India
18.07.02
Urgent Interventions

India: violations of tribal peoples' land rights continue in Nagarnarndia: Torture and sexual exploitation of a 14 year-old Dalit girl

OPEN LETTER TO ATAL BIHARI VAJPAYEE
PRIME MIMISTER OF INDIA


Geneva, July 17th 2002


Mr. Prime Minister,

The International Secretariat of OMCT would like to bring your attention to the situation prevailing in Nagarnar, in the Bastar district of the Indian State of Chhattisgarh. Despite an urgent appeal released on March 15, 2002 - following violent attacks that took place from March 8th to March 11th 2002 which involved beatings and arrests carried out by police forces on the tribal peoples of Nagarnar - no changes occurred with regard to the situation of the tribal peoples. Indeed, OMCT is worried that the current situation presents the same features as four months ago. While tribal peoples are still submitted to pressure from the authorities maintaining a general atmosphere of fear, no compensations have been provided to victims for the violations of their rights and spoliation of their land, and those responsible from the violations have not been brought to justice, as highlighted by the Report released on July 9 2002 by the Indian People’s Tribunal on Environment and Human Rights (IPT). This report presents the results of an investigation conducted in April 2002 in the village of Nagarnar by a panel of independent investigators headed by Justice S.N. Bhargava. A report of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), which visited Bastar between March 12-14 2002 is also expected.

The conflict between the peoples of Nagarnar, the majority of whom are tribal peoples, and the National Mineral Development Cooperation (NMDC) and district administration, supported by the State government, originates in the acquisition of land for the instalment of a steel plant by NMDC in the area surrounding the villages of Nagarnar, Kasturi, Amaguda and Maganpura. The IPT’s Report, along with OMCT’s urgent appeal IND150302.ESCR highlighted that the process of land acquisition that started in May 2001, was carried out in violation of national laws and international human right law and alienated tribal people’s rights over their land, while their fields are their only source of employment and subsistence. As a consequence, the tribal peoples opposed this process through peaceful means to which police forces responded violently. Indeed, since the intervention of the NMDC in the area, one observes a cycle of violence in which the violations of the economic, social and cultural rights of the tribal peoples by the NMDC and the district administration cause tribal people to resist peacefully, which leads to violence being perpetrated by police forces on tribal peoples.

In this respect, we would like to recall to your attention the following facts. After the NMDC applied for land acquisition to the district administration in May 2001, a notice was sent to the tribal peoples, as a part of the Statutory obligation of consultation with the concerned Gram Sabhas. However, many local people did not get the notice. Nonetheless, consultation meetings were held on June 11 and 13 2001. The tribal peoples present in the meetings unanimously rejected the proposal of land acquisition, because their economic interests would have been adversely affected. However, the Collector Ms. Richa Sharma issued a press statement in High Way Channel stating that the villagers agreed to the construction of the steel plant. According to IPT’s report, it is also alleged that the district administration manipulated records of the meeting, forging and replacing the minutes book. The act of fabrication to the effect of cheating by a public servant is an offence punishable under Section 1666, 167, 192.218, 415, 418 of the Indian Penal Code. Therefore, on August 2 and 31 2001, villagers complained to the National Commission for Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribes (NCSS), which ruled that the acquisition of land was carried out in violation of the Constitution, of the Land Acquisition Act, and of the National Guidelines (1974) for the construction of industries in Scheduled Areas. On October 1 2001, the NCSS called for a detailed report on the forgery incident from the local administration. It is alleged that repressive measures against tribal people started soon after.

Indeed, illegal arrest and detention of the acknowledged local leaders Mr. Satyanaryan Sethia, Samson Kashyap, and Duryodhan, took place on October 23 2001. Moreover, on the same day and without warning, the police charged with lathi and teargas on about 100 women who were sitting in protest. Some of them were beaten and injured. The day after, other peaceful activists opposing the plant construction were arrested and the police shot, injuring 45 persons, most of them women. These women have been falsely charged with attempt to murder, conspiracy or arms act. According to the report, after leaders were finally released, the entire incident has been totally denied by the administration.

Finally, on December 12 2001, the NCSS ordered recommendations in favour of the tribal peoples. It was held inter alia that land acquisition was ab initio null and void, that criminal offences had been committed, whose responsibility could be disowned by the Collector and Chief Executive NMDC, and that the entire process should be redone. Nevertheless, on January 31, 2002, NMDC officials with the help of the Sub-Divisional Officer in the Collectorate Office (SDO) A.K Toppo made a surprise attempt to start the construction of a boundary wall, totally ignoring the recommendations.

On March 2 2002, a joint Gram Sabha meeting was held with 3,504 persons including 2,002 women. Resolutions were passed stating that people are not against the steel plant, but put ten conditions to the administration on the basis of which they would decide whether their land could be acquired or not. These conditions included the provision of an adequate compensation package to all the people and safeguards against privatisation. Despite the Collector and I.G. conceded nine of the ten demands on March 9 2002, the local administration broke the tribal peoples’ attempt to put a peaceful end to the conflict before the promises could be put down on paper. Indeed, the administration launched attacks on the village from March 8th to March 11th 2002, hunting for those who refused to accept compensation cheques, forcibly offered by the police.

As reported in OMCT’s urgent appeal IND150302.ESCR, the violence involved beatings and arbitrary mass arrests carried out by hundreds of policemen on the tribal peoples of Nagarnar, including disabled, old and infirm people. The police forces broke into houses, taking away valuables and beating up men, women and children. Over 250 persons were put in jail, including 100 women, some of them pregnant or lactating. People who were not arrested fled the village with terror. From March 12 2002 onwards, pressure to accept compensation cheques have been mounting, and many people have accepted cheques to avoid being arrested. IPT reports that since then a reign of terror has been let loose on the local people.

Besides, on March 11 2002, the construction of a boundary wall was initiated, which constitutes a violation under the clause (c) of sub-section III of section 2 of the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Notification. Indeed, no construction activity shall commence without first obtaining environmental clearance from the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF). According to a MoEF circular No.J-21011/8/98-IA, units that fail to comply with these directions shall be proceeded against under the Environmental Protection Act of 1986. Several environmental concerns are actually raised by the setting up of a steel plant in the area: the presence of the Kanger Ghati National Park within a 25 km periphery distance, the proximity of a reserved forest with good Sal growth, the issue of water availability and the fact that the proposed plant would be the first full-scale commercial use of a new iron waste processing technology whose consequences on the environment are untested. These consequences are all the more worrying since their land constitutes the only source of employment and subsistence of the tribal peoples.

Thus, while the local people follow democratic means of redress and protest, the administration and the police act in an undemocratic and unlawful manner. The State tries to break resistance through repression and terror, arrests being timed to prevent the community from mobilising and to allow the construction of the wall. In this respect, the officials and NMDC officials are liable for prosecution under the Indian Penal Code, the Land Acquisition Act of 1894, the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act of 1989, the Panchayati Raj (Extension to Schedule Areas) Act of 1996, the Schedule V of the Constitution and the 1974 Guidelines for setting up industries in Schedule Areas.

Therefore, OMCT expects that your government will urgently re-establish tribal peoples in their rights, and notably restart the democratic process subverted by manipulations and the use of force by the district administration that resulted in violations of national law and international human rights law. In this regard, immediate steps should be taken in order to halt the work on the plant with immediate effect, and to review the environmental and socio-economic costs of the project, notably by applying for environmental clearance without delay.

Moreover, OMCT hopes that your Excellency will take all necessary measures to guarantee adequate reparation to all victims and their families, to review the charges under which people have been arrested and drop the false accusations, and to restore all seized properties to their lawful owners without delay.

OMCT also urges your Excellency to take measures to guarantee an immediate investigation into the circumstances of these events, identify those responsible, bring them before a civil competent and impartial tribunal and apply the penal, civil and/or administrative sanctions provided by the law.

Finally, OMCT hopes that your government will take all steps necessary to guarantee respect for economic, social and cultural rights of the people in the Nagarnar area in accordance with national laws and international human rights standards and in particular the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the ILO Convention No. 169, and it will continue to closely monitor the situation.

We thank you in advance for your careful consideration of this matter, and remain,

Sincerely yours,


Eric Sottas
Director
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