On 14 June, over 80 Adivasis from four villages in Raigarh district came together at the district’s Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes Welfare (Special) Police Station to lodge complaints against people they said were agents of two companies - Mahavir Energy Coal Beneficiation Limited (MECBL) and TRN Energy Private Limited a subsidiary of ACB (India) Power Limited, for unlawfully dispossessing them from their lands.
The complaint - Unlawful dispossession of Adivasi lands.
The Adivasis hoped to file FIRs (First Information Reports) against unlawful dispossession of hundreds of acres of their land through coercion and fraud. The complaints have been accepted. But the FIRs have not been registered. The police say they want to conduct a preliminary enquiry first.
Amnesty International India - along with civil society groups and the community on the ground - is campaigning #ForIndigenousRights by urging the authorities to register FIRs and investigate the allegations.
For some time now, according to Adivasi villagers from four villages in Raigarh, agents allegedly acting on behalf of the two companies have resorted to threats, intimidation, coercion and misinformation, to force them off their land. Gram sabhas (village assemblies) in the affected villages have passed resolutions in 2015 and 2016 stating that their lands had been purchased through fraud and coercion. This in spite of Raigarh being notified as a ‘scheduled area’ under the Fifth Schedule of India’s Constitution, which has special safeguards around the transfer of Adivasi lands. These safeguards have been totally bypassed in these cases.
Several members of local communities in the villages of Khokhraaoma, Katangdi, Bhengari and Nawapara Tenda, narrate how they have been allegedly forced into selling their land to people acting as agents for the companies.
Karamsingh Rathia, an Adivasi from Katangdi village, says: “The company people came to me and asked to sell my land. I refused to sell, but a middleman said that since my land was in the middle of the proposed company site, I had to sell it. They frequently visited me and compelled me to sell. They also threatened our family… Now TRN has constructed a chimney there.”
Pavitri Manjhi, the sarpanch of Benghari village, says: “When the villagers refused to sell their land, the mediators said that the state government had already given the village to TRN. And if they did not sell their land, the company would occupy it and dump iron, ash and coal over it, and villagers would get nothing.”
Amnesty International India’s letter to TRN Energy (on 27 April) and MECBL (on 3 May) seeking their reply to the allegations of Adivasi communities met with no response.
WHAT THE LAW SAYS
The SC & ST (POA) Act (The Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act) – a special law to protect the rights of Dalits and Adivasis - criminalizes the wrongful dispossession or interference with the lands of SCs and STs. In January 2016, Parliament passed an amendment to the Act, which states that “wrongfully” includes dispossession or interference done “against the person’s will”, “without the person’s consent”, or “with the person’s consent where such consent has been obtained by putting the person, or any other person in whom person is interested, in fear of death or hurt”. The POA obligates the police to register all complaints which allege violations of Adivasi rights.
On 9 May, the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes (NCST) directed action to be taken under the SC & ST (POA) Act in cases where Adivasi land was transferred to other people through forgery. The order followed recent allegations that over 300 acres (121 hectares) of Adivasi land had been unlawfully transferred to non-Adivasis in Kunkuni village, Raigarh between 2009 and 2015.
Under international human rights law and standards, states have an obligation to protect the rights of Indigenous peoples to free, prior and informed consent on decisions that affect them. This right is recognized in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and also by UN treaty bodies interpreting the International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, , to all of which India is a state party.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
Join hands #ForIndigenousRights. Justice delayed is justice denied.
Displacement of Adivasis without their consent is a criminal offence. Urge the Chhattisgarh police to take immediate action by registering FIRs, and investigating the allegations.
The Deputy Super Intendent of Police Virendra Sharma of Raigarh SC ST (Special) Welfare Police made the following commitment in a handwritten letter to the Adivasi complainants -
The Raigarh police will conduct a 15 day preliminary enquiry before deciding to register FIRs, which in exceptional cases can take up to 6 weeks.
22 June: The DSP visited Bhengari village, one of four villages where police are recording statements of Adivasi complainants who are seeking to register FIRs under the SC ST POA Act.
1 July: The police have asked for more time - they have extended the 15 days of preliminary enquiry up to 6 weeks.