General Elections 2019

Land injustice, Aadhaar problems dog Jharkhand. Is the Opposition listening

Activists under Jharkhand Janadhikar Mahasabha highlight issues that should make a buzz before the Lok Sabha elections

By Deepanwita Gita Niyogi
Published: Thursday 21 March 2019

Troubled land acquisitions and the derailment of several government schemes due to Aadhar have been contentious issues in Jharkhand. Now, in the run-up to the Lok Sabha elections, activists are trying to revive them.

Social workers, activist organizations and intellectuals under the banner Jharkhand Janadhikar Mahasabha (JJM) have also demanded the protection of people’s rights, which they allege have been heavily undermined during the current Bharatiya Janata Party regime.

The Opposition too lacked a clear stand, despite the opportunity thrown up by the General Elections, according to the activists.

Trouble over land acquisition

The Raghubar Das-led state government, after assuming power in 2014, tried to amend the century-old Santhal Pargana Tenancy Act and Chhota Nagpur Tenancy Act. Such amendments would ease handing over tribal lands to private investors.

The government, however, had to backtrack after statewide protests by  Opposition parties, tribal organisations and even the Church. The issue remains crucial.

JJM alleges that its team found irregularities such as forceful land acquisition and intimidation by the Adani Group and even police brutality

The group’s Adani Power Ltd signed a memorandum of understanding with Jharkhand to set up a 1,600 megawatt power in Godda — part of the Santhal Pargana area.

Residents of four villages of the area — Mali, Motiya, Gangta-Gobindpur and Patwa — however are unwilling to part with fertile agriculture land and the mood is volatile.

In Khunti district, the problem is the acquisition of common land, most of which is now part of the government’s land bank to woo private investors. 

Some 6,517 hectares of uncultivated land is slated to constitute the land bank in Khunti’s Torpa block, according to reports shared with Down To Earth (DTE) by rights activist Stan Swamy.

Even a part of river land has been acquired in Torpa’s Lohajimi village, according to the reports. The village was under the shadow of displacement due to the contentious Koel Karo dam project, which was scrapped following mass agitation after the Tapkara firing.

Will the opposition parties return forcefully acquired land? In Chhattisgarh’s Bastar district, the new Bhupesh Baghel government returned 1,765 ha in 10 villages acquired a decade ago for a Tata Steel project.

Several states, however, do not have provisions to return land, adding to their respective land banks instead.

Many states, where Opposition parties are in power, have amended the Act to acquire lands easily.

In Jharkhand, the Opposition have no firm stand, said JJM coordinator Deepak Ranjit: “There is no clear stand regarding displacement due to land acquisition. We want the 2013 Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act even though it has irregularities. We want the political parties to raise important people’s issues.”

The government must think about its role: Common lands have been acquired for land banks; distribution under Forest Rights Act is slow Jharkhand. the opposition has not committed regarding the return of acquired land, Manthan, the national executive of political organization, Janmukti Sangharsh Vahini, told DTE.

Tackling Aadhaar-related issues

Jharkhand was among the first states to link payments under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) to the Aadhaar biometric system in 2013. Following this, many labourers either did not receive wages or faced delays.

The JJM demanded the removal of Aadhaar-based authentication for welfare and social-security programmes. 

Since 2017, 19 starvation deaths have been reported in the state due to denial of ration under public distribution scheme due to the failure of point-of-sales machines.

The machines often fail due to poor connectivity, Taramani sahu, a Right to Food activist based in Simdega, said. This often lead to those entitled to receiving rice and wheat being denied. There have been allegations of the food item being siphoned off. Offline ration gives rise to irregularities and even denials.

The government has also made Aadhaar compulsory in anganwadis and mid-day meals. This has resulted in children without Aadhaar cards not being served eggs in Simdega. 

Aadhaar linkages have also disrupted pension of senior citizens.

On this issue too main opposition parties — Jharkhand Mukti Morcha, Indian National Congress and Jharkhand Vikas Morcha — have hardly taken any stand, except a few tweets and statements, Siraj Dutta, a Right to Food activist, said.

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