Climate Change, Corporate Accountability, Indigenous Struggles for Land, Mining Scams and Urban Displacement


, by Intercultural Resources

Cet ensemble de textes constitue la suite des dossiers People’s Struggles in India et People’s Struggles on Urban and Energy Related Issues, respectivement publiés en 2011 et 2013.


Kelly Miller (1863–1939), an African-American mathematician and sociologist had once said, “I see that the path of progress has never taken a straight line, but has always been a zigzag course amid the conflicting forces of right and wrong, truth and error, justice and injustice, cruelty and mercy.”1 For Kelly Miller and hundreds of thousands of African Americans, life in America had been a prolonged, arduous struggle for equal rights, where they were otherwise subjected to deprivation and rabid exclusion from the mainstream American society. The ground realities in India (a caste-based society) have not changed much, even after 67 years of independence. Here the Adivasis (indigenous communities), the Dalits (those belonging to the lowest category in the caste hierarchy), tribal communities and a vast section of the marginalized poor are still struggling for equal rights – just the way African-Americans did during the civil rights movement in the United States.

On one hand, India is largely being seen as an emerging global power forging business relations with the rest of the world by the means of trade and development. On the other hand, apart from development induced displacement, the country is plagued by communal tensions, honor killings, manual scavenging, social ostracizing, inter-caste rivalries, diktats of the Khap Panchayats2 etc., ― some of the marked characteristics by which people are being marginalized in the hinterlands of India.

Recently, several peoples’ movements, civil society organizations, labor unions and citizens’ groups have come under the scanner of the Central Government, which has accused them of being ‘anti-development’ and has even labeled some of them as ‘anti-national’. The Ministry of Home Affairs has shown extra-ordinary enthusiasm to restrain the dissenting voices through various tactics. When the State is recklessly determined on crushing the people’s voices, it becomes crucial to reiterate the importance of preserving the space for freedom of expression and for dissenting voices in a democratic society. It is all the more imperative to show the world the darker side of what ‘Development’ really has to offer to the vast marginalized sections of the Indian society.

The third edition of “Peoples’ Struggles in India” presents 10 case studies chosen from a wide array of issues and located in different geographical regions of the country. The purposes of bringing out this edition are: a) to produce a critique of some key elements of the social, political, developmental and environmental issues in India; b) to present to the world, the diversity of the dissenting voices that emanate from the skewed development paradigm followed in this country; and c) to demonstrate the strategies adopted by various social groups and affected communities to fight for their rights in a democratic country that otherwise stands for Freedom, Equality and Justice for all sections of the society.

The case studies presented in this edition are set in different states, such as: Adivasi struggles for land in the states of Orissa, Jharkhand and Kerala; farmers’ protests against Special Investment Regions (SIRs) and corporate accountability in Tata’s CGPL plant in the state of Gujarat; displacement of urban poor and slum dwellers in the national capital of Delhi; impacts of climate change in Uttarakhand; degradation of the environment due to mining in Karnataka; and inadequate rehabilitation of slum dwellers on Railway Lands across India.

To help the readers better understand the case studies presented in this edition, a summary of all case studies and analysis of various issues and how they are linked to each other have been given below:

The flashflood in the state of Uttarakhand in North India in 2013 and the extensive damages it caused to human life and environment raised several questions about the aftereffects of reckless development and the careless exploitation of resources by flouting environmental norms. ‘The Cloud of Troubles’ by Trisha Agarwala summarizes the impacts of the flashfloods that endangered the lives of more than 5000 people in Uttarakhand in 2013. The article begins by unfolding the major events of the calamity and delves into the overwhelming media attention it received. It also focuses on the state government’s ignorance of the various warnings received prior to the event and lists few case studies of people who suffered as a consequence of insufficient compensation received from the government. The author also critiques the action plan formed by the government to combat the issue of resurrection post-calamity.

With 148 iron ore mines, Bellary – in the southern state of Karnataka – is considered to be the centre of all mining activities. Once a non-descript rural area, it shot to prominence during the Beijing Olympics, when massive export of iron ore to China opened up its avenues to private players in the mining industry. Today, Bellary has been reduced to a devastated landscape, ruined by mining, dirty politics, misuse of corporate power, and money laundering. The article, ‘The Horrors of Bellary’ by Steffi Elizabeth Thomas depicts the physical transformation of Bellary and explains how mining transformed the forests and the cultivable lands to a barren and arid landscape, completely changing the climate pattern, which in turn impacted the lives of the people inhabiting the region. Illegal mines encouraged the employment of children who survived in deplorable working conditions. The article also describes how the Reddy brothers became the mining barons of Bellary and how they, single handedly, destroyed Bellary’s beautiful landscape; meanwhile causing a loss of US $ 6.6 billion to the state treasury within a span of 10 years.

Kathputli Colony in the national capital, Delhi is the world’s biggest settlement of street performers. Located in a prime locality of the metropolitan city, the colony became the first slum settlement in India to receive In situ rehabilitation (rehabilitation at the original location of the slum). Home to more than 3000 performers, the colony has been subject to much political debate regarding the displacement of its residents. The article, ‘Kathputli Colony: the Illusion of Rehabilitation’ by Sadafut Tauhid narrates the trauma of the displaced street performers who have spent over 60 years of their life building the Kathputli colony. The article attempts to expose the government’s improper rehabilitation plan and its devious plot to uproot the residents from their homes, so as to ambitiously redevelop the colony. The article unearths the various flaws in the government’s Master Plan regarding the rehabilitation process and its attempts to dupe the residents into believing that the rehabilitation project is for their benefit.

The article, ‘Slum Settlements on Railway Land: a State of Denial and Deprivation’ by Chandana Das is an effort to describe the sufferings of slum dwellers surviving on lands owned by the Indian Railways. The slum dwellers, who are tagged as ‘encroachers’ and ‘illegal’ residents, live in the constant fear of displacement and the atrocities they face at the hands of the government. The article exposes the most unsanitary conditions in which the slum dwellers live and reveals how they are forced to resort to unlawful means to earn their daily living. It also explores the rehabilitation process of the displaced slum dwellers across various states like Delhi, Jharkhand, Gujarat and Bihar etc., and describes the efforts of various organizations who have been attempting to assist the slum dwellers in understanding their rights and have been helping them lead an improved life.

‘Oh! No SIR: Farmers’ struggles in Gujarat to protect their land’ by PT George presents the plight of thousands of poor farmers who are faced with the threat of losing their agricultural land. The farmers came together under the banner of a movement, Jamin Adhikar Andolan, Gujarat (JAAG), to fight against the state in protecting their land from being snatched away for the purpose of establishing SIRs. The article exposes the government’s employment of underhanded tactics in blocking compensation to the displaced farmers, and the subsequent protests by the farmers to reclaim their lands. The article fully illustrates how the project’s only aim was to capitalize on the resourceful lands of the farmers, and not to provide them with the mutual benefits of such an establishment.

The Coastal Gujarat Power Limited (CGPL), a wholly owned subsidiary of Tata Power, was established in the ecologically fragile region of Mundra in the Kutch area of Gujarat. The CGPL project was the first ever Ultra Mega Power Project that got approved by the Government of India in 2006-07, and happened to be one amongst many power generational units over a coastline of 70 km that would together produce 22,000 MW of power. The article, ‘Tata Mundra: Loss Masqueraded Otherwise’ by Himanshu Damle reveals the sociological, ecological and environmental impact of the project. The article unearths how the CGPL, along with the Adani Power Project and the Adani SEZ, have caused irreparable damage to Kutch’s geography, and goes on to describe the efforts of various organizations like MASS to combat the invasion of such power plants. The article enlists the various flaws found by the Compliance Advisor Ombudsman (CAO) regarding the funding of CGPL by the International Financial Corporation (IFC), and exposes the financial unviability of the project and the harrowing effect it has had on the local population of fish workers.

The Adivasis of Nagri village in Ranchi, Jharkhand have been fighting against the Indian government for years. In 1957-58, the government had acquired land to expand the Birsa Agriculture University and the Seed Bank. Since then, the Adivasis have been fighting to protect their land on one hand and to resist development-induced displacement on the other. The government had acquired the land forcefully, but it never gave sufficient compensation to the villagers. In 2011, the government demanded more land for the construction of three premiere institutes, IIIT, IIM and a law school. The Nagri land acquisition continues to remain an example of deception and corruption by the very bodies that are meant to protect the rights of citizens. The article, ‘Nagri Rises to Protest’ by Steffi Elizabeth Thomas unfolds the timeline of the Adivasis’ struggles to reclaim their land and exposes how the protectors of the rights of the villagers turned against them and slapped them with fake criminal charges to suppress their dissenting voices. The article also depicts the woes of social activist Dayamani Barla who supported the villagers in their endeavor.

The article, ‘Claiming Niyamgiri: the Dongria Kondh’s struggle against Vedanta’ by Anjali George unearths the decade-long struggle of an indigenous tribe to stop corporate giants from grabbing their ancestral lands and sacred mountains. The Dongria Kondh, a native tribe of the Niyamgiri Hills in Orissa, have been maintaining and preserving the forests of Niyamgiri for generations. The Niyam Dongar Mountain of the hill range is the abode of their divine God, and the felling of trees on this mountaintop is prohibited by the tribe. Since 2003, the Dongria Kondh community has been fighting against the mining company Vedanta, which plans to mine bauxite from the sacred mountain. The article recounts the timeline of their struggle, beginning from the appearance of Vedanta in Orissa and concluding with the present situation of the conflict.

The Adivasis and Dalits, who have always been mistreated in the state of Kerala, have had to fight tooth and nail for their rightful lands. The article, ‘The Promised Land: Adivasi Land Struggles in Kerala’ by PT George traces the innumerable struggles that have been undertaken by the Adivasis to combat the issue of landlessness. It delves into the social hierarchy of Kerala, unearthing the various malpractices that instigated the ostracizing of Adivasi communities. Beginning from 1950, the Kerala state witnessed an overhaul in the legal system, which led to the implementation of several land reform policies over the next few decades. The policies were aimed at abolishing the upper castes’ hold on land. However, the effective implementation of the policies was a task that the government failed to accomplish.

Lastly, ‘The Battle for Survival: Arippa Bhoosamaram’ by PT George is an account of Adivasis and Dalits fighting for survival on their rightful lands in the state of Kerala. Adivasis, hundreds of Dalits and the landless poor have encroached into Arippa revenue forest and have been protesting against the state government, demanding that the surplus revenue land in Arippa forest be distributed to the landless Adivasis and Dalits and the landless poor. The article uncovers the timeline of the protest and reveals the failure of the various governments that came into power in distributing lands to the Adivasis.

The case studies presented here are linked together in several ways. The most common theme among them is the struggle of the underprivileged against development-induced displacement. The farmers’ struggles in Gujarat reveal the state government’s disregard for the plight of more than a hundred thousand farmers in its keen enthusiasm to promote fancy development projects. The cases of slum settlements in Kathputli Colony and on Railways Lands continue with this theme by discoursing over the issue of improper rehabilitation methods adopted by the governments in case of displacement. These cases reveal how the authorities coerce the affected communities to part with their land, property and other resources and force them to abandon their homes. The case studies also reveal the haphazard rehabilitation plan or the lack of it for the affected communities.

Another talking point among the case studies is the land alienation of the Adivasis. The case of Nagri highlights the plight of Adivasis in Jharkhand who have been struggling against forceful land acquisition for close to 60 years. It reveals how the tribals were shaken around by the authorities, with even the judiciary ignoring their ardent pleas. The Dongria Kondh’s struggle to retain the mountains of Niyamgiri reveals a case where a mining giant encroached into the sacred mountains of the indigenous community and threatened their right to survival. The case of Arippa forest again draws on the struggle of Adivasis who have become the unfortunate victims of landlessness and have resorted to protests to gain land for cultivation and survival.

Another theme that this set of case studies churns out is the environmental destruction due to increased development-related activities. The cases of Bellary, Uttarakhand, Mundra and Niyamgiri all touch upon this theme. Bellary unveils how the illegal mining activities of the Reddy brothers led to the irremediable destruction of the environment. In Bellary, the environment was affected to such an extent that the rainfall pattern was altered in the region and the land was rendered unfit for cultivation. In Uttarakhand, the increasing deforestation drives, haphazard constructions of dams, and illegal constructions around river beds aided the exorbitant damages caused by the cloudburst disaster in 2013. The damages in Uttarakhand reached such a far off point that they presented the country with a need for reforms in climate change policies. In the case of Mundra, the various power plants caused irreparable damages to the region’s geography. The coal ash ponds of the CGPL plant contaminated the surrounding sea water and provided a threat of radioactivity. The mining impact on Niyamgiri was such that it destroyed the sanctity of the forests. It caused multiple damages to the natural wildlife habitat, and led to the pollution of the water resources essential for the survival of the indigenous tribes of the region.

Corporate accountability and misuse of government resources is another recurrent issue. The Reddy brothers of Bellary caused losses worth billions of dollars by engaging in the practice of ‘raising contracts’. They identified mines that were out of practice and then exploited them to gain profits, causing the land of Bellary to be forever inflicted with the shame of hosting illegal mines. A similar case of financial misuse, albeit on a smaller scale, is seen in Kathputli Colony. A scam worth millions was uncovered in 2014, where the state awarded prime land to private developers at a price much below the market rate, thereby providing them with undue benefits. The CGPL plant in Mundra faced the accountability mechanism of the CAO as a result of the expansion plans established by the company, even though the plant had previously caused extensive environmental damages. After the massive calamity in Uttarakhand, many agencies held the state government accountable for the devastation caused, as it had failed to act on previous warnings provided by different authorities. The disaster provided a peek into the deficient status of disaster management in India.

Protest as a means of dissenting voice is one of the most popular tactics adopted by social movements in India. The various studies presented here are chosen from the thousands of peoples’ struggle across the country, in an attempt to show how the indigenous, disadvantaged and poor people valiantly fight against the threats of displacements, evictions, land alienations, environmental destructions and so on. Several methods have been adopted by the struggling groups to combat their issues. Some struggles used foot marches, and bike and tractor rallies, whereas some other protests engaged in signature campaigns to gather public support, hunger strikes and non-violent sit-ins. Running awareness campaigns and peaceful vigils are other methods adopted by several groups. Some others adopted more vigorous tactics by holding massive demonstrations, road blockades and so on. The Adivasis and the Dalits in Kerala used the tactics of encroaching into disputed lands, building shanties and living at the protest sites to force the state to adhere to their demands. Another important element added to strengthen protests was the use of slogans. Many protests were often accompanied by innovative and effective slogans designed to hit the opponents at their weakest spots and to invigorate the people into awakening their fighting spirits. In all these diverse methods used to express the dissenting voices, the underlying common desire was the use of collective action that strived for social change. We hope the readers will find these case studies useful.

15th August, 2014, on the occasion of the 68th Independence day of India