The UPA has embraced the bill as a win-win situation, noting that if the bill gets through, tribals will align themselves with the ruling coalition. If the bill fails to pass, the UPA can still claim to be the champions of the tribal cause and win tribal votes.
48157, 12/20/2005 10:04, 05 NEWDELHI 9527, Embassy New Delhi, CONFIDENTIAL, 05 NEWDELHI 9245, "VZCZCXRO0880RR RUEHBI RUEHCI RUEHLH RUEHPWDE RUEHNE #9527/01 3541004ZNY CCCCC ZZHR 201004Z DEC 05FM AMEMBASSY NEW DELHITO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 7636INFO RUEHBJ/AMEMBASSY BEIJING 9312RUEHLM/AMEMBASSY COLOMBO 2424RUEHKA/AMEMBASSY DHAKA 2445RUEHIL/AMEMBASSY ISLAMABAD 5277RUEHBUL/AMEMBASSY KABUL 2142RUEHKT/AMEMBASSY KATHMANDU 3080RUEHLO/AMEMBASSY LONDON 7424RUEHMO/AMEMBASSY MOSCOW 5796RUEHKO/AMEMBASSY TOKYO 2490RUEHCI/AMCONSUL CALCUTTA 0396RUEHCG/AMCONSUL CHENNAI 0034RUEHKP/AMCONSUL KARACHI 1319RUEHLH/AMCONSUL LAHORE 1851RUEHBI/AMCONSUL MUMBAI 9304RUEHPW/AMCONSUL PESHAWAR 2544RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDCRUEIDN/DNI WASHINGTON DCRHHMUNA/CDR USPACOM HONOLULU HIRUEHGV/USMISSION GENEVA 0284RUCPDOC/DEPT OF COMMERCE WASHDCRHHJJPI/PACOM IDHS HONOLULU HIRHMFISS/HQ USSOCOM MACDILL AFB FLRHMFISS/HQ USCENTCOM MACDILL AFB FLRUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHDCRUEKJCS/JOINT STAFF WASHDC","C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 05 NEW DELHI 009527
E.O. 12958: DECL: 12/20/2015 TAGS: PGOV, PINR, PHUM, KCRM, ASEC, SCUL, SENV, KSCA, TSPL, EAGR, IN
SUBJECT: THE TRIBAL BILL - A UPA ATTEMPT AT SOCIAL ENGINEERING
REF: A. NEW DELHI 9245
B. NEW DELHI 5068 C. NEW DELHI 4953 D. NEW DELHI 4759 E. NEW DELHI 4673
Classified By: Charge Robert Blake, Jr. for Reasons 1.4 (B, D)
1. (C) Summary: India's forest dwelling tribals (aboriginals largely residing in Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand, Orissa, Chhattisgarh Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra) are caught in a vise between greedy forest mafias and the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist), which hopes to enlist them into its violent campaign to oppose multinational corporations (MNC's) attempting to establish projects in tribal areas. The UPA hope to win votes in key states by addressing the long-standing and deep-rooted exploitation of India's Scheduled Tribes (STs) through a Bill that would grant STs the right to own forest land and subsist off of forest resources. In addition to the electoral benefits, the UPA hopes that this will encourage tribals to protect and preserve India's rapidly shrinking forests. The issue is pressing, as non-tribals, aided and abetted by government officials, use corruption and coercion to remove tribals illegally from the forests and gain access to resources. Some of our environmentalist contacts oppose the bill, believing the GOI is not sufficiently committed to the environment and the STs to ensure proper implementation of such a bill if it passes. The most likely outcome will be more violence, as desperate tribals see no recourse but to turn to the Maoists to ensure their survival. This cable deals with the political aspects of the bill, a more detailed analysis of its provisions follows septel. End Summary.
A Far-Reaching Bill
2. (U) On December 13, Tribal Affairs Minister PR Kyndiah introduced the Scheduled Tribes (Recognition of Forest Rights) Bill to Parliament. The Minister emphasized that the UPA believes the Bill will ""grant a secure and inalienable right to those communities whose right to life depends on the forests and strengthen the entire conservation system regime by giving a permanent stake to the Schedule Tribes (STs) dwelling in the forest for generations in symbiotic relationship with the ecosystem."" Kyndiah pointed out that the bill is meant to correct an ""injustice,"" as a segment of India's STs have lived in the forests for generations without clear title to the land they occupy.
With Extensive Rights
3. (U) The Bill is an ambitious attempt at social engineering which aims to provide clear rights to STs, while seeking to preserve India's fast-shrinking forests. It hopes to accomplish this by granting ""forest dwelling"" tribals clear title to the lands they occupy, while compelling them to act as stewards. The Bill extends to STs the right to own and occupy sufficient land for their habitation and subsistence (no more than 2.5 hectares), and the right to grow food and graze their animals on their property. The Bill specifies that the land can be passed on to descendants but cannot be sold or transferred, and no one can evict STs
NEW DELHI 00009527 002 OF 005 without a proper ""recognition and verification procedure.""
And Clear Obligations
4. (U) In exchange for these rights, the ST-held land would be confined to ""bonafide livelihood purposes"" and ""not for exclusive commercial purposes,"" and STs would be responsible for ""protection, conservation and regeneration of forests."" Tribals would not be allowed to engage in any activity that adversely affects the wild life, forest and the biodiversity in the area. STs that fail to live up to their obligations would be brought before tribal councils. For their first offense they could be fined 1,000 rupees (USD 22), and would lose their land if they committed subsequent offenses. The Bill also contains a clause exempting officers of the state and central governments from prosecution or civil suits ""for anything which is in good faith done or intended to be done under the act.""
The Political Genesis of the Bill
5. (C) Conservationists claim the bill,s hidden agenda is to capture the hitherto unaligned tribals' votes for Congress. Environmental lawyer Sudhir Mishra explained that the bill originated in a small-scale tribal land-distribution model implemented by then Congress Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh Digvijay Singh seven years ago. The idea quickly gained momentum after Congress President Sonia Gandhi eagerly adopted it last year, leading to a bill drafted in only five days, in complete secrecy, by the Ministry of Tribal Affairs. In Delhi political circles the bill is attributed to the same National Advisory Council cabal that authored the ill-regarded Employment Guarantee Act. Political contacts tell us that while the BJP is strongly opposed to the Bill, it has determined that it is now too risky to oppose it openly, with BJP President LK Advani supposedly stating &How come we (the BJP) did not think about doing this?8
Nothing to Lose Here for the Congress-Led Coalition
6. (C) The UPA has embraced the bill as a win-win situation, noting that if the bill gets through, tribals will align themselves with the ruling coalition. If the bill fails to pass, the UPA can still claim to be the champions of the tribal cause and win tribal votes. Despite this, the Tribal Bill has caused a split within Congress. Although the bill is a pet-project of Sonia Gandhi, her son and Congress MP Rahul Gandhi is a member of the Tiger and Wilderness Watch group, a formation of MP,s that opposes the bill as a danger to wildlife. (Comment: Congress may have overestimated the potential electoral impact of the bill. The NDA just carried Bihar and there are currently BJP/NDA governments in Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, and Orissa, all with large tribal populations. It is far from certain that this Bill would reverse years of systematic BJP cultivation of tribals. end comment.)
The Prime Minister Pushed to the Fore
7. (SBU) Prime Minister Singh is actively pressing for
NEW DELHI 00009527 003 OF 005
passage of the Tribal Bill. As head of the National Board for Wildlife, he became deeply involved in the tiger issue (reftels B-E) and formed a special task force to study the issue. The task force includes a number of liberal activists such as Sunita Narain (a personal friend of the PM) who are outspoken proponents of &tribal rights.8 They have purportedly convinced the PM that the tiger issue and the Tribal Bill are linked, and that the Bill will redress historical grievances and save tigers.
Opponents are Appalled
8. (U) The Bill was drafted by a ""Technical Support Group"" of tribal activists recruited by the Tribal Ministry. The Ministry of Forests and Environment (MoEF) objected that it was not involved in the drafting process, and predicted that the Bill would result in wholesale destruction of forest resources. All serious environmental groups, as well as MoEF staff privately fume that the Bill is a cynical attempt to tap the tribal vote bank that will ultimately only bring irreparable harm to protected areas and further constrict the available tiger prey base. Tiger activist Valmik Thapar argued that if implemented the bill would ignite violent land disputes between tribes and clans and between tribals and non-tribals, opening the door for wholesale destruction of remaining forest lands by India's greedy land and forest mafias. (Comment: From a conservation science perspective, we agree that increased human usage of sensitive park areas will only increase opportunities for conflict between men and animals, reducing available prey and further shrinking range areas for highly solitary cats like tigers. end comment.)
9. (U) Indian conservatives also opposed the Bill, arguing that it would impede India's economic development. A ""Pioneer"" editorial argued that India does not need a tribal bill, but rather ""a concrete plan of action for the development of forested regions."" It derided UPA claims that STs had been denied land rights as a ""myth."" Arguing that many STs work hand in glove with the mafias to loot the forests, the editorial contended that the MoEF, not the tribals, will prevent forest destruction.
Proponents are Enthusiastic
10. (U) The Bill is the project of ""tribal activists"" and Left ideologues from the UPA and Left Front (LF). They argue that it corrects a historical wrong, as under the British and then independent India, the state was more interested in exploiting the forests as an economic resource than preserving the rights and way of life of the STs residing there. They also argue that without clear title to forest land, MNC's and Indian industrial houses will expel tribals to gain access to their land and forest resources. Tribal activist Marianus Kujur claimed that industrial houses have already launched more than 40 projects requiring 30,713 acres of forest land, and that the MoEF and industrialists plan to ultimately take over almost four million acres. Kujur maintained that once tribals have land rights, they will protect the forests and wildlife and stand up to the forest mafias and their political patrons.
11. (C) Opponents contend that the drafters failed to study
NEW DELHI 00009527 004 OF 005
the effect of similar programs in Brazil and Central Africa that encouraged slash-and-burn farming by subsistence farmers. There is already considerable evidence to indicate that India's tribals are not innately interested in conserving the environment. For example, the Bodos were given administrative control of part of Assam, and began a wholesale program of deforestation that devastated the forests in the Manas National Park.
Naxalites in the Background
12. (C) The Naxalites are the unmentioned third player in the argument. The Communist Party of India (Maoist) and other Naxalite groups are active in many of the areas covered by the bill, and claim to represent the interests of the STs (reftel A). On December 15 the CPI(Maoist) Central Committee warned corporate investors to stay out of the tribal areas and stop ""forcibly displacing people,"" or face the consequences. The CPI(Maoist) said it would attack any company attempting to set up a project in the tribal belts of Jharkhand, Orissa, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra. A CPI(Maoist) spokesman claimed that ""MNC interests have triggered state-aided brutal area-domination exercises to sanitize tribal-held land so that industries can be set up there. We intend to hit back strongly.""
13. (C) Many liberal ideologues in the UPA support the Bill out of concern for the environment and the STs. It also appeals to the Congress Party's traditional inclination towards government-driven solutions to economic problems. Left Front supporters of the UPA are concerned about preventing a Naxalite resurgence. The CPI(Marxist) and the CPI(Maoist) are bitter enemies and both want to cultivate the STs. LF leaders see the STs as futurE voters when and if the Communist parties expand into new areas, and hope the Tribal Bill will bring them into the electoral process and out of the ranks of the Naxalites.
Comment - Tribals Caught in a Vise
14. (C) The tribals who inhabit forest areas have been traditionally exploited and abused by the majority population. India's rapidly expanding population and growing economy have worsened the tribals plight by increasing pressure on shrinking forest areas and their resources. Many non-tribals view the STs as an obstacle to development who must be removed from forest lands and ""integrated"" into the mainstream (largely as landless laborers at the bottom of the social ladder). Having ignored this vulnerable population for decades, the UPA sees votes now in trying to correct a set of long-standing and deeply-rooted social problems through an ambitious Bill that reflects the views of the academically oriented social engineers at the National Advisory Council (NAC). In our estimation, should the Bill become law, it will likely fail to meet its ambitious objectives as it runs into the entrenched and corrupt interests exploiting the forests. India's poorly motivated and often corrupt bureaucracy cannot be counted on to administer a bill aimed at protecting the environment and tribals, which the vast majority of Indians care little or nothing about. Nor does it appear that anyone with the NAC
NEW DELHI 00009527 005 OF 005 has asked tribals their views, or studied their land-usage patterns.
15. (C) The GOI's unwillingness and inability to make the difficult decisions required to prevent destruction of the forests and end the exploitation and victimization of tribals plays into the hands of the Naxalites. The tribals are caught in a vise, with greedy industrialists and mafias working together to push them off their land and exploit forest resources on one side, and a violent Maoist insurrection on the other. Most tribals have little or no faith that the GOI will protect them, and over time may see little alternative but to turn to the Maoists as the best of a bad set of choices.
16. (U) Visit New Delhi's Classified Website: (http://www.state.sgov.gov/p/sa/newdelhi/)