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The Hindu Notes for 6th April 2019

Topic Discussed: The Hindu Notes of 6th April 2019

A challenging text

By reworking the Indian dream, the Congress manifesto has opened up the space of politics

  • Manifestos are generally acts of defiance and hope, which combine wishful thinking with critique. Manifestos have created world views and lived on as political and literary classics. The Congress manifesto is not quite literary or memorable but it contains within it nuggets which can shape the democratic process. In fact, there is a touch of nostalgia and dream, as the manifesto echoes Tagore’s vision of a land where the mind is without fear.
  • Between the binaries
  • The Congress document begins with a set of dualisms marking alternative choices between the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and itself. The polarities are stark. The battle is between freedom and fear, harmony and hatred, exclusion and inclusion. There is a poetry to these pages before one moves to the prose of policy choices. The BJP senses the power of this text and responds by calling the Opposition the Tukde-Tukde gang. For the BJP the election is a battle is between unity and disorder. One suddenly realises that it has dropped its economic development plank and become ‘securitarian’, hinting that a vote for the Congress is a regression to instability.
  • There is a hidden politics here which the manifesto exploits. The BJP is ideologically a votary of the nation state, of law and order, of patriotism as a world view. Sensing the weakness of this strategy, the Congress offers a broad weave of rights-based strategies, which provides a wide spectrum of solutions including employment guarantees, the revival of agriculture and a critique of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act. What we have in front of us are two models of governance, modelling as two variants of democracy. The differences are stark but the Congress has at least acquired the humility to tacitly critique its errors. One wishes it had paid more attention to corruption. But its attempt to create a transformative policy of rights is genuinely welcome.
  • There is also a difference in world views. The BJP has a commitment to a liberal economic order serving corporate interests. The Congress manifesto makes a similar claim but one senses its claims to welfarism reflect more its socialist unconscious. But the choice, however, becomes starker. A law and order party is ready to battle a rights-oriented party which is dreaming a return to welfarism.
  • One must confess manifestos have been ignored in recent times, but by reworking the Indian dream, the Congress manifesto has created a challenging text that opens up the space of politics while making electoralism a real politics of choice — a choice not as a knee-jerk response between two fixed options, but as a dream of alternative possibilities which takes citizenship and agency seriously. There are shades of rethinking India especially around agriculture and institution-building. The pity is that the focus is uneven. A critique of the BJP idea of institutions would have added to the power of the document.
  • The employment pivot
  • Manifestos exude a sense of the magical which derives from the power of keywords. If there is a keyword that dominates the Congress document, it is employment. The spectre of unemployment becomes a counter to the spectre of national insecurity. To counter the Modi model, the Congress offers a millennialism of jobs. The promise of a minimum guaranteed income has stolen the thunder from guarantees of national security. The Congress has promised to transfer ₹72,000 per year to the poorest families. This, accompanied by job creation, shifts the agenda from poverty alleviation to job creation, shifting agency back to the poor. The range of employment offered includes “make for the world”, which sounds like a direct spoof of the BJP’s much-touted “Make in India”. By making job creation the major focus, the manifesto emphasises one of the key failures of the BJP-led government at the Centre, its inability to create jobs or to confront an economy in which the number of jobs is declining.
  • But what is sociologically fascinating is that it links employment to the future of the cities. The city now becomes a vision of startups for employment, and one wishes the Congress had elaborated this idea. The other part of employment which is different from the BJP’s vision is the Congress’s attempt to systematically link ecology and employment to regeneration of wastelands and recovery of water bodies.
  • Also central to the manifesto’s economic imagination is the attempt to revive agriculture, especially through the Karz Mukti programme, which also decriminalises debt. Yet while agriculture is talked about in terms of commissions and prices, one wishes the Congress had emphasised agriculture as trusteeship of diversity and ways of life. Agriculture has to contain a wider vision of society if it has to be economically effective. A mention of its own past reflection of agriculture would have made its intentions more authentic. Its critique of the Fasal Bima Yojana is important because often reform enriches corporates at the expense of farmers. One senses the Congress has acquired a sense of the ironies of agriculture policy over the last few decades.
  • Rights-based model
  • If the revival of agriculture is one welcome strand of the Congress manifesto, its rights-based model of institution-building is another powerful counter to the Modi model of governance.
  • Its attempt to challenge the BJP appropriation of its achievement is also a welcome sign of a return to confidence. One must mention here its recognition of the importance of the informal economy and civil society as critical parts of processes that the BJP was dismissive about. Maybe the years in opposition have made the party a better listener than it was in the 1970s when the Emergency emasculated the integrity of our fundamental institutions.
  • The party’s critique of a governance model where “the regulators have become controllers” shows that it has become both self-reflective and self-critical. There is a touch of schizophrenia here when it warns that government should not unnecessarily interfere in the market, alongside its cornucopia of welfarism measures. What is most welcome, however, is the attention it pays to marginal communities such as fishermen. It is a realisation that in India, margins are demographically large. A similar set of paragraphs on de-notified tribes promises an immediate repeal of the Habitual Offenders Act.
  • The power of the second half of the manifesto stems from its link between governance and institution building. The emphasis on transparency and accountability is welcome. The Congress promises not only that it won’t tamper with the Reserve Bank of India but also that it will let the media self-regulate itself. Its promise to strengthen the Right to Information and remove provisions which have diluted it is necessary. Yet there is an overall sensitivity when it observes that “we are an over legislated and over regulated country”. Its attempt to decriminalise laws dealing with civil violations is a part of this perspective.
  • The Congress promises to review AFSPA and relook at the National Register of Citizens in Assam. One senses a party rethinking itself at the institutional level. One wishes it had been more thoughtful in details about climate change but one smells the beginning of a different concern for the Anthropocene.
  • Wish list or actionable?
  • One can dismiss the document as a wish list, as a set of promises — or one can read between the lines and see a party groping to a freshness of thought, indicating it is no longer obsessed with its past but inventing itself for a future. Reading it and placing it next to the arrogance of the BJP’s sense of achievement, one realises that hubris is not one of the party’s problems. A tentative manifesto is often more attractive than boring repetitions of a party which sees itself as inevitable.
  • Privacy in the age of sunshine laws

    The final judgment on the judiciary’s right to privacy could have a bearing on other categories of people

  • A Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court has finally concluded hearing a crucial appeal (after being nine years in cold storage) under the Right to Information Act (RTI), 2005. One of the three crucial questions raised in this case pertains to whether judges are required to publicly disclose their assets under the RTI Act in light of Section 8(1)(j). This provision prohibits the sharing of personal information that has no nexus to public activity or which amounts to an unwarranted invasion of privacy unless the larger public interest justifies such a disclosure.
  • The five judges hearing the matter face a difficult choice. Any attempt by them to assert the fundamental right to privacy as the basis for not disclosing assets to the public would necessarily require an implied overruling of landmark judgments in PUCL (2003) and Lok Prahari v. Union of India (2018), in which smaller benches of the court rubbished the privacy claims of the political class while forcing them to publicly disclose not just their assets but also the sources of their income. The final ruling of the Constitution Bench will also impact the contentious Section 44 of the Lokpal Act, 2013, which requires all public servants (this includes judges) to disclose their assets but is silent on whether the disclosure should be to the competent authority or the general public. This provision has already been the subject of an amendment in 2016.
  • As RTI application
  • This case has its origins in an RTI application filed in 2007 in which the Public Information Officer (PIO) of the Supreme Court was asked by Subash Agrawal whether the judges of the Supreme Court had complied with the terms of a resolution adopted in 1997, in which all judges had committed to disclosing information about their assets and liabilities to the Chief Justice of India (CJI). The resolution had specifically mandated that the information would remain “confidential”. In 2005, Parliament passed the RTI Act, creating a legal right to demand information held by public authorities which arguably also includes the CJI.
  • Interestingly, Mr. Agrawal never actually asked for copies of the declarations filed by the judges with the CJI. He only wanted to be informed of whether any such declaration were filed by the judges of the Supreme Court and High Courts. Yet the PIO sought to invoke, among other sections, Section 8(1)(j) of the RTI Act to deny him this information.
  • This provision of the RTI Act prevents public authorities from disclosing any “personal information” of citizens if such “disclosure had no relationship to any public activity or interest” or if such disclosure constitutes “an unwarranted invasion of the privacy of the individual” unless the PIO is “satisfied that the larger public interest justifies the disclosure of such information”.
  • When the matter reached the Delhi High Court, both the single judge and the Full Bench concluded that judges, like other public servants, had a fundamental right to privacy. This right, it held, could only be curtailed if the RTI applicant demonstrated a showing of “larger public interest” as required by Section 8(1)(j) of the RTI Act. In other words, public servants as a class of employees cannot be forced to disclose their personal assets to the public merely because they hold public posts. However, in individual cases, if the person seeking such information could demonstrate a “larger public interest” such as wrongdoing or impropriety on the part of the public official, the information could be disclosed.
  • The implications
  • It is likely that the Supreme Court will follow the Delhi High Court’s reasoning because of its own decision from 2012 in Girish Ramchandra Deshpande v. Central Information Commissioner. The court was faced with a case where an RTI applicant sought information on the service record and assets of a serving bureaucrat. In a very brief judgment, the Supreme Court ruled that the assets of the bureaucrat could not be revealed to an applicant under the RTI Act unless there was a showing of a larger public interest. The applicant could not demonstrate the larger public interest and was denied the information.
  • A lot has happened on the privacy front since 2012. The litigation and the civil society campaign against Aadhaar resulted in a unanimous judgment from nine judges of the Supreme Court declaring informational privacy as a component of the fundamental right to privacy. When the Constitution Bench decides on Mr. Agrawal’s appeal, it will most likely be viewing the privacy right enshrined in Section 8(1)(j) of the RTI Act through the lens of the Aadhaar judgment. If the Bench decides that all Supreme Court and High Court judges have a fundamental right to privacy (only two of the five judges hearing the case have voluntarily disclosed their assets) and that judges cannot be forced to disclose their assets to the public, questions will be asked as to why the court forced politicians to publicly disclose their assets and sources of income. It would then be only a matter of time before politicians and their spouses seek the overturning of the PUCL and Lok Prahari judgments, thereby turning back the clock on electoral transparency.
  • Probing the probe

    HC remarks on Jayalalithaa death probe panel are a needed caution against a roving inquiry

  • It is quite apposite that the Madras High Court has cautioned the Justice A. Arumughaswamy Commission of Inquiry, which is probing the circumstances leading up to the hospitalisation and demise of former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa, against exceeding its brief. The commission, through its counsel’s questions and averments, has been unusually proactive in attributing motives to or casting aspersions on doctors who treated her at a corporate hospital for 75 days in 2016. Although the court concluded that the commission’s functioning has not been vitiated by bias, it has voiced apprehension about some aspects. For instance, it questioned the “strange” procedure adopted by the commission in having its own advocate file applications and counter-statements, when it could have passed suo motu any order necessary in relation to the proceedings. It described as “unnecessary and unwarranted”, even “disturbing”, some of the averments made by the commission’s counsel in applications and replies. The Division Bench did not go so far as to invalidate the proceedings, as nearly all of the work has been done, but it questioned the need for the fact-finding body to attribute “collusion”, “conspiracy” and “fraud” to the hospital, or anyone else. The hospital had argued that the commission was biased against it, citing denial of adjournments on its doctors’ request, posing of questions and suggestions casting aspersions on their testimony and credentials, and other forms of “harassment”. The court found no merit in any of these accusations.
  • The appointment of the commission of inquiry itself was a political move. It is true that there was speculation about the nature of Jayalalithaa’s illness and some public misgivings about the adequacy of the treatment given to her. A shadow was cast on the role of her close aide, V.K. Sasikala, who is now serving a prison term in Bengaluru. However, it is doubtful if such speculation provided the material basis needed to order a probe, especially a fishing expedition into anything that can be fitted into the term “circumstances surrounding” a leader’s death. The Tamil Nadu government ordered the inquiry as part of a political compromise under which a judicial probe was made a pre-condition for the merger of two factions of the ruling AIADMK. Given this background, it was inevitable that the commission’s functioning would come under scrutiny. Its credibility and image would have gone up had the court agreed to the constitution of a medical board, comprising doctors drawn from various specialties, to assist it. Instead, it has chosen to reject the request by citing the deputation of some government doctors to go through the case records. Now that the court has found that there is nothing to suggest bias or malice on the commission’s part, it has a duty to complete its fact-finding mission without giving further room for speculation that it is moving towards any pre-determined conclusion.
  • Country before party

    The British Prime Minister’s cross-party talks may avert a chaotic Brexit

  • This week, British pragmatism finally found its voice in the U.K.’s complex exit process from the European Union. The government’s deliberations over a withdrawal had been held hostage by the English nationalists among the Conservative party who demand an exit sans an agreement. Prime Minister Theresa May, who had long insisted that “no deal with Brussels was better than a bad deal”, declared on Tuesday that London would not quit without an accord. She clarified she would seek an extension of the April 12 deadline, which she did duly on Friday. Parliamentarians are trying to pass legislation that would require the government to avoid a no-deal Brexit — it has passed through the Commons by a slim majority and awaits its final stages. The government had opposed these moves, initiated by Conservative and Labour MPs in recent parliamentary votes. In a bold but risky gambit, Ms. May began talks with Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn to help break the deadlock. While the government has insisted it remains against a customs union, the talks with Labour, which strongly advocates this along with worker and environmental protections, mean that this is inevitably on the table. This is resisted vehemently by many Conservatives. Few seriously believe that Ms. May and Mr. Corbyn will agree to a deal. Equally, the Prime Minister will be severely constrained by the infuriated hardline eurosceptics within her party to not concede too much. That would force the government to ask Parliament once again to find a majority for any one of several alternatives, including the thrice-rejected withdrawal accord. These ‘indicative’ votes failed to deliver a majority to join an EU customs union, offer a second referendum, or revoke Brexit. But these proposals are certain to be put before Parliament with modifications drawn from inputs across different parties.
  • Calls for a second referendum, once voiced rather mutely by hardcore remainers, have emerged as a legislative proposal. The prevailing state of chaos and confusion, almost three years after the 2016 referendum, has caused immense frustration among businesses and people. But with Parliament having assumed charge of the process — which seems irreversible — there is reason to hope for clarity and certainty. Admittedly, Ms. May’s commitment to a cross-party approach to deliver Brexit has come rather late in the day. But her willingness to put country above party at last has the potential to prevent the catastrophe of Britain going over the cliff when the date of departure eventually approaches. That is no small comfort going by the government’s own assessment of the economic and social impact of the step, besides protecting the peace across Ireland.
  • Encroachers on their own lands

    In Chhattisgarh, the Forest Rights Act potentially allows 7.4 million tribal and other traditional forest dwellers to claim land rights. However, half these claims have been rejected and the land siphoned off, often arbitrarily. Jacob Koshy reports on the difficulties in implementing the Act and the plight of the Adivasis

    Encroachers on their own lands
  • Three years ago, Sunder Singh Kumeti, a Gond tribal, lost access to a parcel of land in the forest that he and his family had foraged for two generations. Before that, Kumeti recalls his work routine as being more or less the same everyday from boyhood. He would walk, along with his fellow villagers, several kilometres into the forest abutting his village looking for flowers from the mahua tree, or wood from the stout sal tree. His village, Patkalbeda, located in Antagarh panchayat of Kanker district in Chhattisgarh, is mostly forest area, though not classified as a reserve forest or a protected area.
  • Alongside maintaining their rice fields, collecting forest produce is a key economic activity for the nearly 30 families of the village. To collect berries and wood, the average Patkalbeda tribal forays 8-10 km deep into the forest. Fruits and timber apart, the palms — particularly the ‘salphi’ tree, known to produce a sweet, milky, alcoholic liquid — are also considered the bounty of these parts. The deciduous forests of this region, which make up the northern half of Bastar, are classified as ‘moderately dense’ by the forest law. Collecting and trading this produce with townsfolk has been a generations-old practice, says Kumeti. He imagined that life would be no different for his children. But that was not to be.
  • A year that changed lives
  • In September 2016, Kumeti and the residents of his village witnessed a cavalcade of trucks bearing iron rods, earth-moving equipment and large vats of cement mixers rolling into these areas. It didn’t occur to Kumeti then that the collective fate of his village was going to irrevocably change. Some of the men accompanying the vehicles looked familiar: they were contractors with whom Kumeti had dealt with as a trader and who frequently visited for forest produce. This time, however, there were other men — from the Indian Railways, from the Bhilai Steel Plant, and officers from the Chhattisgarh forest department. They told Kureti and 15 others that tracts of land in Patkalbeda were being acquired for the Dallirajhara-Rowghat-Jagdalpur railway line.
  • In April 2018, Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated a section of that railway line connecting Dallirajhara, in Balod district, and a traditional source of iron ore, to Bhanupratappur in north Bastar. The proposed 235 km-long track would connect the Rowghat mines (that local experts say has enough iron ore to last a century) to the mainland, and reduce the behemoth Bhilai Steel Plant’s dependence on the Dallirajhara mines, which have iron ore that is estimated to last for only a few years. “The Rowghat-Jagdalpur line will reduce rail distance between Raipur to Jagdalpur by about 260 km. This will boost socio-economic interaction between the capital of Chhattisgarh and backward areas in and around Bastar region,” a Press Information Bureau statement said then.
  • The rail project has been in the works for several decades but because of its location in the heart of the Bastar region, and proximity to regions with Naxalite presence, it saw glacial progress.
  • But in Patkalbeda, from September to November in 2016, workers cut nearly 300 sal, saja and fruit trees for the purpose of surveying and prospecting the forest. The next year, they deployed heavy machinery and destroyed swathes of standing crop, mostly rice, says Kumeti. By January 2018, the machines had uprooted several more trees as well as stumps of those that were previously hacked. In the course of this destruction, acres of land became unfit for cultivation. Kumeti doesn’t know how much land he lost. Sanganath Dugga, 50, another resident of the village, says he lost three acres of land. Masooram, 42, Dugga’s immediate neighbour, says he lost five acres.
  • Implementing the FRA
  • Kumeti, Dugga and Masooram are fortunate, for they have, at least in theory, recourse to a landmark piece of legislation, which was framed in order to correct historical injustice to Adivasis. For the several thousand forest villages of India, the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006, which is informally called the Forest Rights Act or FRA, is a single sheet of laminated paper. This patta, or title deed, which is zealously guarded by owners, is often their most valuable possession, attesting to the rights to their land in the forest as well as to the number of acres they are entitled to. A key benefit of the deed is that villagers whose land is acquired by the government stand to gain monetary compensation.
  • As per the provisions of the FRA, forest dwellers have individual rights and villagers have community rights over tracts of land that they are allowed to manage in ways they deem fit. Any transfer of land for non-forest purposes requires the prior consent of gram sabhas.
  • On paper, Kumeti is the owner of 2.5 acres of forest land. However, a portion of this land was taken for the railway project, he claims. And to ensure that Kumeti and fellow claimants to the forest land stay clear of the railway lines, there are now Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB) forces stationed there. Attempts by villagers to point out stretches of their land which have now been made inaccessible are being thwarted by the heavily armed patrol. Work at the railway line came to a halt earlier this year after a “mini agitation” by the villagers, one of the stationed SSB troops says. “Last year, half a kilometre from where we’re standing, an improvised explosive device was detonated by the Naxalites. The government is extremely sensitive to the presence of anyone over here,” he says.
  • While Kumeti has a piece of paper certifying his possession of the land, Soham Darro says his claims over a piece of land have been rejected. The head of a family of four, Darro owns some pasture land, but a sizeable portion (“at least three acres”) in the reserved forest has been denied to him. Darro deposited with the village office documents to prove ownership, but they never made it back to him. “I was asked to deposit an application as well as proof of residence at the panchayat office two years ago. After that, I’ve never seen those papers. I don’t know how I’m supposed to get them back,” he says.
  • Kumeti and Darro are residents of the same village and their experiences exemplify the two major challenges in implementing the FRA effectively. Forest land that should ideally be managed by the gram sabha is not always legally transferred to the village community, and, sometimes, individuals are unable to claim ownership of their land.
  • In a blow to Kumeti and millions of others like him across India, the Supreme Court, on February 13, ordered that all Adivasis and forest dwellers whose claims under the FRA have been rejected should be evicted from the forests by July 2019. This was on the back of a petition in the court by some environment groups demanding that those who didn’t have proof to identify themselves as forest dwellers be marked as encroachers and evicted. Their presence, it was argued, endangered wildlife and forest conservation efforts.
  • Following protests, the court temporarily stayed its own order on February 28, and directed the States to compile the reasons for rejecting the claims and explain whether and how due process had been followed.
  • A land of minerals
  • Chhattisgarh, 45% of which is forest area, hosts some of India’s richest mineral deposits, including coal, iron ore, bauxite and limestone. Forest land was once the fiefdom of the British. Following Independence, it was seen as the exclusive turf of the forest bureaucracy. However, after the enactment of the FRA and with mounting instances of the exploitation of this economic wealth to the detriment of Adivasis, the state’s control over these forests is being contested by the tribal and forest-dwelling populace.
  • The FRA was enacted to recognise the close connection of Adivasis share with forests and their natural claim to forest land and its produce. Since the FRA came into force on December 31, 2007, there have been 4.2 million title claims over 14 million acres of forest land nationwide, of which only 1.8 million have been accorded, according to November 2018 data from the Ministry of Tribal Affairs. Chhattisgarh topped the list among States. Nearly 8.9 lakh title claims, by individuals and communities, were made in the State. Only 4.16 lakh claims, or less than half, were actually granted. The rejection rate was also highest in Chhattisgarh among the States, the data indicate.
  • “Chhattisgarh epitomises the necessity of the FRA. It has rich natural wealth, which corporations and industry desire. There is a large tribal population that is dependent on the forests. Yet, awareness of the FRA is poor, from the district administration level to the forest officials,” says Alok Shukla, convenor of the Chhattisgarh Bachao Andolan, a coalition of activist groups that works on FRA matters.
  • In Chhattisgarh, the FRA has the potential to secure the rights and livelihoods of more than 7.4 million Adivasis and traditional forest dwellers, who constitute 32% of the State’s population and are spread over at least 3.02 million hectares in over 11,500 villages. Only 5% of the total Scheduled Castes/Scheduled Tribes population in Chhattisgarh has claimed individual forest resource rights. There are no data on titles recognised in favour of women. Community forest resource rights have also not been recognised in Chhattisgarh, says Puja Priyadarshini, a lawyer and activist with the Community Forest Resource-Learning and Advocacy, an NGO network that among other things analyses the political impact of FRA implementation.
  • The procedure of staking a claim
  • A key reason for complications in implementation of the FRA is the process of staking a claim. Adivasis may claim individual rights over forest areas if they can prove that they have been residents of the area before December 13, 2005. Their claims are vetted by a three-layered system: the gram sabha, where the claims are first submitted; a sub-divisional-level committee (SDLC) headed by a government officer; and a district-level committee (DLC) headed by the district collector.
  • Forest claims have to be accompanied by documentary evidence such as government identity cards, statements by elders, and physical evidence of possession or use of land. The gram sabha’s forest rights committee verify the claims. If the gram sabha is satisfied, it directs the claims to the SDLC for review. If approved, the claim is forwarded to the DLC, which is the final legal authority to approve or reject claims.
  • The FRA specifies that claimants can’t be rejected without a personal hearing and they need to be provided, in writing, the reasons for rejections. “Most of the rejections take place at the gram sabha level,” says Shukla. “And often forest and village officials, who are not supposed to be in the gram sabha committees, call the shots. The asymmetry of power is very evident in these interactions.”
  • Keshav Shori, founder of DISHA, an organisation that scouts forests for Adivasi settlements to educate residents about the FRA and the need to file title claims, says that in the pursuit of forest land, officials frequently concoct rules, or bring in provisions of irrelevant legislation to lay claim to forest land. “The FRA says land cannot be taken away by the government until forest rights are recognised. Often, rules that apply to non-forest lands, such as the Land Acquisition Act or the Panchayat Act, are used to capture forest land,” he says.
  • Early last month, the Environment Ministry granted clearance for diverting more than 841.5 hectares of forestland for mining coal in Chhattisgarh’s Parsa block. The region is part of the pristine Hasdeo Arand forests. The coal will be mined from the area for use in captive power plants operated by the Rajasthan Rajya Vidyut Utpadan Nigam Limited. The mining operations will be handled by Rajasthan Collieries Limited, a unit of Adani Enterprises. While there are cases pending in the Supreme Court regarding the allotment of these mining contracts, Shukla says similar exercises are imminent in southern regions of Bastar, that were so far inaccessible because of Naxal activity. “The takeover of forest land by private corporations has led to a certain level of activism and Adivasis are standing up for their rights in Sarguja and Parsa. But a lot more training and awareness programmes are required in these regions (Antagarh and Kanker) to avert situations like these,” he says.
  • Political consequences
  • The demand for due recognition of forest rights was reflected in the Assembly election results in Chhattisgarh in 2018. In the rural constituencies, the BJP lost favour with the voters, while the Congress made marginal gains, largely because it promised to properly implement the FRA. Overall, the Congress swept the State. After the Supreme Court order, Congress president Rahul Gandhi asked Chief Ministers in Congress-ruled States to file a review petition against the mass eviction of Adivasis and other forest dwellers. Soon after coming to power, Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel convened a meeting of district authorities and civil society organisations to discuss ways in which the FRA could be better implemented. “There was a lot of latent anger regarding the poor implementation of the FRA. That impacted the BJP in the election. The Congress has taken over only recently, so the expectations that people have from the party might carry over into the Lok Sabha elections too,” says Shori.
  • An analysis in March by the CFR-LA finds that implementation of forest rights could be a key poll issue in a fourth of India’s 543 parliamentary constituencies. In Chhattisgarh, this could resonate in the Bastar, Kanker, Raigarh and Sarguja constituencies, CFR-LA says, given that 43-70% of the voters in these areas stand to gain from proper implementation of the FRA.
  • Kumeti and his compatriots are divided about the effectiveness of either the BJP or the Congress in this regard. For now, they have put their faith in the court. Through a civil rights organisation, the villagers first petitioned the Collector of Kanker for compensation and jobs in lieu of their land being taken for the project, in November 2015, when they heard whispers that their land was going to be encroached. In January 2018, they finally petitioned the High Court but are yet to hear anything concrete. Dugga says, “We understand that the government requires land for developmental projects and we aren’t against it. However, we would like our children to benefit too. What else can we bequeath them?”