Sundergarh, Odisha: Urbanization as “Development” Versus Constitutional Safeguards for the Tribal People

March 19, 2015

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Report of a PUCL Fact Finding Team into unrest and repression in the Sundergarh scheduled district of Odisha.

The Team:

Isha Khandelwal, Lawyer, Chhattisgarh; Ashish Beck, Lawyer, Chhattisgarh; Sharanya Nayak, Human Rights Activist, Odisha; Dr. P.M. Antony, independent researcher, Ranchi, Jharkhand; Pranab Doley, Activist, Odisha; Atindriyo Chakrabarty, Lawyer, West Bengal

Dates: 16th to 20th February 2015

Foreword:

The present Fact Finding was conducted over a period of 5 days. The fact finding process was initiated after the affected in the region and some local activists in the area sought an independent civil society investigation into the brutal suppression of the adivasis of Sundergarh District who have been protesting against the inclusion of their scheduled villages especially, Jagda and Jhartarang Panchayat into the Rourkela Municipal Corporation. This included information that huge numbers of villagers were getting arrested in the region and that on 20th January 2015, when the villagers organized an economic blockade as a sign of protest, several villagers including women and children were severely beaten up. On the initiative of the Chhattisgarh PUCL, this was deliberated in the National and various other state units of the PUCL and thus a fact finding team was formed including members from Odisha, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh, particularly since these other states also have similar experiences of Scheduled rural areas being forcibly included in the urban areas.

The fact finding team reached Rourkela, Sundergarh on the 16th and over the next 5 days, met villagers from different villages who were arrested, beaten up or who are still running under fear of arrest owing to pending FIRs against them. On the first and second day of our visit, we met various local leaders and had detailed conversations where they gave a deeper historical context to the entire issue. Women of the villages, who were arrested on the day of the economic blockade, were released on bail during our visit and we were able to meet and interact with them. There were old and young men and women who were severely beaten up, they also spoke to the team and described the events of that day. Mr. Jablun Ekka, George Tirkey, Lily Kujur, Sunita Singh, Tej Kumari , Ramnath Toppo, gave detailed accounts of the circumstances in which they learnt of the notification regard to the inclusion and how the villagers have been protesting against it right from the very beginning. Other than the villagers we met the Additional District Magistrate, Station House Officer Brahmanitarang, had telephonic conversation with the Superintendent of Police Sundergarh, and went to the Municipal Corporation to speak to the officers and obtain documents relating to the transformation of Rourkela Nagar Panchayat into a Municipal Corporation.

This report is based on our conversations with the villagers, Administration and also on the basis of various documents which we were able to obtain procured during our visit.

Background:

Sundergarh is a Schedule Five district in the north-western part of the state of Odisha. It has been a site of multiple movements for the right to self-determination historically, and also one of the regions that has made great sacrifices for the development of this country. As much as 67 per cent of the population lives in the rural areas. Sundergarh is the 2nd largest tribal district of Odisha having 51% of tribal population. The entire district is a Scheduled Area thus making the Fifth Schedule as well as Acts like PESA, OSATIP and special schemes meant for tribal communities under ITDAs applicable in the area.

The marginalization process of the tribal communities in Sundergarh started with the industrialization, mining and urbanisation of the district leading to large scale dispossession, as also deprivation resulting from the alienation from forest resources on which tribal communities were dependent for survival. Setting up of one of the first steel plants of the country, Rourkela Steel Plant, resulted in large scale displacement of adivasis who inhabited the Rourkela area, without any consideration for their resettlement and rehabilitation. Rules under Fifth schedule were violated while adivasis in the area were getting impoverished and their numbers reduced with every successive census after independence.

The story of adivasis and the history of their dispossession by every agency in Sundergarh is not very different from other adivasi areas. In several Schedule V areas of the country similar instances of acquisition of tribal land by the state and by corporate entities in the name of „development‟ has become a worryingly common phenomenon. Often, areas around towns and cities in Schedule V areas are demarcated as Nazul land i.e. land that is earmarked for urban development. Eyewash schemes, like the notorious Singhdeo Yojana of Sarguja, Chhattisgarh, are made to accommodate the original settlers of such lands for a while and then they are displaced and all the land that they have been residing in for generations are taken by the state. In this context and standing at this juncture of history, the situation involving the expansion of the Rourkela Municipal Corporation and the resistance by Sundergarh Zila Adivasi Mulvasi Bachao Manch (SZAMBM) stands as a hope to all the adivasis in the Fifth Schedule areas.

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