On India’s biometrics ID Aadhaar debate

IMG_3312

7-year old Abhishek Bairwa enrolling in Aadhaar in a shop in Bagru, Jaipur district after being asked by his school teachers to do so. photo AnumehaY

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An audit of ration shops after the introduction of Aadhaar revealed that many genuine beneficiaries couldn’t collect food grain due to system glitches.
Student battles for right to obtain voter card without having to enrol for Aadhaar
How the government got the Supreme Court’s approval to link subsidy schemes with Aadhaar
India’s Unique Identity Dilemma isn’t about those who enrol in Aadhaar, but those who don’t
No benefits for beneficiaries

No Aadhaar, no scholarship

She returns empty-handed, this time too

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Direct benefits transfer: Why direct transfer may not put money in people’s pockets
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Jharkhand: Schools serve as security camps, military barracks

This article is from July 2014 on presence of security forces in school buildings in Jharkhand before and after the general elections.

High School for SC-ST children in Tiskopiya village in Bokaro where CPI(Maoist) blew eight classrooms in in 2009 after security forces stayed there during the elections. photo-Manob Chowdhury

High School for SC-ST children in Tiskopiya village in Bokaro where CPI(Maoist) blew eight classrooms in in 2009 after security forces stayed there during the elections. photo- Manob Chowdhury

In recent years, as the presence of security personnel in Jharkhand has multiplied, schools and civic buildings have frequently become the theatre of conflict between the paramilitary forces and the rebels. In the absence of large, concrete structures inside densely forested districts, security personnel use civic buildings, schools, anganwadi for accommodation, and camps. For instance, April 4 onwards, in Palamu, CRPF’s 157 Battalion deputed in Chatarpur before polling made barracks out of the government middle school building cordoning off the school with concertina wire and converting its roof into a watch-post. It was the same in several other districts.

Four days after the second phase of polling for Lok Sabha elections got over in Jharkhand on April 17, the CPI(Maoist) blew up panchayat bhawan in Rajabar in Koderma. The building had been used as a temporary camp by one of the 212 additional units of the Central Reserve Police Forces (CRPF) deputed to keep watch in the state during the Lok Sabha elections. Recently, on June 25, the People’s Liberation Front of India (PLFI), a Maoist splinter group active in western Jharkhand, called for a bandh in all schools in Khunti district citing CRPF’s continued use of school buildings to station troops here. There are instances of classes being disrupted, and overall, this exposes schools to the risk of becoming civilian targets of CPI(Maoist).

In 2008, Ranchi-based activist and school teacher Shashi Bhushan Pathak filed a PIL in Jharkhand High Court objecting to school buildings being turned into temporary and permanent security camps. On the High Court’s orders, Jharkhand police furnished a list of 40 schools in 13 districts where it had set up pickets and security camps, including primary, middle, high schools, hostels, schools for visually disabled children. On November 21, 2008 the Jharkhand High Court ordered security forces vacate all school premises by January 2009. Senior police officials say they have since complied with this order.

Investigations in West Singhbhum and Latehar, however, reveal the CRPF continue to camp schools buildings temporarily and have even converted parts of schools buildings into permanent camps. Villagers pointed out instances where first schools had been occupied temporarily during elections, and then the same camps being turned into permanent camps later.

In Chotanagra in West Singhbhum, a CRPF camp and a thana function at one end of the ground of the Upgraded High School and Residential School for Scheduled Tribes. The school is one of two residential schools catering to tribals villagers from 56 forest villages in Saranda.

“This space used to be a maidaan where people came to play sports from all over. In 2004, the Border Security Force camped here before general elections and then the CRPF set up a permanent camp,” said Ajay Sahu who runs a grocery shop across the road from the school. A wall in the center of the playground was built a few months back, taking away the students’ access to the playground.

“Sometimes the jawans would come to the school to fill water from the handpump, and when the special forces CRPF’s CoBRA, Jharkhand Jaguar visited, they camped in the school at night. Parents of children from Sonapi proposed a wall be built to discourage this as adolescent girls live in the hostel,” said a school teacher requesting anonymity. A CRPF jawan filling water from the school’s hand-pump told this reporter that the jawans had no option but to use the school’s hand-pump, as the camp had an Aquaguard water filter but electricity failed regularly.

Bombings, demolitions; schoolchildren suffer

In retaliation for the security forces making barracks out of school buildings in the last few years, the Maoists have bombed dozens of schools all over Jharkhand. In Tiskopia in Bokaro the rebels blew up eight classrooms of a high school for SC-ST children after the CRPF stayed in the school for 45 days during the elections in 2009. School staff recounted seeing iron doors, windows, sports materials, books lay scattered all around the school building, and classes were held under a tree for the next two years.

Upgraded Middle School Salve village in Garu block in Latehar district where Maoists demolished a freshly constructed boundary wall in 2013 objecting to it as schools are often used as barracks by security forces. photo-Manob Chowdhury

Upgraded Middle School Salve village in Garu block in Latehar district where Maoists demolished a freshly constructed boundary wall in 2013 objecting to it as schools are often used as barracks by security forces. photo-Manob Chowdhury

The same year, in Banbirwa, Kone and Saryu in Latehar, they planted bombs and demolished portions of the school building at night soon after they were used by CRPF. Last march, the rebels demolished the nearly-built boundary wall of the Upgraded Middle School in Garu in Latehar. Schoolgirls who watched from a distance recounted watching the rebels break the wall with their rifles soon after school had got over late afternoon: “Dhakol dhakol ke tod diya. Hum ne Master ji ko duur se aate dekha, aur chilaye, ‘Masterji party aayi hai, bhago!'(They broke it bit by bit. We saw the school teacher approach and shouted out, ‘the “party” (Maoists) are here. Run!’). Vishram Oraon, the village Shiksha Samiti member whom the rebels beat up for allowing the construction of the wall, said security forces had camped at the school during panchayat elections of 2010.

In several villages, paramilitary personnel camped temporarily inside classrooms as permanent camps were built in the immediate vicinity of the school. Now camps exist cheek by jowl with schools.

In Latehar’s Saryu village, a CPI(Maoist) “liberated territory” till 2009, the government high school staff recounts the rebels would hoist a black flag in the school on republic day. As paramilitary operations to oust the rebels began, the CRPF stayed in the school innumerable times, even as Maoists warned the school staff against letting security forces camp there. In 2009, the rebels blew up the middle school building a kilometer away. Now, a permanent CRPF camp has been set up across the high school playground, while the ground serves as a helipad for the camp.
Over 360 students of classes till VIII study in the school, and 87 senior students, including 50 girls. “If additional forces come they still stay in the school but not more than three days at a time. Sometimes they come during school hours to take water or borrow chairs and tables,” said the school principal Chandrashekhar Singh, while he supervised the construction of a boundary wall. “If a wall had been built earlier, perhaps the helipad would not have come here?” mused Mohammad Hakimuddin, a farmer.

Upgraded Middle School  in Marangloia in Latehar where Jharkhand Armed Police have set a camp since 2008 in a part of the building even while the school runs in the other part. photo-Manob Chowdhury

Upgraded Middle School in Marangloia in Latehar where Jharkhand Armed Police have set a camp since 2008 in a part of the building even while the school runs in the other part. photo-Manob Chowdhury

In another block Balumath in village Marangloia, the only government middle school catering to ten villages in Marangloia has served as Jharkhand Armed Police(JAP) camp for the last six years. Police personnel occupying the classrooms complained of being cramped for space as over 100 of them live in five small classrooms. The earthen courtyard of the school was being used by mining firm Abhijeet Group to park JCB excavator machines. After the Maoists set fire to the group’s vehicles in 2012, district officials gave permit even to the Abhijeet Group to park vehicles next to the JAP camp inside the middle school.

“The police came to stay in the school when I was in class VIII. We would find it difficult to go to the toilet because there were no toilets and we used the fields. The jawans would use the fields too. Now they have built a toilet,” said Sangeeta Kumari, who is now studying for a Bachelor’s in Arts at the Ranchi University. The schoolchildren and the security personnel still share a hand pump for drinking water.

Police, maoists deny responsibility

Jharkhand has a rural literacy level of 61 percent; female literacy in rural areas in 48 percent. The dropout rate in middle school is very high at 48 percent. A report by Human Rights Watch on militarization of schools in Jharkhand and Bihar identifies that government’s failure to ensure necessary infrastructure for the police violates communities’ right to education as schoolchildren must bear with overcrowding and manage in temporary spaces, and girls’ education suffers.

Officials either deny, or disagree. “Normally, we stay in the open to avoid staying in schools. Or, we stay in schools which we find abandoned, where no teaching is going on. For instance, in one school where we camped, 100 students were enrolled but there were shrubs growing everywhere,” said a CRPF commandant in Latehar. “To my knowledge there is no CRPF camp running out of a school, or disrupting classes in any way,” said Jharkhand’s Director General of Police Rajeev Kumar.

The CPI(Maoist) cadres acknowledge that bombing school buildings as part of “People’s war” has put rural children at a disadvantage but put the onus on security forces’ practice of staying in school buildings.

They cite rare instances where the party has helped rebuild bombed schools in their defence. “We demolished the high school building in Tiskopia after the CRPF stayed there 45 days during the 2009 elections. But we contributed when the villagers pooled funds to rebuild it in 2011,” said Rakeshji who leads local guerrilla squads in Bokaro’s Jhumra hills referring to a non-government school for SC-ST children in Gomia block. When asked to confirm, staff at the school were apprehensive of both acknowledging the rebels’ role in rebuilding the school building even as they expressed anxiety over the possibility of the school being occupied by security forces a second time in future elections.

The young rebels of Jhumra hills

Babita Mahto, who has been with this Local Guerrilla Squad of CPI (Maoist) a year, said that joining the party gave her a sense of purpose and immortality.

“So many women in the Mahto community kill themselves due to the stress from dowry, tilak [social ceremonies]. If I die at home, my parents will mourn for some months; we had a daughter who died, they will say. But here, there are so many of us who will remember — there was such and such didi [older sister], our comrade; she died for the people.”

An article based on this and other interviews with Maoist rebels in this area appeared in The Hindu.

Tribals torn apart by religion

The Hindu
Whether due to economic disparities or the stoking of enmities by different religious groups, the chasm between Sarna and Christian tribals has widened

Photo by Manob Chowdhury

Photo by Manob Chowdhury


Two months before polling began in Jharkhand, Ajay Tirkey began dividing his day between campaigning for the Bharatiya Janata Party in Ranchi and attending to his real estate business. Mr. Tirkey, who heads the Central Sarna Committee(CSC), with lakhs of animistic Sarna tribals as members in urban parts of Ranchi, Gumla and Hazaribagh, believes that the BJP’s Narendra Modi will get the community what it has been demanding for decades: the distinction of being a minority religion with all attendant benefits. “We submitted a memorandum to Modi in December to introduce a Sarna code in the census, and [the] BJP’s State leaders agreed,” he says.

Mr. Tirkey — tall, stout, dressed in white shirt and trousers and wearing a golden watch on one wrist and a vermillion thread on the other — speaks softly and smiles often, even while narrating the violence that has broken out following his organisation’s attempt to stop religious conversions in the last decade. The office of his company, Deoshila Development Private Limited, is sparsely furnished, with only a poster of Hanuman for decoration. Mr. Tirkey owns the commercial complex we are sitting in. “This is a century-old fight. I have not let the Christians get away with conversions since I became the head in 2000,” he says. “We broke the walls of a church in Tape in Ormanjhi while it was being constructed. There was a case of conversion of five families in Ghagrajala village in Ranchi; we re-converted three. Then a few families in Gaitalsud, Angada, of whom only one member escaped because he worked somewhere else. He has not come back since; he fears us,” he recounts, beaming.

Mr. Tirkey, the BJP’s mayoral candidate from Ranchi in 2013, describes the “re-conversion” ceremonies as being similar to the ghar-waapsi (homecoming) ceremonies conducted by BJP leader Dilip Singh Judeo in Chhattisgarh, in the mid-2000s. Mr. Judeo used to wash the feet of the converted person with holy water and declare the person Hindu again. Sarnas, Mr. Tirkey says, besides washing feet, made the converted person taste a drop of blood of a freshly sacrificed rooster and sprinkled water on them. A member of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh’s Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram (VKA) or Dharam Jagran usually accompanied CSC members for this ceremony, he says. Sitting by Mr. Tirkey’s side, Manoj Kumar, a member of the BJP’s Jharkhand Kisan Morcha Pradesh Samiti, nods in agreement.

Conversion politics

In the last century, religious conversions in the Chotanagpur region have led to tensions. The first missionaries to arrive were the German Protestants in 1845, followed by the Catholics. The rift between Christian and non-Christian tribals was visible in 1947-48. Concerned with the growing influence of Christians, Sarna leaders formed a ‘Sudhar Sabha,’ notes academic Dr. Alex Ekka in an essay on the Jharkhand movement.

The former captain of the Indian hockey team, Jaipal Singh Munda, is credited with getting equal rights including reservations for Christian tribals, as a member of the Constituent Assembly. A few Sarna leaders opposed this move then. Congress MP Kartik Oraon introduced a bill in Parliament in 1968 to de-schedule Christian tribals, albeit unsuccessfully.

The Jan Sangh and the RSS began making inroads in the Chotanagpur region in the 1960s, initiating developmental activities in forest villages to counter the growing reach of Christian missionaries. While the VKA already has a strong presence in the Gumla and Latehar districts of West Jharkhand, more recently it has focused on increasing its influence in Sahebganj and Pakur along the State’s border with West Bengal, close to Bangladesh. Both districts feature in a map of areas from Uttar Pradesh to the north-east as “Areas of high Muslim and Christian influence” in a publication by Sankat Mochan Ashram, New Delhi.

“The church was trying to proselytize in Pakur but slowed down after we increased our presence. We recently performed ghar-waapsi for 50 families there. Sarna groups are doing re-conversions themselves now; we prefer it this way. We explain to them that 2000 years ago, we worshipped trees. Sarnas are Hindu too,” says Prakash Kamat, the Bihar-Jharkhand zonal secretary of the VKA.

Tribals constitute 26.3 per cent of Jharkhand’s population. According to the 2001 Census, of the State’s population of 3.29 crore, 68.5 per cent are Hindus and 13.8 per cent are Muslims. Only four per cent follow Christianity. Though Sarnas, who worship their ancestors and nature, are not counted separately, they make up most of the ‘Other’ category, estimated at 11 to 13 per cent of the population. Sarna groups claim that the actual numbers may be higher, given the absence of a separate category for them. A common perception is that despite their small numbers, Christian tribals have better access to higher education and jobs. Whether due to economic disparities or the stoking of enmities by different religious groups, the chasm between Sarna and Christian tribals has widened.

A deep divide

The most stark instance of this was in 2013 when a spate of protests erupted in Ranchi soon after the Cardinal Telesphore Toppo unveiled the statue of a “tribal” Mary — a dark-skinned Mother Mary wearing a white and red saree and bangles, holding an infant Jesus in a sling, as is common among tribal women. Sarna dharamguru Bandhan Tigga, considered more moderate than Ajay Tirkey’s group, gave the Church three months to remove the statue, describing it as a conversion tactic. In August, over 3,000 Sarna tribals marched to the site, a small Catholic church in Singpur on Ranchi’s outskirts, threatening to bring it down. The police imposed Section 144 of the Indian Penal Code in the area to stop the protesters. Three days later, a FIR was registered against members of Sarna groups after they threatened families in Ormanjhi, 50 km from Singpur, who had converted to Protestantism several years ago, to re-convert to Sarna religion within a week, even breaking the gate of the house of one of the families.

Sources close to the Cardinal claim he had not known that the statue was that of a “tribal” Mary before he reached the parish for the inauguration, but have chosen to stay silent, fearing that a step back now may only weaken the church’s position. Before this, in 2008, the church was on the back foot when Sarna groups questioned the ‘Nemha Bible’ published by a Lutheran church in the tribal language, Kuduk, which they said contained portions offensive to animistic worship.

In Singpur, the residents still recount last year’s protests cautiously. “Thousands marched from Dhurva to the parish. While the march had been called by Sarna groups, several Bajrang Dal members wearing saffron bands marched with them. Even tribals from neighbouring Odisha, Chhattisgarh districts reached here,” recalled a member of the community. It was done by evoking Sarnas’ pride, say Dharam Jagran members.

memorial /tombstone

“Badhaniya goli kaand”. “For Supay Bodra (CMPDI staff), Sanjay Bodra (BA First year), Supay Bodra (student intermediate XII), Masih Bodra (Class VIII), Pitai Mundu (a farmer) shot by paramilitary personnel on 5 April 2009.”

Santhali women caught between birth and death

In Santhali villages in Godda, along Jharkhand’s border with Bihar, many slanting stone megaliths that mark the community graves are those of young women who died in childbirth in recent years. Tribal families in the hamlets scattered in Sundarpahari and Poreyhat – many of whom speak only Santahli – recount desperate struggles for medical help when young women in their families in advanced stages of pregnancy experienced complications.

Gopin Soren and Dhetmay Murmu whose only daughter 19 year old   Sadbeeti Soren died during her first pregnancy last year in Paharpur village Sundarpahari block in Godda district Phot Anumeha ayadav

At Paharpur village in Sundarpahari, Gopin Soren spoke haltingly as rain fell over the hut where his 19-year old daughter Sadbeeti, pregnant for the first time, died last year. “On Thursday we went to my son in law’s home in Borhwa, everything was fine. The next morning my wife and I got a message that my daughter had fainted. We reached and called a local medical practitioner. He tried to give her a saline drip but he just could not find her vein,” he recounted. At 5 pm he, Sadbeeti’s husband, and two relatives carried Sadbeeti six km on a cot to Paharpur.

Back in their village Gopin asked the village sahiya (health worker) Phool Marandi for help to reach the health sub-center at Sundarpahari 20 km away. The sahiya called the call-center to request a Mamta Vahan – a free of cost ambulance service for rural women through privately-owned vehicles started in Jharkhand in 2011. By now Sadbeeti was having convulsions, a condition called eclampsia. “I decided to call the vehicle owner Pintu directly. I called him thrice between 7 and 9 pm. He said he is out right now. I understood that he does not want to come. The villagers had attacked a person caught stealing the electricity transformer in the village a day earlier. Maybe he feared that there will be more violence,” she said. At 2 am, Sadbeeti died eight months and two weeks pregnant.

matal-marandi-and-denmay-murmu-whose-daughter-talbiti-marandi-a-graduate-from-mahila-college-godda-died-last-year-after-giving-birth-for-the-first-time-in-ghangrabandh-village-in-poreyha.jpg
Twenty km away in Ghanghrabandh village in Poreyhat, Denmey Murmu described she had watched her only daughter Talabiti Marandi, 22, die after giving birth. “Eight hours after she gave birth she started clenching her fists and she said she had a burning sensation. Sarojini the sahiya refused to call a vehicle so we hired a private vehicle for Rs 1,300 after mortgaging my jewellery for Rs 2,000,” she said. On January 19, Talabiti Marandi a graduate from Mahila College, Godda died on her way to Godda government hospital.

Most Santhali and Pahariya families here survive on a diet of rice and potatoes. Pregnant women are meant to get Iron and Folic Acid (IFA) supplements tablets – each costs 20 paise – after their second trimester but Jharkhand government stopped distributing these for two years after the central government discontinued providing the tablets between 2010-12.

“Many women have severe iron deficiencies and are at high risk because after the delivery their blood does not clot, the uterus does not contract and the woman may die of post-partum bleeding. Government has schemes to provide four ante-natal check-ups so complications can be prevented. For instance, eclampsia is common among women in later stages of pregnancy and manifests as high blood pressure. If doctors detect this early, they can put the woman on hypertension medicine till the foetus is removed through a caesarean section,” said Lindsay Barnes of Jan Chetna Manch who has worked among rural women in Bokaro villages since 1993.

Godda hospital that caters to the district’s population of 13 lakh has 40 beds and two ambulances. It started providing facilities for a caesarean section only last year. It was supposed to get a blood bank in 2000 but the space marked for this is being used as National Polio Surveillance Project office and doctors’ restrooms. In case of complications, patients are referred to the government medical college in Bhagalpur in Bihar, 70 km away. Godda should have a Mamta Vahan in each of its 201 panchayats but only 111 vehicles have been hired right now as officials say they could not find vehicle owners in all panchayats.

Earlier, a government enquiry was done in 2011 after 25-year old Mary Hasda in Tetaria village had reported that staff at the district hospital left a cloth inside her birth canal after she delivered a stillborn baby. She had reported that the hospital staff asked for Rs 500 bribe after she gave birth to the stillborn baby.

“The enquiry team interrogated the family – which spoke only Santhali – as if they had done a crime,” said Soumik Banerjee, a researcher who documented 23 maternal deaths of women 18-23 years of age in the two blocks between April 2011 and March 2012 – an average of nearly two deaths a month.

The full report was published in The Hindu on September 7.
A week later, taking suo moto cognizance, National Human Right Commission asked Jharkhand government to respond in four weeks. Jharkhand government is yet to respond.

More mines, fewer schools in former Maoist stronghold

Saranda 5

Deep inside the Saranda sal forest, Thalkobad lies at the core of what was a CPI (Maoist) “liberated zone” in Jharkhand’s West Singhbhum district along the Odisha border. Thalkobad, along with 24 other villages, was reclaimed by the Indian state after a massive military operation – Operation Anaconda-I in August 2011 to destroy the CPI (Maoist) Eastern Regional Bureau and several training training camps inside Saranda. The village bears scars of conflict – a high machaan used by the then rebel government of the village is intact but the secondary school building the Maoists took cover in to return fire at the CRPF is gone. The rebels blew up the school before escaping.

Saranda is a “laboratory for how to consolidate on security successes,” said Jairam Ramesh, Minister for Rural Development, in a recent interview. Mr Ramesh launched Rs 250-crore Saranda Development Plan (SDP) in 56 villages here in 2011 and has since announced similar plans for rebel-controlled zones in Latehar and Bokaro districts recovered through recent paramilitary operations. Two years on, Saranda villagers are still awaiting schools and health centers, even as mining companies have lined up to invest in the newly secured forests.

In Thalkobad, the adivasi villagers recall the pitched battle that August: most families fled to Karampada 13 kms away for a month, 18-year-old Munna Soya and his father were taken by the Central Reserve Police Force in a helicopter to Ranchi on suspicion, detained and beaten in several police camps and later released, 50-year-old Jarda Honhaga was beaten so severely that he died in the hospital. From the 25 villages, 37 persons were arrested, more than 100 were detained.

The CRPF returned six months later bearing sarees, blankets, and farm implements. In the last few months the villagers have watched the construction of a security camp next to their village, and then a road connecting Karampada to Jaraikela. Some have found temporary work with the road contractor and in MNREGA. Others fear new mines will be opened in the forest. “If mines open our land will be ruined. The river will have only red water. We are not literate. How many of us will find jobs?” said Binodini Purti who cooked meals at the secondary school that was blown up.

Red area to ‘Lal paani’

Almost all the villages in Saranda struggle for drinking water. The forest is the catchment of three large rivers – Koina, Subarnrekha, and Damodar, and several streams flow through it. But there are 12 large mining companies operating in 200 sq kms of this 800 sq km forest which holds one-fourth of India’s iron-ore reserves. The Ho adivasi living in the forest first launched ‘Lal Paani Andolan’ against the pollution of the streams from effluents and surface-run off in 1978 at Noamundi and their resistance has continued. “All 56 villages are in need of potable water. There is a problem of high iron content in the water,” notes the Saranda Plan outline of October 2011.

Saranda 2

Thalkobad, Tirilposi, Baliba lie downstream of Steel Authority of India (SAIL)’s crushing plant at Kiriburu where ore is washed and crushed into uniform pieces. At Kiriburu, SAIL’s Rs 4.23 crore-slime beneficiation machine meant to extract ore from the water that is discharged back into the river does not work. “It has not worked even once since it was inaugurated in 2010. When the inspection teams come, the guesthouses are full and the orchestra comes from Jamshedpur,” says a SAIL official. SAIL’s mines in Saranda accounted for over 80 percent of its 15 million tonne production last year.

Downstream, villagers dig shallow pits, a few inches deep by the river to collect drinking water. Farms in Thalkobad, Karampada, Navgaon, Bandhgaon, Mirchgada, Bahada, Kalaita, Jumbaiburu have been ruined by the ore-laden water. “I cannot say about the beneficiation plant but the Kiriburu plant is being modernized. The river is polluted because private mining companies wash 200-250 dumpers carrying iron, oil and grease everyday in the river. I check them when I spot them,” said Dilip Bhargava SAIL General Manager (Mines).

Saranda 1
Saranda 4

More mining leases

Since January, the Cabinet Committee on Infrastructure headed by the Prime Minister has recommended clearance for open-cast mining in Saranda forest in areas that form the Singhbhum Elephant Reserve to three private firms. JSW Steel owned by Sajjan Jindal got lease of 998.7 hectares in Ankua forest divison, Jindal Steel and Power Limited (JSPL) led by Congressman and industrialist Naveen Jindal got 512 hectares in Ghatkuri forest. The approval of 138.8 hectares forestland in Ghatkuri to Rungta Mines Limited was nearly completed last month. There are 155 proposals on the anvil for leases in 500 sq km – nearly two-thirds of the forest.

On paper, the proposals must first be recommended from the state government. “We have little say in the recommendations,” says a senior forest official. “There are over 600 elephants in Saranda. More mining may disturb their migration intensifying their attacks on villages,” says state Principal Chief Conservator of Forests AK Malhotra in Ranchi. A proposal by the department of forest to notify 63199 hectares forest in Saranda as inviolate is pending since 2006.

Ironically, the recent approvals to private firms are riding on the back of clearance given to SAIL in Februray 2011 to mine iron ore in Chiria in Saranda by Jairam Ramesh. Mr Ramesh, then Minister of State for Environment and Forests had overturned the Forest Advisory Committee’s decision to grant approval to SAIL citing the Public Sector Unit (PSU)’s “Rs 18,000 crore IPO on the anvil”. Private mining firms have cited the proximity of Ankua and Ghatkuri to SAIL’s Chiria mines to argue they too be granted permits in the already “broken,” what is no longer pristine, forest. Mr Ramesh in 2011 said that in Saranda, he was in favour of mining only by the PSU but there was no executive order to back this or grant it legal status.

As the government has issued a slew of mining permits, the minister in interviews to the media asked for a 10-year moratorium on mining in Saranda. “A gap of 10 years will allow the situation to stabilize, will allow building trust among the locals, and allow time to train and educate local people to take advantage of the economic opportunities that mining throws up but there seems to be a desire on the part of the government to allow mining in Saranda,” said Mr Ramesh to The Hindu. There has been no public reaction from the UPA to Mr Ramesh’s suggestion.

No new schools, or health centers

Saranda map
While in Thalkobad where the secondary school building was blown up by Maoists, Surendra Purti, a high school graduate from the village volunteers to teach teenaged children in the primary school building. He is not paid any wages. The teachers stopped coming long back and the nearest high school is in Manoharpur, 45 kms away. At Tirilposi, the next village 17 kms away, there are 90 school-going children but no building. “CRP sahib broke the roof,” explains village munda Budhram Gudiya.

The SDP’s original outline proposed 10 residential schools. Now, that seems all, but abandoned. “There is a plan to build one ashram school at Manoharpur,” says the recently-posted District Collector Abu Bakr. Mr Ramesh explained the conceptual change in the SDP as both the interiority of the villages and the fact that “education and health are different ministries.”

The plan lists building 10 Integrated Development Centers (IDCs) – each will have a hospital, besides an anganwadi, ration shop, banks – only one has been completed at Digha this April. To improve health services, a mobile health unit has deputed since last October to visit all villages. “The ambulance visits regularly,” say villagers in Thalkobad. But it has not yet been spotted in Tirilposi though a motorable village road exists. In January an eye-health camp was held by a private hospital. “More than a third of over 1000 villagers had pterygium – a painful inflammation which may lead to blindness – because of exposure to mine dust,” said Dr Bharti Kashyap.

There is hectic activity in all villages to build new Indira Awas houses. This March as part of the Jharkhand State Livelihood Promotion Society’s efforts to provide long-term livelihood security, a team of trainers of Self-Help Groups from Andhra Pradesh visited Saranda. The team stayed 15 days in Thalkobad but no meetings have been held since it left. Villagers say they are unsure what to make of their visitors. “They said “hum se judiye”(join us). That is what the party (Maoists) used to say too, and look what followed,” said Binodini Purti. At Tirilposi, villagers explain it differently. “Most families earn Rs 60 a day after selling siali leaves in the market in Barsovan in Odisha. What will we save?” asks Budhram Gudiya. Then there are families in debt to pay legal expenses. Guvida Honhaga (60) among those arrested by CRPF got bail last year after his son Bimal, a mine worker, spent Rs 160000 on legal expenses. “I borrowed Rs 40000 each from four people at 20 per cent interest. Now he is required to go Chaibasa court thrice a month and that costs Rs 900 –a fourth of my salary,” said Bimal Honhaga.

Rubber stamp by gram sabhas

At Manoharpur block office, 40 km away, an official waved a sheet of blank paper with 40 signatures. “This is what the mining firms submit as gram sabha’s consent for mining. They call people to football matches and get them to sign anything,” he says.

Bilarman Kandulna, 25, a political science graduate from a Manoharpur college was elected panchayat representative in Digha in 2010. “Some manki-munda (community leaders) now roam in Scorpio SUVs, but a few boycotted the Electrosteel public hearing for Kudalibad mines last year. Last April, we held demonstrations in the villages. The company then shifted its public hearing in Bahihatu, 20 kms away,” says Kandulna. “What is the use of forest pattas when they give mining leases in the same forest?” he asks. Of 812 claims for individual forest rights, 511 were accepted till April, the rest were rejected as they fell in mining lease areas. Though a significant number of community rights – over 1200 – have been granted under SDP.

Saranda 14(1)

At Jamkundiya at the house of Laguda Devgam, the manki of 22 villages, there is no Scorpio car, but there are three solar street light poles towering on three sides of his house – the only streetlights in the otherwise non-electrified villages in Saranda. They are inscribed as gifts from Rungta Mines Limited, Usha Martin Industries, and Tata Steel.

At Sonapi, one of the six villages that boycotted the public hearing, there is anger. “If anyone comes to your courtyard, something will be disturbed,” said Mary Barla. “We asked for a written commitment that the company will provide health, education, jobs but they did not do it. Instead they shifted the public hearing site. Now they are back again with blankets.”