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BackYou are here: AnalysisOpinion BD Sharma: 'For Tribals, Development Means Exploitation'


BD Sharma: 'For Tribals, Development Means Exploitation'

Jyoti Punwani

B D Sharma is one of India's foremost experts on tribal issues. He has served as collector of undivided Bastar district in Chhattisgarh and commissioner for scheduled castes and scheduled tribes and has campaigned extensively to protect the rights of tribals. Currently, the coordinator of Bharat Jan Andolan, a network of grass-roots organisations, Sharma tells that current notions of development are at the root of the Maoist insurgency.

What has changed since you were collector of Bastar?

That was 40 years ago! Outsiders didn't have so much influence there, except in Bailadila. The presence of the administration also wasn't much. As collector, i didn't sanction any mining lease. When sanctions started being given, discontent grew, and in the 1980s, the Maoists came.

They are now seen as the biggest problem.

When i was working as SC-ST commissioner, i asked Bastar's tribals about the Maoists. They said, 'Dadas are very good. They've released us from the tyranny of the patwaris'. As the Maoists' grew in confidence, they established their stronghold. Outside Bastar, the desire for 'development' kept growing; in it, opposition to it grew. I'm not claiming credit, but my refusal to sanction big projects in Bastar kept peace in the area.

How to resolve this dilemma of development?

God has given the tribals everything. Seated on the banks of the Indravati, they would tell me, ''We have three moneylenders who look after us throughout the year: the forest, the river and the land. We live off them for four months each.'' They have never seen drought or famine. When rainfall is low, the forest produces more kandh-mool to compensate. In Gondi, there is no future tense. They are content living in the present. You can't presume to give them development; they have enough. For them, development means exploitation. A representative of the state, be it a patwari or a forest guard, is someone powerful, to be feared. Just stop their exploitation and provide them health and education.

Will the government accept this?

Do dacoits like to stop looting? The government must accept that the resources they want belong to society. The doctrine of Eminent Domain, which allows the state to capture anyone's property without their consent, clashes with the tribals' view. For them, those who live in the forests are the maalik. You want to turn them into labourers.

According to the Constitution's Fifth Schedule, resources in tribal areas belong to the tribals, and the governor has draconian powers to ensure this. Has any governor sent a single directive on this to the state governments? The 1995 Bhuria commission recommended that for industries in tribal areas, 50 per cent of the ownership must remain with the community, 20 per cent with the landowner and only 30 per cent with the investor. The radical PESA (Panchayat Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996, gives the gram sabha the authority to decide the use of natural resources. None of these are being implemented. Therein lies the dishonesty. It's an unbroken record of broken promises. If this alternate pattern of development is not pursued, the Adivasis will perish.

(Times of India, 9th March)