The Forest Advisory Committee (FAC) at its meeting held during February 20-21 gave permission to the public sector SAIL to divert 210.526 ha of forest land in Jhillingburu of Saranda (Jharkhand) for iron ore mining. This was the second such project cleared by the FAC which allowed Jindal Steel and Power to divert 500 ha of forest land in Saranda earlier in February 2013.
The area also happens to be part of Singhbhum Elephant Reserve. These two clearances belie the claim of the Union Rural Development Ministry that ‘Operation Anaconda’ launched in Jharkhand's Saranda forest area (West Singhbhum district) was not linked with enabling corporate plunder of mineral resources. Even the Union Rural Development Minister, Jairam Ramesh, recently complained that the “FAC decision is a huge setback and very retrograde…” because over the “past one year I have been at great pains to counter Maoist propaganda that the Saranda Development Plan is a ploy to benefit private mining interests.”
These two instances confirm what Coordination of Democratic Rights Organisation (CDRO) has been insisting are the real reasons behind the war in Saranda, which was to enable corporate mining and mineral based industries to start operating freely. CDRO had pointed to the setting up of 17 camps of central para military forces in Saranda to keep the people subdued and provide protection for corporate investors. These two clearances are not the last; rather they are part of a list of nineteen applications pending clearance, which our report 'Under the Shadow of Terror' focuses on.
Such clearances should be read together with the Union Cabinet's decision to dilute the Forest Rights Act in 82 districts designated "Left Wing Extremist". The Forest Rights Act gave authority to the Gram Sabha to approve or reject diversion of forest land for non-forest use. Now using the excuse of "linear" projects (such as roads) under the Integrated Action Plan the FRA has been rendered virtually infructuous by divesting the Gram Sabha of its authority.
The implication is that there is a link between the war against Adivasis under the name of fighting Maoists and opening the forest area for plunder by domestic and foreign capital. It also means that so long as Maoists retained control of the area, the mining juggernaut could be kept at bay. But no sooner than the Indian government militarily forced them out, the long pending corporate proposals started getting cleared.
We appeal to all those who have been fighting displacement of people from their forest resource base and abode as well as those who are part of the struggle against land grab and plunder of natural resources to voice their opposition lest we are served a fact accompli. We demand that the FAC clearances be withdrawn and that the FAC be divested of its authority to clear projects, thereby restoring the primacy of Gram Sabha.
Kranthi Chetanya (APCLC, Andhra Pradesh), Paramjeet Singh (PUDR, Delhi), Parmindar Singh (AFDR, Punjab), Phulendro Konsam (COHR, Manipur) and Tapas Chakraborty (APDR, West Bengal)
(Coordinators of CDRO)