establishment, the Akhil Bharaiya Adivasi Ekta Andolan, Tapi, Gujarat, in what may appear to be an unprecedented representation to the district collector, has demanded that tribal farmers should be allowed to use tractors to till their lands they have lately come to own. Coming from an organization operating in a district whose majority of the population is tribal, the representation wonders, at a time when tribals are being recognized as farmers and given land to till under the forest rights Act, 2006, there is little reason why they should be deprived of the use of modern equipment till their land.
Copies of the representation have been sent to Gujarat chief minister Anandiben Patel, minister for tribal affairs Kantibhai Gamit, forest and environment minister Ganpat Vasava, and Gujarat governor Dr Kamala.
“It is difficult to understand why is there ban on the use of tractors on the land we own”, the representation says, adding, “If not injustice, what else does it show?” Reflecting the new-found aspiration of the tribals, the demand has come at a time when some experts, particularly Felix Padel, a well-known anthropologist whose main field of interest is tribal people of India, have taken strong exception to handing over land to tribals in the forest areas (click HERE to read). In Padel’s view, this is the beginning of private ownership of land, an end of community ownership in the forest areas, and negation of making tribals collective owners of natural resources of forest areas.
Not just tractor, the tribals have also demanded power connections to till their land with groundwater, as they are allegedly deprived of surface irrigation from reservoirs to irrigate their fields. The representation says, they should be provided with quick power connection instead of making them wait for eight months, and power should be continuously supplies instead of just for four hours.
“It often takes six to eight months to get power connection in tribal areas. When we get power connection, it does not continue for more than four hours”, the representation says, adding, “Even today, the authorities continue to violate the Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996 or PESA, a law enacted to cover the scheduled areas in order to enable Gram Sabhas to self govern their natural resources. We also think that by refusing to provide us with basic facilities like power and communication link, the government is violating the consumer protection laws.”
The representation does not end here. It says, “We are living in the 21st century, when means of telephone and communication have become a necessity. However, to our utter surprise, the officialdom not only refuses to provide any such facility in the area we live. In fact, they snap the facility, if it exists in our area.”
In yet another demand, the representation demands that tribals must be “properly represented in government-formed forest welfare committees and watershed committees.”
It says, “Currently, these committees are formed arbitrarily by the government officials. The practice should stop forthwith, as this is being done in order to perpetuate corruption. We want these committees should be formed at gram sabha meetings, where all the villagers are present.” Watershed committees are an important factor for tribal farmers’ access to water to till their fields.
In yet another demand, the representation says, the tribals are “deprived” of their rights which they are entitled to under the reservation policy in case they do not identify themselves as Hindu. “This is discriminatory”, it points out, adding, “We should be identified only as tribals, and not as Hindus or any members of any other religion.” The demand acquires significance, as many tribals, if they identify themselves as Christian, are sought to be taken out of the reservation category of scheduled tribes. Often, this forces them to return to Hinduism to “obtain” advantages of reservation.

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