Conditions of Adivasis: Neglect, Loot and Plunder during the Modi Raj

Date: 
March 29, 2019

NDA government’s policies have hit the adivasis hard. Their policies on mining and minerals have opened the floodgates of loot of mineral wealth in adivasi areas. They have undermined statutory restrictions on transfer of adivasi lands to non-adivasis. Public expenditure on schemes meant for adivasis have faced severe cuts. A vast number of government posts reserved for adivasis lie vacant. Schools in adivasi areas and hostels meant for adivasi children are in a pathetic condition because of inadequacy of resources. Cuts in spending on welfare schemes like MGNREGA and National Food Security Act have also hit the adivasis hard.

Loot and Plunder of Resources in Adivasi Areas

The NDA government has pursued aggressively anti-adivasi policies that promote loot and plunder of natural resources in adivasis areas. NDA’s policies repeatedly violated specific constitutional provisions and laws which govern land relations and protect the resource rights of adivasis like the Fifth and Sixth Schedule, PESAA, the various laws like Forest Rights Act, Wild Life Protection Act and State laws or Government Orders concerning adivasi land. The gram sabha - the central authority in adivasi areas as per the law - has been deprived of its role entirely.

The government used its majority in Loksabha and support of Trinamool Congress, Samajwadi Party and BJD in Rajya Sabha to pass the Mining and Minerals (Regulation and Development) Amendment Act 2015. The Act is a charter for handing over the mineral wealth of the country to private loot and plunder. The act has extended the period of private leases from 30 years to 50 years. This act has done away with the requirement of mandatory consent of landowners for mining under the surface of the land owned/occupied by them. The amendment effectively overrides the landmark 1997 Samatha judgement. The Coal Bearing Areas Act has further criminalized legitimate protest even as it once again ignores the rights of adivasis. Environmental and forest clearances are being granted to every applicant at breakneck speed - regardless of the rights of local communities. The system of time-bound single window clearances for big projects undermines due process of environmental and social impact assessment, consultation with and prior informed consent of affected persons.

The non-implementation and open violation of the Forest Rights Act has marked this government’s tenure. Since enactment of the law, 4.22 million applications have been filed for the settlement of rights. Of this, 1.94 million or 46 per cent have been rejected. Only 54,591 sq km of forest land has been recognised, while the total forest land under occupation prior to 2005 was 112,000 sq km. The extremely poor implementation of PESAA by NDA makes the situation worse.

In a recent order, the Supreme Court asked 21 states to explain why evictions, whereever ordered, have not taken place. The SC has also asked some states to pass eviction orders where rejection of claims is final. All this is to be done in 150 days, by July 27, 2019. The Modi government is complicit in this looming threat of evictions since they did not defend the Forest Rights Act in SC, going to the extent of not appearing on the crucial dates to argue. This open collusion of the government with the anti-adivasi forces is behind the ruling. After a huge public outcry and representations by adivasi and othe left and democratic organizations, the Tribal Affairs Ministry was forced to approach the SC and on 28th February, 2019 the Supreme Court stayed the above order, giving states four months to file affidavits.

On every front the pattern is the same: the government has systematically tried to destroy any form of democratic control and accountability, by delegitimising institutions of grassroots control as well as all mechanisms to protect the environment and human communities.

Welfare Policies and the Neglect of Adivasis

In the sphere of welfare programmes also, NDA government’s record towards adivasis show a picture of terrible neglect.

Tribal Sub-plan is an important instrument of public policy for directing resources towards development of adivasis. Tribal Sub-plan was instituted to ensure public spending for development of adivasis is in proportion to their share in the total population. This commitment has not been met by the current government. This government abandoned the entire framework of planning, and with it, the distinction between plan and non-plan expenditure. As a result, instead of being an independently formulated segment of the plan, Scheduled Tribe Component (STC) has merely become an accounting of part of benefits from various departmental schemes that are estimated to reach adivasis. Ironically, since all departments are required to report spending that should be accounted under STC, in many cases, part of expenditure on projects that rob adivasis of their land and livelihoods is shown as expenditure on tribal development. Only about half of what is reported as allocations under the Scheduled Tribe Component is actually for schemes targeted towards adivasis. Despite this accounting jugglery, the proportion of funds that are accounted under the STC have been only 5.1 to 6.1 per cent of total central sector and scheme funds, well below the mandated 8.6 per cent. This has meant that, in each year of NDA rule, the Central government has spent about Rs 20,000 crore less for adivasis than their due share.

In 2013, government had launched a scheme for ’marketing of Minor Forest Produce (MFP) through Minimum Support Price (MSP) and development of value chain for MFP’. This has, however, remained very poorly implemented. During the current government’s regime, allocations for procurement of minor forest produce have fallen from Rs. 277 crores to Rs. 130 crores. In many years during this government’s tenure, bulk of the allocation for procurement of MFPs have remained unspent. Throughout this period, adivasis dependant on sale of minor forest produce have suffered greatly from low prices and domination of the market by private traders, while the official agencies did nothing to help them. Having done practically nothing on this issue for 5 years, in December 2018 and February 2019, the government revised minimum support price regime for various MFP items. There is, however, no budgetary allocation in the recent budget to cover this increased cost. Obviously, this announcement is nothing but another jumla in the election year.

Adivasis are also the worst suffers of glaring problems in implementation of welfare schemes under the NDA government. MGNREGA has not only suffered from low allocations, financial mismanagement and low levels of availability of work, large amount of arrears of workers have accumulated because of lack of funds. Similarly, in case of NFSA, over 2 crore ration cards have been cancelled in the last three years depriving people of access to subsidised food as mandated under the National Food Security Act.

Rise in unemployment

About 90 per cent of adivasi population of India lives in rural areas. As per the 2011 Census, about 35 per cent of them primarily worked as cultivators and 45 per cent of them as agricultural workers. Most adivasi cultivators own very small holdings of rainfed land. Many among them work as hired manual workers for part of the year as small rainfed land that they have does not provide them employment throughout the year and does not provide them adequate income to sustain even at the minimum level needed for survival.

There has been a sharp increase in unemployment rate among adivasis during the last five years. The NDA government has stopped publication of employment data because these expose the complete failure of this government. The report leaked by a correspondent of Business Standard showed that, between 2011-12 and 2017-18, the unemployment rate among adivasis increased by 3.6 percentage points for rural men, 1.1 percentage points for rural women, 3.6 percentage points for urban men and 2.8 percentage points for urban women. In other words, there has been a sharp increase in unemployment among adivasis everywhere.

Adivasis have been the worst victims of deflationary policies of this government. Policies like demonetisation hurt poor adivasi workers very hard as a vast majority of them work in the informal sector for daily wages. Cash crunch in the months after announcement of demonetisation pushed many to destitution as they had no employment, had to work for lower wages, or even accept payment in invalid currency. They were unable to buy basic goods from the markets and were forced to obtain goods on credit from merchants to meet their requirements.

Glaring gaps in provision of basic services

Following recommendations of the Niti Aayog for merger of schools, many adivasi areas which are sparcely populated have seen closure of public schools. This has been particularly noteworthy in States that have NDA governments. In Rajasthan, about 17000 schools were closed in name of merger. In Jharkhand, about 1300 schools have already been merged while another 4600 schools are in line for the same.

Even when there are facilities for education of adivasi childen, their conditions are pathetic. The District Information System for Education show that 42 per cent rooms in rural adivasi schools are in need of repair and 26 per cent of rural adivasi schools do not have any drinking water facilities. About 71 per cent of schools in which adivasi children study have no electricity and 86 per cent of these schools do not have pucca boundary walls.

A survey of adivasi hostels conducted by the Centre for Adivasi Research and Development showed shocking levels of absence of basic facilities like toilets, bathrooms and electricity. Most adivasi hostels function from dilapidated buildings and function without adequate staff. Not only is the quantity of food inadequate and quality poor, children are often required to bring their own provisions and cook food.

Given such massive gaps in availability of basic facilities for education, it is not surprising that a large number of adivasi children do not manage to get even 10 years of schooling.

In terms of access to health services also, the situation of adivasis is worse than the overall situation in the country. For example, NFHS data show that between 2010-11 and 2015-16, 32 per cent deliveries of adivasi children did not take place in a medical institution; the corresponding children for only about 68 per cent of child births among adivasis were through institutional deliveries; the corresponding proportion for India as a whole is 79 per cent. In 2015-16, infant mortality rate among adivasis 44.4 per 1000 children; the corresponding figure for India as a whole is 40.7 per 1000 children. Of all the social groups, extent of child malnutrition is highest among adivasi children. In case of adivasi children of up to 5 years, 45 per cent were underweight; the corresponding proportion among all children was 36 per cent.

The condition of adivasis in access to basic amenities is also much worse than other social groups. The gaps are particularly glaring in rural areas. In 2015-16,  73 per cent of rural adivasi households did not have a toilet in their homes, 21 per cent did not have electricity, 91 per cent did not have access to clean fuel for their kitchen, 75 per cent did not have any source of water in the premises of their home, and 78 per cent did not have a pucca house. In fact, only 1.4 per cent rural adivasi households lived in a home that was pucca and had electricity, water and a toilet. This is the extent of deprivation adivasi households face.

Although Swachh Bharat Mission is a flagship programme of the Modi Government, and tall claims have been made by the government about its success, the actual progress seems to have been much less dramatic. Before we discuss the evidence on progress in access to sanitation, we must point out that the current government has not allowed release of any official household surveys since it came to power. Although NSSO has conducted surveys on education and health in 2017-18, on consumer expenditure in 2017-18, on employment and unemployment in 2017-18, and on drinking water, sanitation and housing in 2018.  Data from none of these surveys have been released till date. As   a result, a full assessment of the impact of programmes such as Swachh Bharat Mission has to wait until these data become available.

However, there are some important evaluations of the Swachh Bharat Mission that should be taken note of. Over the last few years, CAG has done an audit of implementation of the Swachh Bharat Mission  (SBM) in a few States. In its evaluation of Swachh Bharat Mission in Gujarat, a State declared Open Defecation Free in 2017, CAG found that 30 per cent houses did not have toilets and in about one third of the villages toilets were constructed without any source of water. The CAG reported concluded that “the claim of State Government that all the districts of Gujarat were ODF did not appear to be correct”. Implementation was particularly bad in tribal-dominated areas. In Tribal-dominated Kaprada taluka of Valsad district, CAG found that 98 per cent toilets constructed under SBM were defunct. The CAG report for Uttarakhand found that the State had made a false claim of having become Open Defecation Free when only 70 per cent of houses that were identified to be without toilets were provided subsidies to constrict toilets under Swacch Bharat Mission. The CAG evaluation found that 63 per cent toilets in Uttarakhand were constructed without any water connection. Other ground-level investigations have also exposed the fudging of data to make claims of various districts and States having become Open Defecation Free. For example, in its investigation in three districts in Uttar Pradesh and five districts in Gujarat, Fact Checker (factchecker.in) found not only that the claims of villages having become ODF were false but even where toilets were constructed, they were incomplete, sub-standard and unusable. In some cases, only a toilet seat was installed without any walls or cesspit. A survey by WaterAid in eight States found that only 30 per cent toilets were properly constructed. They also found significant gaps in the claims and reality of villages having become open defecation free.

In short, while the government has made tall claims about progress in providing sanitation facilities, the ground reality seems to be very different and huge gaps in access to sanitation and other basic amenities persist in case adivasi households.

The RSS Agenda of Hinduisation of Adivasis

While adivasis have been suffering from policy neglect, the main focus of work of the Sangh Parivar in adivasi areas has been to rally them around the Hindutva agenda.

In November 2015, RSS held its executive committee meeting in Ranchi. The RSS sah sarkaryavah, Krishna Gopal, stated that all tribals were Hindus and fell under the Hindu code. He was specifically referring to the tribals who believe in the Sarna religion. The Minister for Tribal Affairs Jual Oran also later endorsed the RSS view. This shows the contempt of the RSS towards tribal cultures, beliefs and practices. At the same time there is an aggressive RSS led campaign of hate among tribals against Christians and Muslims. In States that have BJP governments, adivasi schools have pictures of Hindu gods and goddesses, and adivasi children are made to sing Hindu prayers. Many government schools have been given over to organisations affiliated with RSS so that they can use public funds to further their agenda of Hinduisation among adivasi children.