Fact Check: Is Modi Really the Guardian of Tribal Rights in Jharkhand?

Contrary to the prime minister's claims, it is not the Congress, but his own party which has tried every scheme to attack Adivasi rights over natural resources.

On Wednesday, while addressing an election rally in Jharkhand’s Lohardaga Lok Sabha constituency, Prime Minister Narendra Modi claimed that as long as the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was in power, no one could seize Adivasis’ land.

Jab tak Modi hai, chowkidar hai, aapke jal, jangal aur zameen par koi panja nahi maar sakta” (As long as Modi is there, Chowkidar is there, no one can snatch your land, forest and water resources,” said the prime minister, according to a report published in the Hindi daily Prabhat Khabar. He also said it was no secret how the Congress tried to attack the Adivasis right over natural resources.

However, contrary to Modi’s claims, it is not the Congress but his own party which has tried every scheme to attack Adivasi rights over natural resources and seize their land in the name of ‘development’. The BJP has been in power both at the Centre and in the state of Jharkhand for the last five years. Moreover, ever since the formation of Jharkhand in 2000, the party has been at the state’s helm in one way or the other, while the Congress has never ruled the state directly.

The last five years have been crucial because unlike previous terms, this time the BJP was ruling the state with a full majority and was also in power at the Centre, with 12 out of 14 MPs from the state belonging to the BJP. And it is in this period that the party and its leadership tried changing the nature of the state, where according to the constitution and other laws Adivasis have special rights over resources.

Also Read: In Jharkhand, BJP Makes Thinly-Veiled Attempts to Shift Spotlight From Changes in Land Laws

Let us first take a look at the new domicile policy introduced in April 2016 by the state government. The new policy stated that those who have been living in the state and have acquired immovable assets in the last 30 years would be considered local residents of the state. This was a clear departure from the past and was seen as an anti-Adivasi policy of the BJP government. So much so, that even the prominent tribal members of the party, including former chief minister Arjun Munda, registered protests over the move, maintaining that “it will adversely impact the rights of the indigenous people of the region like the Mahtos and the Moolvasis.”

In November 2016, after introducing this policy, the government proposed another a set of amendments and changes to the laws related to tribal rights over land. A Bill was introduced in the assembly to bring about changes to the Chhotanagpur Tenancy (CNT) Act and Santhal Pargana Tenancy (SPT) Act – two crucial legislations which had empowered Adivasis of the state.

After many protests across the state, as well as in the national capital, in November 2017 the Jharkhand government withdrew the bills pertaining to the amendments. Had the amendments not been withdrawn, the government would have the right to acquire agricultural lands of Adivasis for non-agricultural and commercial purposes, something that was prohibited under the provisions of the Acts.

The BJP government tried to amend these laws because it wanted to facilitate the transfer of tribal land for so-called developmental work and the creation of the land bank, which was set up in January 2016 to attract investment to the state. According to experts and activists, this could have further deprived the Adivasis of their land and other natural resources, which are the primary source of their livelihood.

Also Read: The State’s Violent Response to Tribal Discontent Is Fuelling the Pathalgadi Movement

In this regard, the recent Pathalgadi movement also requires a special mention as it was primarily an uprising over the non-implementation and execution of the tribal rights enshrined in the constitution. Moreover, the attempt to dilute the Forest Rights Act (FRA) by the Modi government is yet another instance that debunks his claims about being the protector and defender of tribal rights.

Ironically, those who have tried defending tribal rights are often branded as ‘anti-development’, ‘Maoist agents’ and ‘anti-national’. Hundreds of ordinary tribals and activists are languishing in different jails across the state and facing serious charges of sedition for trying to save jal, jangal and jamin. An equal number of them are fearful of being arrested and charged under draconian provisions of laws as a large number of FIRs have been registered by the state against unnamed people.