Anarcho-environmentalism allegorised

The name Anaarkali in the present context has many meanings - Anaar symbolises the anarchism of the Bhils and kali which means flower bud in Hindi stands for their traditional environmentalism. Anaar in Hindi can also mean the fruit pomegranate which is said to be a panacea for many ills as in the Hindi idiom - "Ek anar sou bimar - One pomegranate for a hundred ill people"! - which describes a situation in which there is only one remedy available for giving to a hundred ill people and so the problem is who to give it to. Thus this name indicates that anarcho-environmentalism is the only cure for the many diseases of modern development! Similarly kali can also imply a budding anarcho-environmentalist movement. Finally according to a legend that is considered to be apocryphal by historians Anarkali was the lover of Prince Salim who was later to become the Mughal emperor Jehangir. Emperor Akbar did not approve of this romance of his son and ordered Anarkali to be bricked in alive into a wall in Lahore in Pakistan but she escaped. Allegorically this means that anarcho-environmentalists can succeed in bringing about the escape of humankind from the self-destructive love of modern development that it is enamoured of at the moment and they will do this by simultaneously supporting women's struggles for their rights.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Gram Sabha is Supreme

The provisions of the Panchayat Extension to Scheduled Areas Act make it mandatory for the government to hold Gram Sabha meetings in the villages and take the sanction of the members regarding any development project that is to be initiated in the villages in areas notified as Scheduled Tribal Areas under the Fifth Schedule of the Constitution. Alirajpur district happens to be one such area. There was a proposal hanging fire for quite some time to establish a Wildlife Sanctuary in the Katthivara Reserve Forest in this district. However, during the month of September 2010 when Gram Sabhas were held in the villages that were coming in the proposed sanctuary area the members unanimously rejected the proposal. So now the State Government has declared that the proposed Wildlife Sanctuary will not be set up. This marks a significant victory for the Khedut Mazdoor Chetna Sangath.
The story is a long one. It all started with the construction of the Sardar Sarovar dam on the river Narmada in Gujarat. Large areas of forests and along with them the wildlife inhabiting them will be submerged in Madhya Pradesh as a result. So one of the conditions for the environmental clearance given to the project in 1987 was that alternative wildlife habitats in the form of wildlife sanctuaries should be notified. The Narmada Valley Development Authority in Madhya Pradesh put up the proposal for setting up two such sanctuaries in the Mathwad Reserved Forest and the Katthivada Reserved Forest in Alirajpur district. The Wildlife Institute of India (WII) in Dehradun was asked to prepare a feasibility report for the setting up of these two sanctuaries. The WII in its report rejected the Mathwad Reserved Forest for having a very high concentration of tribal population and sparse forest area but recommended the setting up of the sanctuary in Katthivara. The Forest Department immediately publicised this in 2007 and said that very soon the state government would notify the area as a Wildlife Sanctuary. Immediately after this the Khedut Mazdoor Chetna Sangath became active.
The KMCS activists first visited the affected villages to find out the awareness levels of the people there. While all of them had heard of the proposal and were totally against it they categorically said that so far they had not been officially contacted by any government officials whatsoever. They also said that they had seen some people from outside moving around with the forest guards surveying the flora and fauna in the area but these people too had not conducted any meetings in the village. Thus giving the lie to the WII claim in its report that they had conducted village surveys also and taken the opinion of the people.
The first thing that the KMCS activists told the people was that under the provisions of PESA it was necessary to hold Gram Sabhas in each and every village and take their consent before the Wildlife Sanctuary could be notified and land acquisition proceedings begun. Section 4 (i) of the PESA Act 1996 reads thus -
 the Gram Sabha or the Panchayats at the appropriate level shall be
consulted before making the acquisition of land in the Scheduled
Areas for development projects and before re-settling or
rehabilitating persons affected by such projects in the Scheduled
Areas; the actual planning and implementation of the projects in the
Scheduled Areas shall be coordinated at the State level;

In Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh the Panchayat Act and Rules have been suitably modified to accord with this provision of PESA (which is why they are considered to be the best Panchayat Raj acts in the country as they also define the Gram Sabha as the traditional small hamlet rather than the entire panchayat population consisting of one or more villages) so as to ensure that before any land acquisition process or displacement takes place, a Gram Sabha has to be mandatorily held. 
The crucial factor was that six villages in the core of the proposed sanctuary had to be completely evacuated while eighteen other villages could be allowed to continue within the area. This required land acquisition and so the PESA provision came into play.
 The people were taken on a tour of the Bori Wildlife Sanctuary in Hoshangabad district where villagers had been displaced from the core areas and resettled in colonies outside the forest area. The sorry situation of the oustees of the Bori  sanctuary in their new habitats where they had not been provided adequate agricultural land and other amenities convinced the people that rehabilitation was not a favourable option. This was confirmed by the generally bad situation of the oustees of the Narmada project also with whom they had a meeting.
After this on several occasions the affected people joined with the other members of the KMCS to take part in rallies in Alirajpur and press their demand that the Wildlife Sanctuary should not be established in Katthivara. The representations made to the authorities clearly laid out the legal constraint imposed by PESA that a Gram Sabha had to be conducted first before notifying the establishment of a wild life sanctuary in a Scheduled Area. This is the provision that was used by the Premnagar Panchayat in Sarguja district in Chhattisgarh to reject the setting up of a Power Plant and this is the provision that has been effectively used by KMCS to reject the Katthivada WLS. Of course because the act says that the Gram Sabha should be consulted and remains silent on what is to be done if they do not agree so the state normally either ignores the Gram Sabha or tries to bull doze it into submission. Here is where the crucial role of the KMCS come in. The KMCS is not only pretty strong on the ground but it is also a very feisty litigant in courts (we are about to go to court over non-implementation of The Scheduled Tribes and other Traditional Forestdwellers ( Recognition of Rights) Act also). Thus for the state to try and coerce the Gram Sabha into submission would mean a long battle and the costs would be high for it. the gram sabhas were held in September 2010 and the formal decision to take back the project has come only in late January 2011. This means that the State applied its mind to the whole process and then decided that the costs of fighting the KMCS and crushing it would be high in many ways and in any case would be stuck in the courts.
So finally when the mandatory Gram Sabhas were held the people with one voice rejected the proposal for a sanctuary and so the power of the PESA and the Gram Sabha was proved. That the Gram Sabhas voted in this way and that later the Government respected the decision of the Gram Sabhas is due to the fact that there is a mass organisation of the Bhil tribals working in the area for close to three decades now which has credibility in the eyes of the people and enough power to make the Government weigh the costs of not listening to the voice of the people.

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