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India: The Biggest Grab of Tribal Lands After Columbus

Excerpts from ’Committee On State Agrarian Relations and Unfinished Task of Land Reforms, Ministry of Rural Development, Government of India. Volume 1 (Draft Report)

by sacw.net, 30 October 2009

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[From the ’Committee On State Agrarian Relations and Unfinished Task of Land Reforms, Ministry of Rural Development, Government of India. Volume 1 (Draft Report)]

A civil war like situation has gripped the southern districts of Bastar, Dantewara and Bijapur in Chattishgarh. The contestants are the armed squads of tribal men and women of the erstwhile Peoples War Group now known as the Communist Party of India (Maoist) on the one side and the armed tribal fighters of the Salva Judum created and encouraged by the government and supported with the firepower and organization of the central police forces. This open declared war will go down as the biggest land grab ever, if it plays out as per the script. The drama being scripted by Tata Steel and Essar Steel who wanted 7 villages or thereabouts, each to mine the richest lode of iron ore available in India.

There was initial resistance to land acquisition and displacement from the tribals. The state withdrew its plans under fierce resistance. An argument put forward was ‘you don’t play foul with the Murias? It’s a matter of life and death and Murias don’t fear death. A new approach was necessary if the rich lodes of iron ore are to be mined.

The new approach came about with the Salva Judum, euphemistically meaning peace hunt. Ironically the Salva Judum was led by Mahendra Karma, elected on a Congress ticket and the Leader of the Opposition and supported whole heartedly by the BJP led government. The Salva Judum was headed and peopled by the Murias, some of them erstwhile cadre and local leaders of the Communist Party of India (Maoist). Behind them are the traders, contractors and miners waiting for a successful result of their strategy. The first financiers of the Salva Judum were Tata and the Essar in the quest for peace? The first onslaught of the Salva Judum was on Muria villagers who still owed allegiance to the Communist Party of India (Maoist). It turned out to be an open war between brothers. 640 villages as per official statistics were laid bare, burnt to the ground and emptied with the force of the gun and the blessings of the state. 350,000 tribals, half the total population of Dantewada district are displaced, their womenfolk raped, their daughters killed, and their youth maimed. Those who could not escape into the jungle were herded together into refugee camps run and managed by the Salva Judum. Others continue to hide in the forest or have migrated to the nearby tribal tracts in Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Orissa.

640 villages are empty. Villages sitting on tons of iron ore are effectively de-peopled and available for the highest bidder. The latest information that is being circulated is that both Essar Steel and Tata Steel are willing to take over the empty landscape and manage the mines.