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Land Bank "main hurdle" for Adivasi, other dwellers' forest rights in Jharkhand

Village Perka in Jharkhand
By Gladson Dungdung*
A village called Perka is situated at Murhu development block in Khunti district of Jharkhand, which is approximately 55 kilometers from Ranchi, the capital city of Jharkhand. A hundred and thirteen families reside in this village. As per the Census 2011, the village hasa  total population of 581, of which 300 are males while 281 are females.
The village is dominated by the Munda Adivasis with the population of 550, including 285 males and 265 females. In 2011, the literacy rate of Perka village was 66.46%, with male literacy of 75.20% and 56.96% of female literacy.
However, the villagers are unaware about the tricks of the Jharkhand government for grabbing their community, religious and forest land. To focus on forest land, because the Forest Rights Act (FRA), 2006 was said to be a historic legislation to right the historical wrongs done to the Adivasis and other traditional forest dwellers, as per the data prepared by the Department of Revenue and Land Reform, Government of Jharkhand, three plots of the village forest with the area of 12.14 acres is enlisted in the Land Bank.
Interestingly, in 1932 the villagers were given forest for their use. This has been officially recorded in the land record in the Khatiyan Part-II. As per the provisions of the FRA, the government authorities should have recognized the rights of the villagers on the village forest.
The Adivasis of Perka are shocked to know that their forest is kept in the Land Bank data with a clear intention to lease out to the private business entities. Petrus Tiru, 55, says, “I have land record papers of 1932, where we have been given right to use the forest. How can government keep our forest in the Land Bank?”
Another villager, 50-year-old Santosh Soy, says, “We have been protecting the forest for more than 20 years. Two villagers keep watch on the forest every day. We also discuss about the protection and minimum use of the forest in our weekly Gram Sabha meetings. How can government take such step without our consent?”
48% of Land Bank is forest land
One needs to understand the history, concept and intention behind the formation of the Land Bank, which is paving the way to denial of the forest rights to the Adivasis and other traditional forest dwellers.
The state of Jharkhand is popularly known as the land of Adivasis’ struggles. Adivasis have been resisting to protect their identity, autonomy, culture, languages, land, territory and natural resources for more than 300 years. The creation of Jharkhand as a new state in the political map of India was one of the results of the struggle.
After the formation of the state, the Adivasi struggle was concentrated on anti-displacement movement as 74 MoUs were signed by the successive governments one after another within a decade. Fortunately, none of the mega project was materialized. The Adivasis forced the Arcellar Mittal Company, Jindal Company and Tata Steel Ltd to desert the proposed land for their dream steel projects.
However, learning from the past, the BJP government, formed in 2014, changed the land acquisition strategy. On December 31, 2014, the government through its Department of Revenue and Land Reform issued a circular to the deputy commissioners of all 24 districts asking them to conduct survey and prepared a land data incorporating all kinds of land except the private land for the land bank.
After accumulation of the land data, the department of Revenue and Land Reform created a new website, where 2,097,003.81 acres of land was shown as government land in the Land Bank.
Jharkhand chief minister Rabhuvar Das launched the website of Land Bank on January 5, 2016, which was followed by the signing of 210 new MoUs with corporate houses during the Global Investors Summit’ held at Khelgoan, Ranchi on February 16-17, 2017.
Ever since, the state government has been attempting to acquire common land, sacred groves and forest land without (free, prior and informed) consent of the communities. For instance, the state government has given 42 acres of so-called government land to the Vedanta company at Dimbuli village near Saranda forest in West Sighbhum district of Jharkhand. 
It has been attempting to acquire the private land of Adivasis for the company against their consent. The government is ensuring the corporate’s entry to the villages through the Land Bank.
The Land Bank was created with a clear objective to ensure land to corporate houses. This was categorically expressed by Raghuvar Das while speaking to media on July 27, 2016. 
He said, “Land acquisition has never been a challenge for us as we have a land bank of 1,75,000 acres readily available for different industries to set up their businesses. Farmers are ready to give us land as we are paying a handsome price. We currently hold 40 per cent of India’s natural mineral wealth and we are on the way to becoming the power hub of the country by 2019.”
Under the tag of the government land, three categories of land data were incorporated in the land bank:
  1. common land of villages, including grazing land, play grounds, village paths, etc.,
  2. sacred groves (Sarna, Deshavali and Jaherthan) and 
  3. forest land, which entitlements were supposed to be given to the Adivasis and other traditional forest dwellers. 
The most surprising aspect of the Land Bank is that out of 2,097,003.81 acres of land, 1,016,680.48 acres is forest land, which is 48.4% of the total land in the Land Bank. If we analyze the data of the Land Bank at the district level, Chatra tops the list with 92.3% of the forest land reserved in the Land Bank. Bokaro secures the second place with 90.8%, and Giridih gets third berth with 72.8% of forest land kept in the land bank.
However, in terms of area of forest land, Giridih gets the first place with 329,539.12 acres of forest land out of 452,074.26 acres of land of land bank. Simdega secures second position with 244,434.50 acres out of 358,450.52 acres and Gumla acquires third place with 87,082.74 acres of forest land out of 181,222.78 acres of land of the Land Bank.
This is a gross violation of the section 4(1) and (5) of FRA, which recognizes individual and community rights over the forest and forest land. It has been categorically mentioned in the section 4(5) that no member of a forest dwelling Scheduled Tribes or other traditional forest dwellers shall be evicted or removed from forest land under his occupation till the recognition and verification procedure is complete. In fact, forest rights are denied to communities by enlisting forest land and community forests in Land Bank.
Land Bank also violates the Provisions of Panchayat (Extension) in Scheduled Area (PESA) Act, 1996, which recognizes the self-determination of Adivasis and empowers Gram Sabhas (village councils) to manage the natural resources.
This is also violation of the Supreme Court judgment in the case of Odisha Mining Corporation vs Ministry of Forest and Environment and others (c) No 180 of 2011, which clearly states that the Gram Sabha is the owner of the natural resources, therefore, common land, sacred groves and forests and forest land of villages cannot be acquired without the consent of the Gram Sabhas.
Formation of the Land Bank is a clear denial of forest rights to Adivasis and other traditional forest dwellers, which will also ensure the continuation of the historical injustice.
---
*Human rights activist and writer based in Ranchi, has authored several books, including "Mission Saranda: A War for Natural Resources in India", "Endless Cry in the Red Corridor", and "Whose Country is it Anyway?". A version of this article was first published in Adivasi Hunkar

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