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Monday, June 09, 2014

 
 

Taking clues from two mediations between Maoists and the Government of Odisha

 

"The discussion on various demands made by the CPI (Maoist) leaders of Odisha against release of abducted Italian Citizens seemed to have attained maturity as many of the demands were presented as lawful according to various norms of Indian constitution and the revolutionary PESA (Panchayats Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act of 1996. Unlike the mediation that was held 13 months back, this time the mediators attempted to validate the demands under specific laws and constitutional provisions meant to safeguard the rights of tribal communities."

Basudev Mahapatra

 

The mediation that took place in 2011 February for release of an IAS (Indian Administrative Service) Officer, then posted as Malkangiri District Collector in Odisha, and the recent one for the release of abducted Italian citizens has greater political and philosophical relevance than the simple abduction drama and its follow ups.

The mediation for release of the abducted Italian citizens may look like a lingering one, but pushing the demands on the canvass of the constitutional laws that recognise the rights of the communities living in the forests and inaccessible pockets of the country definitely looks like something to awaken the State and its authorities about the laws, their possible applications and the kind of authority they grant to the specific people and communities.

The discussion on various demands made by the CPI (Maoist) leaders of Odisha against release of abducted Italian Citizens seemed to have attained maturity as many of the demands were presented by the mediator Dr. B. D. Sharma, a retired IAS officer who worked extensively for the rights and welfare of the tribal communities while in service and afterwards, as lawful according to various norms of Indian constitution and the revolutionary PESA (Panchayats Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act of 1996. Unlike the mediation that was held 13 months back, this time the mediators attempted to validate the demands under specific laws and constitutional provisions meant to safeguard the rights of tribal communities.

While pressing upon demands like ‘no interference by outsiders in the name of tourism’ and ‘making the tribal domains free from commercial liquor trade’, Sharma brought the new tribal development policy and the new excise policy adopted way back in 1974. Terming that promoting liquor trade in the tribal domains in the name of revenue is nothing but exploitation, Sharma brought the provisions of PESA Act before the representatives of the Government of Odisha. The Act in para 4 (m) and sub-clause (i) in the composite form declares, ‘while endowing Panchayats in the Scheduled Areas with such powers and authority as may be necessary to enable them to function as institutions of self-government, a State Legislature shall ensure that the Panchayats at the appropriate level and the Gram Sabha are endowed specifically with the power to enforce prohibition or to regulate or restrict the sale and consumption of any intoxicant’.

About ‘Green Hunt’, the Maoists demand number two, Sharma elaborated that, ‘Operation Green Hunt’ has come into usage in the tribal areas without any idea about its real meaning. Some limit its scope of combing operation while others call it a clearing operation. Capture of territories of the Red Indians by the Americans was a highly eulogized ‘Hunting Expedition’. The same ideal is being attempted now in the tribal tracts of India under ‘Operation Green Hunt’.

In a written communication to the State Government Officials, Sharma mentioned that the tribal areas were excluded or partially excluded until the adoption of the constitution on November 26, 1949 when tribal people enjoyed full control over the resources – land, water and forests – in their respective areas. Sharma described it as ‘the biggest irony that the tribal custom and tradition of ‘excluded area’ days have been forgotten except in the Sixth Scheduled Areas. All laws of the land got extended to these areas in routine that ‘criminalised’ the entire tribal territories in the Fifth Schedule Areas’.

During a personal visit and discussion thereof, Sharma said that no Governor of any of the concerned States did ever use their powers under para 5 (1) of the Fifth Schedule of Indian Constitution that says, ‘Notwithstanding anything in this Constitution, the Governor may by public notification direct that any particular Act of Parliament or of the Legislature of the State shall not apply to a Scheduled Area or any part thereof in the State or shall apply to a Scheduled Area or any part thereof in the State subject to such exceptions and modifications as he may specify in the notification and any direction given under this sub-paragraph may be given so as to have retrospective effect’,

‘As the States fail in implementing PESA Act in true spirit and terms, the tribal people are asserting their rights over natural resources in their own domains’, said Sharma while talking about the tribal community issues adding that, ‘States are asserting the principle of Eminent Domain as is vogue in western countries ignoring the rights of tribal communities over the resources now conceded implicitly under PESA’.

Attempting to bring the 10th demand of the 13-point charter given by the Maoists – ‘stop police repression’ – within the constitutional framework, Sharma noted, ‘the malady is not simple but deep rooted. The Unregulated Immigration in tribal areas and massive displacement of tribal people there-from under the aura of State’s authority and even indiscriminate occasional use of force is rampant in many areas where, now, industries are being established. Citing at the growing conflict in the scheduled areas, Sharma hints upon the reasons behind saying that, ‘the so called development in tribal areas has resulted in massive immigration of fortune seekers as the state not only tends to remain unconcerned but facilitates and promotes the same in the name of freedom to move, reside and settle in any part of the territory of India’. Here also, as Sharma said, the violation and dishonor of the provisions in PESA Act and the Fifth Schedule Acts of Indian Constitution are described as primary reasons.

However, attempts to influence policies and building pressure on the government to strictly follow the norms of PESA and other similar Acts were made during the mediation for release of Malkangiri Collector R. Vineel Krishna that took place in February 2011. Among the 14 demands then placed by the Maoist group leaders, most of the demands held greater political and policy relevance because they were about rights and welfare of people living in areas that are populated with tribal people and mapped as ‘Maoist Infested’ by the local and state level government authorities.

When demands like extending ST status to Nuka Dora and Konda Reddy communities, construction of new canals in Potteru irrigation projects of Malkangiri were for the welfare of the communities, demands for compensation to families who lost their houses in Balimela Reservoir Project, addressing grievances of people displaced by Nalco alumina refinery project in Damanjodi of Koraput district, return of tribal lands usurped by the non-tribal people back to the STs and honouring PESA Act, Forest Conservation Act and Forest Right Act while undertaking development in scheduled areas were some points to address issues like displacement by influencing government policies for development.

Even though these demands had strong political and policy relevance, they were not seen from a constitutional or legal perspective as it happened this time during the discussion for the release of the abducted Italian Citizens. For the first time, during these two mediations held in Odisha, the Maoists brought welfare of people in their list of demands. Earlier, as in case of Andhra Pradesh and other states, abductions by the left extremists were made to force the government for exchange of persons against the abducted. But from the change in the trend in these two cases, where constitutional basis of various demands have been emphasised, it seems that the CPI (Maoist) party is slowly including various public welfare policies into its political agenda.

The government and its administration, while working to counter the Maoist menace, must take clues from the points raised by the mediators during the whole process and resolve the issues that are deep rooted in the fifth schedule areas leading to socio-economic conflicts in and among the communities living in it.

           

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