(Vatican Radio) Church people in India have deplored Jharkhand state in Eastern India, amending a law allowing the acquisition of tribal lands for industries and mining, ignoring widespread protest from tribal people against the move.
The state government run by Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) passed the amendment Wednesday. The amendment removes an earlier blanket ban imposed by law on either the state or individuals acquiring tribal land. The state government, keen to lure investment to one of the country's poorest states, has proposed amendments to two pieces of legislation to allow it to buy up protected tribal land to lease to investors for non-agricultural purposes.
"The Jharkhand government is attempting to dilute the rights of tribals guaranteed by the Constitution," said Premchand Murmu, a protest leader and member of the rights group Adivasi Buddhijeevi Manch, which organised Thursday's rally.
"We plan to continue our agitation until we achieve our goals," he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. The rally held up traffic and blocked roads in the state capital Ranchi, as people marched in traditional costumes, carrying bows and arrows, as well as placards with anti-government slogans.
The ban aimed at protecting the land of uneducated and poverty stricken tribal people, who might sell of their land — the only source of their income — at throw away prices and become destitute. However, the amendment now enables anyone to buy tribal lands for industrial and mining purposes.
The bill was passed amid vociferous opposition in the 82-seat state legislative assembly, where the BJP and its allies have 43 seats. The state, created in 2000 purportedly to advance tribal welfare, has some 33 million people, some 26 percent of them belonging to indigenous communities.
The National Commission for Scheduled Tribes had earlier submitted a report to the federal government advising against the state's plans to amend the two colonial-era laws - the Chotanagpur Tenancy Act and the Santhal Pargana Tenancy Act.
The amendment "will hurt the poor tribal people in the state and their existence itself will come under jeopardy," said Auxiliary Bishop Telesphore Bilung of Ranchi, based in the state capital.
Opponents of the bill say the move will help transnational corporations take over vast areas of tribal lands, resulting in large scale displacement and migration of tribal people, seriously affecting their community life and existence.
Bishop Bilung, himself a tribal, said most tribal people live in the villages and depend solely on farming and forest produce for existence. "The amendment has put their life into serious danger," he said.
The church will oppose "this move that makes land open to anyone to sell and buy tribal lands," the bishop told ucanews.com as Christians joined hundreds of people for a Nov. 25 protest demonstration across the state.
About 1.5 million people in the state are Christians, at least half of them Catholics, and vast majority of them tribal people.
State chief Minister Raghubar Das told the state assembly that the amendment was in the interest of the state and the people. "The poor and the indigenous people are going to benefit the most from it," he said, arguing that industries and mines will bring more employment and financial benefits to the people.
Other State government officials say the move will help provide land to build much-needed infrastructure, and that the interests of indigenous people will be protected.
"The amendment has been proposed after wide consultations and in the interest of the people," said Revenue Minister Amar Kumar Bauri. "We have done this to ensure that the construction of critical infrastructure such as hospitals, roads, supply of electricity do not face trouble," he said.
Earlier, the church and other social forums working for indigenous communities held several protest meetings against the move. However, Das blamed the Christian community for inflaming the protest and said those behind it are people who want to convert the poor.
The opposition Jharkhand Mukti Morcha has also presented a memorandum to the state governor Draupadi Murmu urging her not give her consent to the amendment, which is necessary for it become law.
Conflicts over land in India have increased as the economy expands and more land is sought for industrial use and development projects. While several laws have been introduced in the past decade to protect the rights of farmers and indigenous people, some laws have been diluted in their implementation and not always helped the most vulnerable, activists say.
(Source: Reuters; UCANews.com)