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The Bastar Land Grab: An Interview with Sudha Bharadwaj


SB: Take a look at a map of the periphery of Chhattisgarh. If you overlay maps of forests, of adivasi villages, of minerals you'll find almost perfect overlap. When Chhattisgarh was created in 2000, carved out of Madhya Pradesh, the first Chief Minister coined a phrase, he said it was “rich land, poor people ”. In the 12 years since its creation, the people have become poorer, and more riches have been discovered in the land. This state is full of minerals – 19% of India's iron ore, 11% of the coal, bauxite, limestone, all kinds of priceless minerals. 

In the late 1990s and early 2000s the Maoists came into the northern district of Sarguja and were crushed. They came from Jharkhand. They redistributed some land. There were 20-25 encounter killings of their leaders, and many adivasi people are still in jail. Surguja has bauxite. It is densely forested. The forest ministry said it was pristine jungle, a 'no-go' area for mining. The Chhattisgarh government made it a 'go' zone, with a rail corridor and power plants. In one village, Premnagar, the Gram Sabha (village-level government) voted 12-15 times, saying they didn't want a power plant, they argued it out in a reasoned manner. That is because in a Scheduled Area (tribal dominated) the Gram Sabha has sweeping powers. So the State government, by a notification, changed the Gram Panchayat into a Nagar Panchayat (municipal council) and took away its powers! This is unconstitutional, of course, but the final judgment never seems to happen and there's no interim relief – so the land grab can proceed in the meantime. Every possible protest is thrown to the winds. 

SB: Yes, you could say it's a tribal rebellion, backed by the Maoists, who are ideological. But many ordinary people who join it see it as the only way they can save their land. 

http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/article2497776.ece). Still, we keep trying to work legally, democratically, and do mass mobilization, express solidarities, try to widen the circle. 

Justin Podur is a Toronto-based writer and professor at York University, currently a visiting professor at Jamia Millia Islamia in Delhi. His blog is www.killingtrain.com and twitter is www.twitter.com/justinpodur

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