Centre eyeing tribal lands for mining

Apratim Mukarji
(New Delhi, November 23)

INDIA IS moving inexorably towards a mammoth uprooting and dislocation of millions of tribals and creation of "a thousand Narmadas" with the Central Government preparing to open up mining areas, mostly in tribal lands, to multinational corporations as part of the economic liberalisation drive.

The Government is getting ready to amend the Land Acquisition Act, as well as the 5th Schedule of the Constitution, to de-notify tribal lands so that these can be transferred to non-tribals.

The roadblock in achieving this goal is the 1997 Supreme Court judgement in the Samatha case, which rules that tribal lands cannot be transferred, either for mining or for any other purpose, to non-tribals.

Samatha, a non-governmental organisation, had sought the Apex Court's intervention to prevent the Central Government from transferring tribal lands to non-tribals.

The Ministry of Mines has already prepared a note for the Cabinet's consideration, strengthened by the Attorney General's opinion, advising ways and means to circumvent the Supreme Court judgement.

The Ministry's note - No.16/48/97-M.VI dated July 10, 2000 - has proposed to the Committee of Secretaries certain amendments to the fifth Schedule of the Constitution in the context of the Supreme Court judgement in the Samatha case.

The Ministry of Mines is said to have endorsed the Attorney General's opinion that the way forward is to "effect the necessary amendments so as to overcome the Suprme Court's judgement by removing the legal basis of the said judgement."

The modus operandi to circumvent the Supreme Court judgment, as the Ministry note explains, is to insert an explanation after Paragraph 5 (2) of the Fifth Schedule removing the prohibition and restrictions on the transfer of land by tribals to non-tribals for undertaking any non-agricultural operations including prospecting and mining.

Explaining the background to the move of the Ministry of Mines, Congress member Eduardo Faleiro told the Rajya Sabha yesterday: "The Government wanted to do this (de-notify tribals lands and open them to multi national companies) by an executive order, in Andhra Pradesh, to benefit Rio Tinto, an Australian multi national company."

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