“Our policy must rest on the twin pillars of development and security”, said Chidambaram as he concluded his statement in Parliament on dealing with the Naxal ‘menace’, as he describes it. The pillar of ‘development’ was a concession to or acknowledgement of the growing voices of dissent even among the establishment, which have been saying that the Naxal problem cannot be solved by heavy handed military means alone. But then, Chidambaram says that the Naxals are preventing the government from carrying on any development in the areas that they control. Hence, he adds, unless we clear the areas of the Naxals first, we cannot take development to the tribals in these areas. Therefore, he says, we must “hold one’s nerve and stay the course which has been carefully charted out to deal with them.” That course is Operation Greenhunt, or the use of overwhelming military force to crush the Naxals.
This formulation has two fundamental problems. Firstly, the very use of overwhelming force is causing enormous collateral damage to the tribals living in the so called ‘red corridor’. In fact, the misery caused to the tribals by Operation Greenhunt is driving many more of them to pick up arms and join the Maoists. During the last almost six years when Operation Greenhunt and its precursor Operation Salwa Judum have been going on in Chhatisgarh, the number of armed Maoists has at least doubled in that area. Secondly, the kind of development that the government wants to take to the tribals is largely in the shape of Industries such as mining, steel, aluminium and sponge iron plants etc, which require the lands and forests on which the tribals are dependant for their survival. Hundreds of MOUs have been signed by the governments with private corporations for giving them lakhs of acres of tribal land and forests to these corporations. The rationale given for this is that these industries will drive up GDP growth and provide jobs to the tribals. “You can’t keep the tribals in an anthropological museum eating grass” says Chidambaram, who has represented many of these corporations and was the director of Vedanta which together with its subsidiaries runs the largest mining operations in India.
However, apart from the fact that the jobs in these highly polluting industries is ruinous to the health of the workers, the number of jobs provided to the tribals by these industries is far less than the numbers who are directly or indirectly displaced by these industries. Apart from the substantial land that is directly required by these industries a much larger area is laid waste by the pollution caused by them. Water bodies used by the tribals around these industries have been terribly polluted to render the water unfit for drinking, which has caused severe health problems to the tribals dependant on the land. Air pollution has also caused enormous illness and suffering to the tribals living in the vicinity of these industries. Even the productivity of the agricultural land around these polluting industries is seriously affected by them. The leaves of trees of the area around sponge iron plants are often laden with toxic soot, leaving them unable to breathe.
The kind of development that the governments are talking about is exactly what has pushed the tribals to the very brink of survival. Operation Greenhunt, coming on top of this has made it difficult for them, particularly young men to venture out in areas near the camps of the security forces during the day for fear of being rounded up, beaten up and jailed on the charge of being Naxal supporters. The situation has become almost genocidal with almost half of the Adivasis having been pushed to a state of chronic malnutrition. As Binayak Sen puts it: They are suffering from malnutrition induced AIDS.
The story of this destructive development that has been thrust upon them and what Operation Greenhunt was doing to them was narrated before a Jury of six eminent persons by many tribals who had come from the States of Chhatisgarh, Jharkhand, Orissa and West Bengal recently. After hearing their heart rending testimonies from 9-11 April, the Jury comprising of Justice P.B. Sawant (former Judge, Supreme Court), Justice H. Suresh (former Judge, Mumbai High Court), Professor Yashpal (Educationist and former Chairman U.G.C), Dr. P.M. Bhargava (Founder of Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology and former Vice Chairman, Knowledge Commission), Dr. Mohini Giri (former Chairperson, National Women’s Commission) and Dr. K.S. Subramanian (I.P.S. and former DGP) had this to say:
“The development model which has been adopted and which is sharply embodied in the new economic policies of liberalization, privatization and globalization, have led in recent years to a huge drive by the State to transfer resources, particularly land and forests which are critical for the livelihood and the survival of the tribal people, to corporations for exploitation of mineral resources, SEZs and other industries most of which have been enormously destructive to the environment. These industries have critically polluted water bodies, land, trees, plants, and have had a devastating impact on the health and livelihoods of the people. The consultation with the Gram Sabhas required by the PESA Act has been rendered a farce as has the process of Environment Impact Assessment of these industries. This has resulted in leaving the tribals in a state of acute malnutrition and hunger which has pushed them to the very brink of survival.”
“Peaceful resistance movements of tribal communities against their forced displacement and the corporate grab of their resources is being sought to be violently crushed by the use of police and security forces and State and corporate funded and armed militias. The state violence has been accentuated by Operation Green Hunt in which a huge number of paramilitary forces are being used mostly on the tribals. The militarization of the State has reached a level where schools are occupied by security forces. Even peaceful activists opposing these violent actions of the State against the tribals are being targeted by the State and victimized. This has led to a total alienation of the people from the State as well as their loss of faith in the government and the security forces. The Government – both at the Centre and in the States – must realize that it's above-mentioned actions, combined with total apathy, could very well be sowing the seeds of a violent revolution demanding justice and rule of law that would engulf the entire country.”
The jury went on to recommend that if this virtual genocide of the tribals is to be stopped, the government needs to immediately undertake several measures, most importantly:
- Stop Operation Green Hunt and start a dialogue with the local people.
- Immediately stop all compulsory acquisition of agricultural or forest land and the forced displacement of the tribal people.
- Declare the details of all MOUs, industrial and infrastructural projects proposed in these areas and freeze all MOUs and leases for non-agricultural use of such land, which the Home Minister has proposed.
- Rehabilitate and reinstate the tribals forcibly displaced back to their land and forests.
- Stop all environmentally destructive industries as well as those on land acquired without the consent of the Gram Sabhas in these areas.
It is clear therefore that instead of talking about ‘sanitising’ or dominating the area where the Maoists operate, the immediate need is for the government to stop forced displacements of the Tribals from their land. They do need services such as education, healthcare and electricity but certainly not this kind of industry. The argument often trotted out that the Maoists are preventing the government from delivering education and health services is belied by the fact that the situation is as bad if not worse in tribal areas outside Maoist influence. Many believe that operation Greenhunt, though styled as an operation to ‘sanitise’ the area of Maoists is intended to clear the area of tribals, in order to allow the mining and other corporations to take over their land. Operation Salwa Judum cleared 644 villages in Chhatisgarh whose more than three lakh tribals have been forced to flee to Andhra while 50,000 are kept in relief camps. But even trying to first ‘sanitise’ the area of Maoists by military methods like Operation Greenhunt, will only cause unacceptable collateral damage to the tribals and will only push more of them to join the Maoists. The resultant escalating cycle of violence may then lead to civil war like conditions in the country in the time to come.