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Tribal body threatens economic blockage of Rourkela, housing one of the largest steel plants of India

By Our Representative
In a strongly worded letter to the President of India, a tribal organization operating off Rourkela, well-known township on the northern border of Odisha and popular for India’s one of India's largest steel plants, Steel Authority of India Limited (SAIL), has threatened to trigger an indefinite economic blockade starting with January 20, 2015. Operating in Sundargarh district, in which Rourkela falls, the tribal body, Zilla Adivasi Mulbasi Bachao Manch, has said that the “blockade” would continue till the demand for cancellation of the Odisha government move to merge several tribal areas in the Rourkela Municipal Corporation is not cancelled.
The tribal body has argued that the state government decision has deprived the tribal and other forest dwellers of the rights of gram sabhas, pointing out Sundargarh being a scheduled area, the government needs consent of gram sabhas for any project in the area. Under the Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996 (PESA), gram sabhas self-govern their natural resources in scheduled areas, it insisted. A copy of the letter has also been sent to Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Insisting that he should use his position, as direct guardian of Sundargarh, the letter said, President’s rule should be “proclaimed in the scheduled district of Sundargarh in exercise the powers made under article 356 of the Constitution of India to protect the interest of scheduled tribe as well as scheduled areas.” The tribal body’s move comes at a time when Union tribal affairs minister Juan Aron declared in Bhubaneswar on January 11 that moves were afoot to “relax” the gram sabha’s consent in diversion of forest land for the developmental activities.
Saying that the agitation would continue till the cancellation of the “unconstitutional notification for Rourkela” dated November 14, 2014, the letter added, “In the name of national development large areas of lands were illegally alienated and lakhs of aboriginal people were displaced from their ancestral land and livelihood, without proper rehabilitation. Thereafter most of the aboriginal tribes’ lands were alienated and illegally given over to non-tribals.”
The letter reminds the president that Sundargarh was a princely state known as Gangpur and Bonai State, which merged with the Indian Union on January 1, 1948 and was declared as scheduled district in 1950. “Since then its administrative setup should be as per fifth schedule and administrative control through Union Commission vide Article 339 of the Constitution of India.”
Referring to the November 15, 2014 notification, the letter said, it was issued following call for objections and suggestions from the people of affected areas for the formation of larger urban areas in the district. Pointing out that a month’s time was given, the letter said, “The people of the affected areas of Sundargarh objected to it by writing and submitted memorandums, took our rallies and demonstrations against the move, as gram sabhas were not consulted.”
Even then, the letter said, the “larger urban area” for Rourkela was declared, adding, even after the notification “several peaceful demonstration were organized by the aggrieved people of Sundargarh, but no action or step has been initiated by the state government.” On December 20, 2014 “thousands of aggrieved affected aboriginal people peacefully demonstrated and gave memorandum addressing to the chief minister through the additional district magistrate, Rourkela, demanding clarity regarding formation of the Rourkela Municipal Corporation or cancellation of said notification on or before December 31, 2014.”
Asking the President to intervene in the matter and direct the state government to cancel the notification, the letter said, this alone would help establish “peace and good governance in the scheduled areas, as also in both rural and urban areas, in accordance with the provisions of the Fifth Schedule and Article 339 of the Constitution of India.”

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