People's Democracy(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
April 08, 2007
A Historic Injustice Perpetrated on Adivasis
J S Majumdar
After series of village meetings and local demonstrations, an adivasi delegation from Jharkhand consisting of Prakash Toppo, Suresh Oroan and Suresh Munda, led by the state secretary of the Party, met the union minister for Defence A.K.Antony on April 2 at New Delhi and submitted a joint petition signed by 552 affected adivasis from seven villages around Ranchi airport demanding the return of 1200 acres of adivasi lands occupied by the defence establishment. In response to an earlier memorandum of the state committee of the Party, the Defence minister wrote back to Brinda Karat, MP that the lands belong to Defence establishment and that some of the adivasis, who are cultivating a small portion of the lands, were encroachers. This joint petition of the adivasis exposed, with documentary evidences from British period, the hollowness of the claim of the Defence establishment.
This is a story of historic injustice done to the adivasis in British India which continued even in independent India. During Second World War, the headquarters of Eastern Command was shifted temporarily from Kolkata to Ranchi. Under Defence of India rule, using extraordinary power, thousands of acres of adivasi lands were requisitioned by the British government for this purpose. Adivasi houses were demolished, trees were cut and an airstrip was constructed for Defence aircraft landing. Since the lands were requisitioned, there was neither any rehabilitation of adivasis nor any compensation was given to them. The lands were never acquired under Land Acquisition Act, 1894. The lands continued to remain in the name of adivasis, but occupied by the Defence even after the war ended, India became independent and a republic. In 1962, the temporarily constructed airstrip of the Defence at Ranchi was handed over to civil aviation ministry where present Ranchi Airport is situated.
This led to an abnormal situation which was continuously ignored by the Defence and Civil Aviation ministries of the central government. The adivasis are having khatiyans (land records) and, with the hope that their lands would be returned to them some day, have been paying land taxes, earlier to Bihar government and at present to Jharkhand government, of the lands which are in occupation of Defence and even of the lands where present Ranchi Airport is situated and where aircrafts are landing! State governments issued receipts to them on regular basis. Copies of these documents were submitted to the Defence minister.
Defence personnel are regularly preventing the adivasis, who are cultivating some portion of their vacant lands, preventing their entry in the villages, preventing them from repairing their houses and performing religious functions. Against such high handed actions of the Defence, regular demonstrations and protests are taking place.
In a judgement related to these lands, occupied by Defence, the Ranchi Bench of Patna High Court stated, “ According to the State (State of Bihar) the lands in dispute and other plots which belong to Scheduled Tribes as was shown in annexure-3, were never acquired nor possession of the same was given for Air Field/Aerodrome” and ordered the Station Commander of Defence at Ranchi, “ not to interfere with the petitioner and other similarly situated persons, whoever having right, title and possession over the land, except by obtaining an order of the court of competent jurisdiction.”In this land dispute between the adivasis and the Defence, three member bench of Supreme Court in 1989 directed, “Status quo as on today regarding possession shall be maintained.”
Yet Defence minister of India writes that the lands belong to Defence establishment and that the adivasis were the encroachers! Though to the delegation, Defence minister assured to re-look into the entire issue, adivasis under the banner of CPI(M) are preparing for continuous agitation till historic injustice to them is corrected. A massive meeting of the adivasis is scheduled to be held shortly.