The Loophole: Decoding collateral damage in the way of development

As we know India has a vast history of tribal displacement from forests in the name of wildlife conservation reserves or developmental projects. The fights for their rights continue to this date. This is the story of one of the PVTG of our country who used to live in isolated forests in the lap of mother nature and supreme deities.

Saharia tribe is majorly habituating in MadhyaPradesh. They have a very grueling background of bonded labor and land alienation, it resulted in the generations of exploitation by authorities and Hindus.

Bonded labor created a huge disparity in society and left them landless. Although, it ended in 2012 due to the countrywide movements and support from the higher authorities. It integrated two very occupational activities among Saharia: bonded labor and farming.

The migration rate among Saharia is quite high because people go to different states to earn money. The irony is their struggle doesn’t stop here, developmental projects make it worse for them. They were exiled from the forest in 1995 for the translocation of Asian lion from Gir National Park to the new Kuno- Palpur wildlife sanctuary.

People alleged that they were forced to give their consent. Families were given 36,000 rupees as compensation and 2 hectares of land, those who possess more than that were settled in cash compensation. But failed resettlement is far away from the consideration.

In May 2020, an irrigation project ‘Shrimant Madhav Rao Scindia Bahuddeshiya Sinchai Pariyojna’ got the green light from the state government. Department of water resources proposed the project with five dams on the Kuno river of 175-450 mcm capacity with the expense of 5300 crore rupees. According to PFR, 27 villages of the Chambal region will be displaced for the construction of the dam with 600-800mcm capacity. There is a future possibility to generate electricity from this dam project.

In both cases, public hearing sessions were not conducted to provide information to tribals. People were forced to give their consent and no consideration of social impact assessment which should run parallel to the environmental impact assessment. In the current scenario of irrigation project promises are beyond sky but at what cost? By breaking the societal structure of a community that involves dynamic mosaic of intangible realities.

Why not these projects can take place somewhere else? Or on what basis age-old human civilization is displaced?

EIA and SIA both are the criteria that need to be fulfilled before starting any development project.

According to primary resources, they were asked not to cultivate their lands this year since the work of the dam project will be starting soon. They were not given any notice to vacate their lands. People lack awareness regarding their rights. They didn’t know that it is the bound duty of government and authorities to conduct a public hearing, inform them about their rights, and consider the negotiable demands. 

Tribals are forced to leave their native lands, they come to towns and cities in hope of settling in better conditions. Here again, they end up in a circle of daily wagers and laborers resulting in a shadow economy. Again exploitation continues……..

Problems associated with uninformed sectors are nightmares for the policymakers and governments yet situations like COVID-19 pandemic compelled them to leave cities as well. They are stuck in an awful situation, there is no easy way out where again they can go back to their forests and practices food gathering.

The whole system which so complex and fancy on the papers has no significance in their simple and isolated lives yet they have to pay the price for development. Tribes are just collateral damage in the way of development which is quite affordable for our system