The Spectacle of 'Social Justice' Routed Through District Mineral Foundation Fund in Adivasi Areas

Rampant corruption and lack of consultative processes with local village bodies in drawing up a plan for the utilisation of funds have prevented the fund from reaching beneficiaries.

Sixty-five Adivasi children from the Dantewada district have qualified for the NEET 2023 examination. They were given free integrated coaching in the district administration’s institute called ‘Chhulo Aasman’. This initiative provides free coaching to Adivasi children from classes IX to XII. The children are provided with residential facilities in the heart of Dantewada town along with quality study material. Most of the children are selected from residential schools located in the district.

As we report this positive news, it becomes equally important to discuss the source of funding for this initiative. ‘Chhulo Aasman’ is funded by the District Mineral Foundation (DMF) Fund. DMF is a non-profit statutory trust launched in 2015 to carry out development works for the communities affected by mining. The mining companies are the major donors of this fund; they need to pay a 30% royalty for their lease of mining areas. This fund is allocated to all the districts in the Bastar Sambhag region of Chhattisgarh. The Dantewada district administration received Rs 1,268 lakh (Rs 12.68 crore) for the implementation of the ‘Chhulo Aasman’ initiative for five years (2016-17 to 2021-22).

A total amount of Rs 71,208 lakh (Rs 712.08 crore) was sanctioned for DMF for the Dantewada district for the period of five years. The district administration had committed to using 60% of this fund (on paper) to enhance drinking water, sanitation, environment conservation, pollution control, health, education, agriculture and allied activities, the welfare of women and child development, the welfare of aged and disabled people, skill development and employment, and Ujjwala Yojana facilities. The remaining 40% was to be used for the enhancement of physical infrastructure, irrigation, energy and watershed development, and administrative costs. In the education segment, other than the ‘Choo Lo Aasman’ initiative, the state had planned to use DMF funds on building hostels, strengthen School Management Committees, infrastructure support, etc.

The DMF Fund was introduced by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government at the Centre and has been highlighted as a fund that will share the profits of mining with the mining-affected population. The fund has been used in a few noteworthy initiatives to promote social justice in these mining-affected areas.

In Odisha, the fund has been used to generate alternative livelihood opportunities for Adivasis by promoting millet farming. In Bijapur district, the then (2017) collector Ayyaj Tambole had converged funds from DMF and National Health Mission to set up a world-class hospital. Doctors from various states were paid competitive remuneration to serve in that district hospital. The PHCs were also upgraded using the funds. In Sukma district, the then (2018) collector Ji Prakash Maurya utilised the DMF fund to re-open 93 demolished primary government schools in the sensitive areas of Konta Block in collaboration with the local village bodies. Local youths were recruited as teachers and are being paid Rs 10,000 monthly from the DMF fund. Bijpaur followed in these footsteps and re-opened 110 demolished schools in sensitive areas in 2022.

Issues centring DMF fund

More than the positive impact, the DMF fund has been the centre of controversies. As per a report published by Oxfam in 2018, out of Rs 3,552 crore allocated for DMF funds in 12 mineral-rich states of the country, less than 33% of funds were utilised. Even though Chhattisgarh had reported utilisation of 51% of total DMF funds, it is noteworthy that the state had utilised only Rs 1,696 crore of Rs 3,342 crore DMF funds. In 2022, Chhattisgarh reportedly utilised 68% of the DMF fund.

Serious allegations of corruption have been levelled on the utilisation of DMF funds in Bastar Sambhag. The ongoing war at Bastar has made the area’s administration opaque resulting in rampant corruption. A top-notch official of one of the districts in Bastar Sambhag told, on the condition of anonymity, that out of Rs 5 crore that was sanctioned to install digital classrooms in the schools of that district in 2019, only Rs 2 crore could be used. The 500-seater residential schools called Porta Cabins in Bastar Sambhag are centres of corruption.

The Tribal Development Department along with the state has been funding these schools. Around Rs 1,700 is being issued per month per child in these schools. But the actual cost that reaches each child is less than Rs 500 per month. The appalling conditions of these schools, lack of toilets, overcrowding, and lack of proper food for children are the major issues in these schools. The DMF fund is being claimed to be regularly utilised for infra-related works in these schools.

A clerk, on the condition of anonymity, saod that a huge amount was sanctioned for the installation of CCTV cameras from the DMF fund in these schools of Bijapur district. No camera has been installed even after three work orders have been issued for the same work and payment made all three times. A Right to Information (RTI) application has been filed seeking information on the total funds used by DMF in these residential schools of Bastar Sambhag. It has been months and no information has been provided yet.

Experts have noted that it is mandatory for the authorities to plan the usage of DMF funds in collaboration with local panchayati raj institutions, but this only holds true on paper. The planning of utilisation of this fund is made mostly without consultation with the local Gram Sabha members. It is a special fund that does not lapse by the year-end and keeps accumulating in the trust account. The Chhattisgarh government revised the management bodies of DMF in 2019 to enhance local participation but the ground impact of the same is very minimal.

The gram sabha over the coffee programme. Credit: Madhu Ramnath

Representational image. The gram sabha over the coffee programme. Credit: Madhu Ramnath

The state is not the only one misappropriating the DMF fund in Bastar but left-wing extremists are also enjoying a fair share of this. Various developmental works are being sanctioned in sensitive zones on paper and funds are released without any ground implementation.  An area commander of extremists had said that one of the contractors had promised them a fair share of such funds but has not shown up since the release of funds. Bastar Junction, a local media house, had reported one such scam where an unfinished shed using DMF fund in Bastar was left unattended after the complete fund release. The shed was left unattended just near the memorials those extremists built to mark areas as their strongholds.

T.S. Singh Deo, who resigned as the panchayati raj and local governance minister in 2022, alleged that there was a misappropriation of DMF funds. Just a few months ago, Chhattisgarh Congress chief Mohan Markam too made the same allegation.

DMF Fund enough for social justice?

Loha Gaon, a village near Kirandaul, famous for its rich iron ore mines in Dantewada had 50 houses 10 years back. As the mining activities escalated, Adivasis have been displaced from the village. Agricultural lands no longer exist, and the villagers work for daily wages in the mining plant. Currently, there are only 15 houses left in the village. Utter poverty and malnourishment grip the dwellers of this village. Last year, two villagers lost their lives while working in the mining areas. They were the only earning members of their family. No compensation has been provided to the families.

This is one of the multiple instances of the detrimental effect of mining projects on the life and resources of Adivasis. The war waged against the state by the extremists from Bastar’s heart and the counter-offensive operations under Operation Green Hunt can be attributed to the unsatisfying hunger of the corporates for the minerals buried in the homelands of Adivasis. Under such circumstances can a tokenism of DMF fund be considered as enough to ensure social justice for marginalised Adivasis?

Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, and Odisha are the top three contributors to mineral production in India (Odisha- 10.6%, Jharkhand – 7.7%, and Chhattisgarh – 6.7%), but as per a report published by Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative in collaboration with UNDP – all three states find a position in poorest nine states on India in 2019-21.

As per a NITI Aayog report, 29.35% of Odisha’s population, 42.16% in Jharkhand, and 40% in Chhattisgarh are below the poverty line. This is despite mining companies witnessing their net worth multiply over the past few years. This can be attributed to the fact that Adivasis have been mostly dependent on forest produce for their livelihoods. Mindless mining and state policies favouring corporates have a sharp impact on forest lands. What it brings along with it is unaccounted money like the DMF fund which gives rise to rampant corruption.

Repeated violations of the Forest Rights Act (FRA) and Panchayatiraj Extension to Scheduled Areas Act (PESA) are carried out by the state to hand over the Adivasis and their resources to a handful of capitalists while the mining companies throw some bits of charity like DMF fund for the ‘development’ of Adivasis. This may or may not lead to social justice but for sure will convert these Adivasi belts of India into the ‘Loha Gaon’ of Kirandaul.