States have allowed exploitation of mineral-rich regions without locals' consent

The conflict between the government and the Maoists in the tribal areas didn't start with the abduction of Sukma Collector Alex Paul Menon and it would not end with his release, observed B.D. Sharma, the mediator who secured Mr. Menon's freedom after two weeks in captivity.

Addressing a press conference here on Saturday, Mr. Sharma said: “At the core of the clash between the governments and the Maoists lies the question of ownership of jal, jangal and zameen of the tribals, who used to be the owners of the mineral-rich region, and the model of development which the governments, State as well as the Union, are thrusting upon them.”

Referring to the “understanding” reached between the Chhattisgarh government and Maoists, he hoped the temporary ceasefire in Operation Green Hunt will lead to an era of peace. However, he added: “Only astrologers can predict the longevity of the current ‘ceasefire.”

The former District Magistrate of Bastar talked about the situation prevailing in the tribal region while highlighting the government's failure in protecting the rights of tribals.

“When I asked a local tribal in Bastar about the difference the Maoists' presence has made to his life, he replied that the tribals don't get troubled by the patwari and the daroga,” Mr. Sharma said.

Talking about the “inherent contradiction” in the government's policy on tribals, Mr. Sharma said instead of resolving core issues like rights over forests, forest produce, people's rights over land and resources, and the trader-contractor-politician nexus, governments have signed hundreds of memoranda of understanding with foreign and domestic companies for exploitation of minerals without the consent of the local people.

“Our Prime Minister calls the tribal people poor! How can you call the community poor which historically and naturally used to own and cultivate the mineral-rich region and its resources?” he said.

Mr. Sharma regretted that the Bhuria Committee's 1996 recommendation regarding community ownership of industry had not been adopted still. He said tribals had not been given any stake in the present model of development despite the Centre having envisaged carving out a zone to ensure the partnership of tribals in development.

He highlighted the “open violation” of the provisions of the Panchayat (Extension to Schedule Areas) Act, 1996 (PESA) — the PESA had envisaged that “every Gram Sabha shall be competent to safeguard and preserve the tradition and customs of the people, their cultural identity, community resources and the customary mode of the dispute resolution.”