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Archive for March 17th, 2010

India: Tribal People Defend Their Land from Steel Company

Posted by Ka Frank on March 17, 2010

This article appeared in the Peninsula Observer and the Financial Times on March 10, 2010.

“There are slogans on walls saying ‘Naxals come and save us’,” says Arundhati Roy, the writer and social activist. “People are begging them, ‘just come and train us’.”

India’s tribes pitted against corporations over land

Disputes over forcible purchases are raging across the nation, says Amy Kazmin.  First, the land surveyors came. Then the rumours spread through the villages: Tata, one of India’s biggest conglomerates, would build a steel mill in the district. Finally government officials came to ask the villagers in Lohandiguda in Chhattisgarh state, who are mainly illiterate farmers from the Gond tribe, to relinquish their fields for the promise of cash, jobs and a better future.

For Banga Ram, the 65-year-old patriarch of a large family, the request was absurd. “What will we do with the money?” he asked. “We have to do agriculture to feed these children.” But local officials were not taking No for an answer. Banga Ram was arrested. After he spent 13 days in jail, he says his sons signed away the land and accepted compensation.

In nearby Chindgaon village, Sundar Kashyap, who earns Rs10,000 ($219, €161, £146) a month working for the government animal husbandry department, says his bosses warned him of trouble if his younger brothers refused to sign over two of their five acres. They too signed.

Yet five years after Tata Steel announced its plans for the mill, the families of both men are still cultivating their ancestral fields. Officials are struggling to complete the contentious land acquisition, with 20 percent of the required 5,000 hectares still outstanding and a local civil rights lawyer threatening legal action against the process. “I am going to challenge it,” says Pratap Agrawal, an attorney in the nearby small town of Jagdalpur. Read the rest of this entry »

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