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Probe sought into "fraudulent" corporate transfer of Chhattisgarh tribal land

By Dr Manohar Chauhan*
Amnesty International India, a premier human rights organization, has demanded probe into the alleged grabbing of tribal land by two private companies, TRN Energy and Mahavir Energy Coal Beneficiation Limited (MECBL), in Gharghoda sub-division in Chhatisgarh. Addressing media in Raipur, senior Amnesty activists said, on October 16, as many 85 adivasi villagers in Raigarh, Chhattisgarh, called upon the state police to conduct a prompt, independent and impartial investigation into allegations that they had been unlawfully dispossessed of their lands by people acting as agents of these two private companies.
Over a year ago, around 81 adivasi villagers in Raigarh filed criminal complaints under the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act 1989 alleging unlawful dispossession of their lands in the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes Welfare Special Police Station. However, despite repeated pleas by the villagers, the police refused to register First Information Report (FIR), a first step in criminal investigations.
On October 16, adivasi villagers appealed to the Superintendent of Police, Raigarh, to register FIR based on their complaints. After waiting for over a year for police to launch an investigation, the villagers approached the Superintendent of Police using Section 154(3) of the Code of Criminal Procedure, which allows for such an appeal if an officer in charge of a police station refuses to record information pertaining to the commission of a cognizable offence.
“It is unfortunate that the Chhattisgarh police failed to look into the allegations made by the adivasi villagers and refused to register FIR on their complaints. These adivasi men and women have a constitutional right to access justice, which has been denied for far too long. They are facing grave human rights abuse and it is the duty of the police to protect them and prosecute those who are responsible for the wrongful dispossession of their land,” said Asmita Basu, Programmes Director, Amnesty India.
Last year, on June 14, 2017, 81 adivasi women and men tried to file FIR at the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes Welfare Special Police Station in Raigarh, alleging that they had been forced into selling their land – as a result of threats, intimidation, coercion and misinformation – to agents of TRN Energy and Mahavir Energy Coal Beneficiation Limited (MECBL), operating in collusion with local land registration officials.
The police refused to register FIR on the grounds that in 2016, the villagers had filed civil cases before the Sub Divisional Magistrate of Gharghoda village, which were still under judicial consideration. However, there has been limited progress in the civil cases, which have been pending for over 2 years now. According to Indian law, an affected person has access to both civil and criminal remedies simultaneously. Hence there is no bar on registering FIR on complaints filed by the villagers.
Pavitri Manjhi, the Adivasi Sarpanch of the Bhengari Gram Panchayat and Co-Convenor of the Adivasi Dalit Mazdoor Kissan Sangharsh(ADMKS) and one of the victims of fraudulent transfer of land, said that she has been facing harassment for her peaceful activism from the Company. Pavitri reported harassment to the police but no FIR was registered However, determined to stand up for the rights of her community, she said, “We are struggling, we are fighting for our land and we will continue to fight for the same.”
At the press meet, Degree Prashad Chouhan, co-convenor of the Adivasi Dalit Mazdoor Kissan Sangharsh (ADMKS), Raigarh said that despite consistent efforts and struggle from last three years, there has been no action from the administration and police on the complaints that they have filed in the SDM, Gharghoda in 2016 and before SCST welfare(special) Police Station, Raigarh in 2017.
Kishore Narayanan, Advocate practicing in Bilaspur High Court and fighting for the tribals in the different Court said, “Taking the advantage of illiteracy and ignorance at the community people on the protective laws i.e., POA Act, 1989, Section 170B and 165(6) of Chhatigarh Land Revenue Code, 1959, PESA, 1996 etc. both these two companies played with laws and collected signatures of the tribal.” In many cases, the tribals had not been paid the amount mentioned in the sale deeds, or had been paid only part of it. Many of them paid much below the market value, they had been first told that only part of their land would be sold, but later they found that all their land had been registered as sold.” He further said.
The press meet was told, under international human rights law and standards, states have an obligation to protect the rights of Indigenous peoples to free, prior and informed consent on decisions that affect them. This right is recognized in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
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*Senior Campaigner, Amnesty International India

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