Thursday, August 06, 2015

As tribals are being forcibly evicted, Panna Tiger Reserve in Madhya Pradesh becomes heaven for diamond contractors

Tribals involved in diamond mining
By Ashok Shrimali*
In a move to browbeat tribal villagers of Panna Tiger Reserve Forest, and evict them from in their land, the Madhya Pradesh government has taken the unprecedented step of disconnecting electricity of one of the key villages, Umravan. While the pretext is said to conservation, available facts suggest that diamond mining in the reserve forest area is the main reason.
A small village of about 200, a majority of whose residents is dependent on mining as the main source of livelihood., they earn about Rs 100 to 200 per day. A few of the villagers are involved in collecting dry woods from the forest in order to earn livelihood. Says local social worker Yousuf Beg: "For the last three years “there is a ban on doing farming on their land in name of conservation.”
A highly neglected village, the state officialdom does not even care to provide jobs to the villagers under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme. Worse, the village is devoid of any developmental work for the last three years. There is no ration shop in the village – if they want to buy ration from the public distribution system, they must go six kilometres away.
The district officialdom, in fact, is interested in evicting the villagers by hook or by crook for expanding the mining ambitions of the contracts, operating for the state-controlled National Diamond Mining Corporation (NDMC). As for those who live by picking up dry wood from the forest area, they are often harassed by heavily fining anywhere between Rs 1,500 and Rs 5,000.
The situation is such that, a large number of workers, who are involved in mining, suffer from the deadly silicosis disease, but there is no one to treat them. They begin working at the age of 14 or 15, but live for another 20 years before they become victims of the disease. 
Beg says, “Being known for diamond mining, the officialdom believes, mining could continue in the reserve forest, but the villagers cannot live inside. This is one reason why it is doing anything in its capacity to evict the villagers. So much so, that recently, it set free a group of elephants to create havoc in the village. It wants to take advantage of the Supreme Court ruling to continue diamond mining in the reserve forest.”
While the tribals have been told they will have to leave the village, they were also conveyed that they would be given Rs 10 lakh as compensation. “Instead, they were given Rs 7.6 lakh. Even this amount was deposited in their accounts, which are alleged to be theirs, but they do not even have a passbooks of these accounts”, Beg says.
Eviction also took place after a very strange public hearing of the tribal villagers. The hearing was called on June 26 early in the morning at 5.30 am, so that most of the villagers did not attend it. According to Beg, “The hearing was done under the old 1984 land acquisition law, even though the 2013 law is already in force. No social impact assessment was carried out of the village.”
During the public hearing, the villagers were sought answers to just two questions – whether they were interested in land for the land they had lost, or compensation. “By a majority of four, it was decided to provide compensation, and the meeting, headed by the district collected, was wound up, without any discussion”, said Beg.
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*Spot report by senior activist with Mines Minerals and People, Delhi

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