Corporate land loot in Santhal Pargana: A report

Dumka district of Santhal Pargana is amongst the largest districts of Jharkhand, and is well known for the historical legacy of Sidhu-Kanu, Chand-Bhairav and Phulo-Jhano, who fought British colonialism. Under the patronage of the Modi government today once again the vulture eyes of the corporates have come to Dumka's forest, land and resources. There is also a huge threat to the environment, nature and tribal culture. It will need strong unity and a long drawn struggle to defend this. The district is seeing various instances of corporate loot with State connivance and struggle against it. A fact-finding team visited these areas.

Bundu, Tamar (17-18 May, 2023)

Panchpargana is known for its natural beauty and revolutionary heritage of Birsa Munda. Ulgulan in Jharkhand started from the land of Dombari. The Chief Minister has again shown the green flag to the Resha Reservoir in Humta Panchayat which was earlier closed due to non-approval of the Gram Sabha. The government is now arguing that there is no Ryati land here, and whatever land is there belongs to Pradhans and Panchs i.e. gram sabha office bearers. It is notable that the Munda (head) of this village had given his approval for the construction of the reservoir but the Gram Sabha had rejected it. Due to their strong opposition, this project could not be completed till now.

The villagers fear that due to Resha Reservoir, the villages and forests will turn into submerged areas. After the government green signal, fear and the clouds of worry hovers around, and it is felt that if villages and forests are to be saved from drowning, then people should strengthen the Gram Sabha and unite for struggle. People have to move forward to gain strength to stop such destructive and anti-nature environment projects.

Another big project for the gold mine was halted in the area of ​​Tamar through struggle two decades back, braving heavy State repression. Recalling this the head of the village, Khushlal Munda, told that after a lot of struggle, there was a ban on the construction of gold mine then. Village elder Shashi Bhushan Munda narrated that many people lost their lives in this struggle. The police used to pick, torture and brand us Naxalites. Still villagers did not stop fighting the battle and the result is that today our children are able to breathe in open air.

Even after 75 years of independence, there is no facility of drinking water in this village, although toilets have been made in every house under 'Swachh Bharat Abhiyan', which are actually useless because of the non-availability of water. There is school but there are no regular teachers. Graduates of the village are teaching the children. The access to the area continues to be difficult. Still the government propaganda is that the village will be equipped with all the facilities as soon as the mine starts. But then neither the land nor the forest will remain with the people. There will be a crisis of livelihood. The people fear that this time again will they be able to stop the gold mine from being built or not, in case the government decides to go ahead?

Ghatshila (May 25-26, 2023)

Power-hungry corporate brokers are undermining the Gram Sabha by fanning the Kurmi vs. Mahto controversy, and taking away all rights of tribals using the policy of 'divide and rule', and handing over jungle and mountains to Corporates. In Mahulisal village, the government is engaged in completing the plans for drone survey, property title, online jamabandi and land bank. All this is a preparation to vacate the forest from the tribals. Government officials do not even implement the Right to Information Act and provide information when asked for. On March 25, a meeting was held by many people of different mauja (unit of village). They have launched a movement against the Panna mine to be commissioned in Ghatshila. This was followed by several sit-ins and demonstrations. People sought information thrice under Right to Information but they were not given any kind of information.

Here, both the government and the people's representatives are partners in ending the existence of gram sabhas. People's representatives talk about support verbally and give assurances but never come to the ground level. The people of Ghatshila are seeing the people of Jaduguda, situated in the neighbourhood, suffering the brunt of the uranium mining. They are deeply saddened by the change in their social, economic and personal life. They do not want this kind of change in their life at all.

Fact finding team got a chance to meet many people, listen to their stories and interrogate many village heads. Village Hariyan head Kishan Munda and other people of the village said that they don’t want future generations to suffer by exchanging land in lieu of jobs. There are many other problems in this village. It lacks basic health facilities even for pregnant women. For seriously ill patients, ambulances had to be called from 40 kms. In school, there are only two teachers.

Fact finding team talked to about forty people in Bautiya village including women, girls, students, youth and elders. It came out in the conversation that the implementation of government schemes, including the public distribution system, old age pension and widow pension, is very poor. There are only two graduates in the entire village which reflects badly on the state of education. The trend of teaching girls though has increased a bit. Jadunath Hansda, who has been fighting against mining for a long time, is village head and English teacher in private school. He has been making the villagers aware about mining and its disadvantages.

Shikaripada (1 June 2023)

In Shikaripada area, 21 villages including Nau Pahar and Simani Jod are affected by mining. Nau Pahar is a village of 5 hamlets with a population of about six hundred but only fifty people are literate. Village was electrified ten years ago but drinking water is still scarce and was only arranged of late after a long-drawn struggle. The condition of the road in Shikaripada block and assembly constituency is dilapidated. The main source of livelihood is agriculture, but due to lack of irrigation infrastructure, this year the whole area suffered from drought. Thirty to Thirty-Five people of the village go to other states as migrant labourers. The attitude of the administration against corporate land loot is not pro-people.

The people of all 21 villages are preparing to launch a struggle by strengthening gram sabha. They don't want future generations to ruin after being evicted from the forest and forced to work as hired labourers or face migration.The elected people's representatives are not interested in people’s problems or in improving the condition of roads, schools and health centres.

Seelangi is the village of martyr Harmadesh Manjhi. The people of this village have united to fight a big battle against mining and also expressed their concern over the situation of drought every year, arrangement of drinking water, crisis of agriculture and displacement and complained about not getting the benefits of government schemes on time.

– Nandita Bhattacharya