A Review of Alf Gunvald Nilsen’s “Dispossession and Resistance in India”

Bhumika Chauhan

Alf Gunvald Nilsen, Dispossession and Resistance in India: The River and the Rage, Routledge, 2010

The book seeks to explore the processes of dispossession and the accompanying resistance within the context of post-colonial India, and more specifically that located in and around the NarmadaValley. Nilsen hopes to build this understanding on the basis of a perspective on social movements and struggles that is very different from those conventionally applied in the social sciences, and by most who have studied the movement around the Narmada, i.e. the Narmada Bachao Andolan (henceforth, NBA).


Developed out of his doctoral thesis, Nilsen’s book offers a vast and critical survey of much that has been said about the NBA along with ample information on the course of the two main and most controversial projects, the Sardar Sarovar Project (SSP) and the Maheshwar Hydroelectric Project (MHP). Supplemented with his own field notes, Nilsen is able to provide a picture in which one does not see only the costs and benefits of the projects, but also the class nature of the distribution of these costs and benefits, or what he calls the distributional bias of the post-colonial development project. Nilsen’s attempt considerably helps place the NBA and similar movements within the new social movements of India as well as within neoliberal restructuring.


The main contribution of the book is perhaps the perspective it introduces into the social scientific discourse over social movements, particularly (and hopefully) into Indian social sciences. Nilsen rejects those perspectives that posit a social movement as a “fixed institutional entity” with a set of demands and means (p.4). Rather he looks at it as a collective action that gradually developed in “activist skills, practices, forms of consciousness and knowledge” (p.5). It is asserted that movements have internal processes of learning that are involved in initial mobilisation and further radicalisation. He also rejects the popular idea that social movements are organisations engaging in extra-parliamentary collective action within a more or less stable and given socio-economic background in favour of a broader and more dynamic view. For Nilsen:

“A social movement is the organisation of multiple forms of materially grounded and locally generated skilled activity around a rationality expressed and organized by (would-be) hegemonic actors, and against the hegemonic projects articulated by other such actors to change or maintain a dominant structure of entrenched needs and capacities and the social formation in which it inheres, in part or in whole.” (p.14)

It is asserted that sociality of praxis for the satisfaction of needs under the given level of capacity produces dynamic structures, which are reproduced over extended periods of time in accordance with extant relations of power between the “dominant and subaltern groups” within a social formation. Furthermore, praxis within this “structuration of need and capacities” (mode of production?) involves a constant contention between the dominant and subaltern social groups that embody the internal contradictions of the structures (classes?). These contentions may bring about changes in the dominant “structure of needs and capacities” and/or within the overarching social formation, therefore both groups are forever on the move, so to speak. This implies that social movements may happen from above or below. The author means to stress the fact that not only the subaltern groups but also the dominant groups engage in collective actions based on the dominant rationality to maintain or strengthen the dominant structure. It is the central argument of this book that the post-colonial development project and the ongoing accumulation by dispossession are part of a social movement from above, a result of collective action of the dominant social groups (p.13-14).

Significantly, the movement process is seen to start from the “common sense” of “concrete lifeworld in which people are situated”, the “particular as opposed to the universal” (p.193), and works outwards to the “good sense”, “local rationalities” and “militant particularisms” which transform the concrete lifeworld into a “locale or resistance”. The social movement project per se is said to emerge when a common ground is found between different militant particularisms through a “campaign”. This social movement project addresses the totality, the universal. Nilsen’s engagement then with the NBA starts from its constituent local mobilisations, their coming together and divergences, the formation of the NBA as a pan-state, anti-dam movement, its eventual questioning of the post-colonial development project. However, the project is not complete here (and here lies one of the key problems of the NBA according to Nilsen). Nilsen suggests that the few activists[1] who make the connection between the local conflicts and the universal structures that reproduce them – that is, they who have a political agenda against the totality – will have to convince others to come along. This can be accomplished only by grounding the social movement project again in militant particularism and local rationalities from whence it originated. This dialectic of the particular and universal that Nilsen tries to demonstrate in the, admittedly incomplete, trajectory of the NBA may provide some practical insights worth heeding.


An interesting, even brave, aspect of this work is its attempt to bring back concepts of class and class conflict in the analysis of the NBA, and other such movements in India. Nilsen takes note of the distributional bias of the SSP and MHP that constitutes accumulation by dispossession. It is precisely by situating this displacement within class relations that Nilsen demonstrates its nature as accumulation by dispossession and as a “social movement from above” (p.14). The distributional bias expresses a “dual transformation” where (a) property rights in water and electricity, as well as profitable investment opportunities are concentrated into the hands of regional, national and global propertied elite, and (b) the displacement of peasant producers from their land without adequate resettlement and rehabilitation generates pressures towards proletarianisation (p.20).

This thesis is substantiated in the case of SSP by first tracing the class formation of the agroindustrial capitalist patidar elites of south and central Gujarat, as well as the expropriation of the subsistence peasants (Bhil and Bhilal adivasis of Alirajpur) and petty commodity producers (caste Hindu peasants of Nimad) of Madhya Pradesh. While the former, after mobilising themselves to push the project (from Vallabhbhai Patel to the recent chief ministers of Gujarat have all had their support base in these patidars), accumulate the benefit of irrigation and electricity in the farms and factories, the latter are proletarianised and are expected to join the migrant labour force of south and central Gujarat.

In the case of the MHP, the petty commodity producers of Nimad bear the costs of the project, but the support for the project does not come from local elites but private corporations and national and transnational financial institutions that seek investment opportunities. The MHP, Nilsen argues, needs to be viewed in the context of the privatisation of the power sector and the liberalisation of the finance sector. The “structural inefficiencies” of the power sector led to the consensus on privatisation. But when S. Kumar, the private corporation took up the MHP, it had trouble acquiring foreign equity due to the resistance of the NBA. The solution came from the liberalising Indian finance institutions – LIC, SBI, IDBI, PFC, PNB and many others. Other than the MHP, it is a general trend that many transnational finance institutions are financing the restructuring of the power sector. Nilsen refers to David Harvey’s remarks about privatisation and about the management of fiscal crises, like the one that initiated the 1991 reform, being intimately linked to accumulation by dispossession as it creates opportunities both for devaluing public assets and for releasing them onto the market where capital may seize them.

Nilsen argues that the aforementioned distributional bias is not a glitch particular to big dams; it is part of India’s passive revolution (p.41). At Independence, capital was not singularly dominant, nor would universal suffrage allow forcible expropriation, and moreover, a counter-check was needed against the growing radicalisation and socialist tendencies. The Bombay Plan was to offer the solution: capitalist planning. Instead of a total assault, capitalist development was to, and did, progress gradually on the basis of the fragile coalition of “industrial bourgeoisie, the landed elites and rich farmers, and the politico-bureaucratic elites”.  And instead of forceful dispossession, developmental planning, with its big dams and the like, was instituted. The elite support for state intervention was strong, though only for state protection and not so much for regulation. This untenable position eventually led to the fiscal crisis of 1990s. Also, new business groups emerged to support the neoliberal reform that saw state controls as impediments to their growth. All in all, Nilsen argues following Harvey, that “Through the management and manipulation of a fiscal crisis, dominant proprietary classes have managed to push ahead reforms centered on privatisation, liberalisation and financialisation.” And with this accumulation by dispossession has also been facilitated.


The other way in which class enters his analysis is when Nilsen explores the “movement process” of resistance struggles. He asserts that subaltern groups experience constraints of their needs and capacities in their concrete, everyday lives. Collective experiences like in movements can combine and extend the individual “fragmented knowledges” to develop a better view of the underlying structures and relationships. Nilsen calls it a movement process when a social movement from below expands its collective oppositional action beyond specific, local, particular experience, scope and aim to a more “encompassing counter-hegemonic project” and a conception of a universal alternative to the social system (p.15).

In his study of the NBA, Nilsen exposes the appearance of homogeneity of the NBA as well as that of the local communities that constituted it, as is characteristic of all populist struggles. The discourses of the movement came to be hegemonised by the local elites, the rich farmers (p.161-8). Class, gender and caste, posed a challenge to the NBA mobilisation that the latter could not in the end surpass. “Oppositional populism”, Nilsen argues, has been responsible for obfuscating relations of oppression and exploitation within this and other such movements. For instance, the ‘farmer-worker’ organisation within the Nimad region that arose in response to the hike in electricity prices, were undeniably more for the farmer and less for the worker.

The stratified nature of seemingly homogenous identities and communities becomes evident, Nilsen notes, when we look at the various kinds of views of alternative development that emerge when one digs beneath surface discourses. Relatively marginalised groups within these communities are obviously unable to develop or express their position. The subaltern groups of women, dalits and landless labourers fail to expand their “fragmented knowledges” of the social structures. The cause, Nilsen points out, is firstly the “differential appropriation” of the discourse of resistance by the different groups, and secondly the “limited dissemination” of the discourse to the mass base of the movement.


Strangely, it is at this point, where Nilsen’s understanding of the internal segmentation of communities comes out most clearly, that we espy a possible problem in his argument. The solution that Nilsen proposes for the abovementioned issues of discourse dissemination and appropriation is the development of methods for collective and participatory learning, to “deepen processes of conscientization” (p.187). From his thorough analysis of the political economy of accumulation by dispossession, we now seem to have arrived at a vague statement that in this notion of “collective learning” once again ends up positing the “collective” that he just deconstructed. Evidently what he is suggesting is that such learning can allow the collective to overcome its internal divisions, so that it could begin its attack on totality. What Nilsen seems to have forgotten is precisely the materiality of this segmentation, that he brought out so well, and which is not suitably addressed by a concept like “collective learning”. What is this collective learning? Who learns? Do all segments of the collectivity learn from the same experiences, forgetting, one would assume all they have learnt from experiences that vary according to socio-economic positions?

When the traditional, the “orthodox” Marxist stresses the importance of a working class for-itself perspective, or the importance of the leading role that the working class must play in the attack on totality, the idea is to take cognisance of precisely this class-ified nature of experience, that subjectivises individuals and groups differently, in keeping with the unequal apportionment of value and power in society. To be clear, one is not saying that Nilsen ignores the social inequalities – that would contradict much of what was said in the preceding paragraphs – but only that he ignores the leading role that the downtrodden must necessarily play, owing precisely to their history of being downtrodden. While it is hard to miss the author’s clear attribution of post-colonial development project to the capitalist class, it is surprising to find that the working-class is completely absent from this narrative of resistance and change.

Another possible way of addressing the problems of addressing the limits of movements like NBA also emerges, though it never gets spelt out explicitly, from Nilsen’s own work. A movement against displacement can easily stagnate and take on a petty bourgeois character unless it generalises its proletarian moment and builds “alliances” with (in Nilsen’s terms) other movements that are articulating that same moment. Nilsen quotes an essay published in Radical Notes:

“Understanding all these diverse processes in the framework of primitive accumulation has several strategic implications. Perhaps, most urgently, this can provide a unified framework to locate the numerous struggles going on in the country…”(Chandra and Basu 2007 cited in p.201)

If we read beyond the segment he quotes, we could understand better what this “generalisation,” that could allow movements to transcend their own internal limits means:

“… right from the ‘new’ social movements, like landless workers movements, Narmada Bachao Andolan and other local mobilisations of ‘development-victims’, to anti-privatisation movements of public sector workers, all the way to the revolutionary movements led by the Maoists. This unified framework can then possibly facilitate dialogue among these movements, something that is more than essential at this juncture if the movement of labour against capital is to be strengthened.” (Chandra and Basu 2007)

Although an understanding of the contradiction between capital and labour is implicit in most of Nilsen’s analysis, in the end he either remains blind to, or sidesteps the implications of the centrality of this contradiction. In a famous review of Raymond Williams’s The Long Revolution, EP Thompson observed Williams’ unwillingness to use Marxian terms. He noted that though sometimes it is not entirely clear whether Williams is merely steering clear of using that language for the sake of wider intelligibility, or is he also trying to move in a non/anti-Marxist direction with his conclusions. The same can be said about Nilsen’s work. Though his analysis is usually spot on, the attempt to stay away from the register of a Marxian analysis has to be explained. Either he is out to, despite the validity (from a Marxian perspective) of his analysis, find non-Marxist answers to anti-Marxist questions, or his is an attempt to appease the vulgar anti-materialists who rule the academia today – a Gramsci like self-censoring to fool the fascist prison-guards.


[1] However, there is reason for concern about what it is that Nilsen means by “activist”. On several occasions he uses the term to refer to the external agents that provided a much needed perspective and impetus to the oppressed communities within the Narmada Valley. In fact, on most occasions, it seems Nilsen is addressing such external agents, and only on rare occasions does it seem possible that he might be referring to agents from the militant communities themselves as activists.

Protests and Repression: Struggles Growing in the Forest Areas

Campaign for Survival and Dignity

The last few weeks have seen struggles over forest rights and forest control intensifying across the country. On the one hand there are larger and larger protests taking place, and on the other, the continued use of force by Central and State governments is combined with total silence and apathy on protecting people’s rights.

Campaign member organisations have planned a series of yatras and protests in Rajasthan, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Orissa in the coming weeks. The Jangal Jameen Jan Andolan has undertaken a yatra in Rajasthan, crossing Udaipur, Dungarpur, Banswada, Sirohi, Pali and Pratapgarh districts between December 20 and 28th. On December 29th demonstrations will be held in all block headquarters that have been covered. The demands are for respect and recognition of community forest rights, a halt to illegal rejections and modifications of titles and respect for people’s democratic resource rights over their lands, forests and minerals. Meanwhile, more than 1,000 people rallied and ten sat on hunger strike in Dahanu, Thane District, Maharashtra on December 7th and 8th against violations of people’s rights under the FRA; the hunger strike was called off after a written commitment from the SDO. A similar mass protest was held in Gadchiroli, Maharashtra on December 19th against the illegal imposition of conditions on titles for community forest rights. Yatras are also planned in western Maharashtra and Gujarat in January; on January 19th and January 26th mass demonstrations will be held in district headquarters in Chhattisgarh and Orissa respectively. These latter protests will also oppose the land acquisition bill and call for democratic control over resources.

Aside from these plans, other protests and mass struggles are underway. On December 15th, a “People’s Forest Rights Rally” was organised at Delhi by a coalition of organisations. In the POSCO area, more than 20 people were injured and one killed in an attack on December 14th by a contractor’s private goondas; unsurprisingly, on that day alone, the police were nowhere to be found. In Assam the Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti is leading a mass struggle against the illegal and dangerous Lower Subansiri Dam project, in which huge numbers of people have joined; but on the night of December 25th the police arrested more than 200 people in a raid and are continuing their attacks. The KMSS has also been involved in struggles against the ongoing repression and violence around Kaziranga National Park, where forest guards regularly shoot those they accuse of being “poachers.” Brutality and violence continues to mark the situation in Chhattisgarh, where the extremely brutal torture of Soni Sori – and the indifferent response of even the Supreme Court to it – gives the lie to all the tales about respect for the “rule of law” and how it is being enforced by “security forces.” Chhattisgarh has also seen a string of recent illegal evictions from forest land. In north Bengal, an organised effort to take control of community forests is facing opposition and resistance from the Forest Department.

In addition, planning is underway for the declaration of new tiger reserves and relocation of people from them in violation of the law. Mass protests have begun in Kawal Sanctuary to resist the proposed illegal conversion of this sanctuary. In Tadoba Tiger Reserve, Sarang Dhabekar, a Steering Committee member of the National Forum of Forest Peoples and Forest Workers was arrested and slapped with false cases because he had been involved in resistance to illegal relocation efforts.

The Campaign condemns this ever-increasing repression and the brutal use of force against those who are fighting for justice. Once again, we see all talk of “rule of law” and “democracy” being brushed aside in the hideous loot of natural resources by the ruling class of this country.

Industrialisation and forms of struggle: Or, should industrialisation be opposed?

Raju J Das

Industrialisation is understood narrowly in the sense of manufacturing and broadly in the sense of the application of modern science and technology to the transformation of raw materials from nature. It is necessary for national development, as the economist Gavin Kitching and others argued decades ago. Industrialisation adds value to unprocessed goods extracted from nature and thus increases society’s income. Often owners of land – peasants – do not earn more – or do not earn much more — than those who work in industry as wage labourers. Industrialisation makes possible the production of a vast range of goods, which are directly used by people: clothes, materials required to build houses, traditional and western medicines, consumer durables, cultural items such as books and music instruments; the different types food that go through the manufacturing process, and so on. And, industry indeed produces the means of production necessary in both farming and industry itself. Industrialisation holds out the possibility of ending want and material suffering. It provides employment to the increasing population, including through forward and backward linkages. It makes it possible to reap scale economies and specialisation in ways not possible in agriculture. In part because of the above, industrialisation increases labour productivity, one of the fundamental indicators of progress, prosperity, and economic development in the society at large. Industrialisation breaks the mutual isolation of producers: this happens as they now work in great numbers in large cities and towns. Their geographical concentration will potentially allow them to fight for justice and equality in society, both on their behalf and on behalf of other oppressed groups. Industrialisation, connected as it is to science, promotes a culture of rational thinking and can potentially undermine the basis for superstitious and obscurantist ideas and practices. Given these and many other advantages of industrialisation, the Left – at least the Marxist left — cannot be opposed to industrialisation (although sections of the postmodern/populist Left are, as industrialisation is seen by them as a sign/carrier of modernity that supposedly destroys an authentic pre-modern culture). The question is: what form of industrialisation should the Left endorse in theory and practice? What happens when, for example, a proposed SEZ (special economic zone) displaces thousands of peasants? Should industrialisation be endorsed under this situation?

To answer this question, one may start with agriculture. Land is the most important means of production in agriculture, at least at the current stage when farming is relatively less capital-intensive. Fertility of land is a product of natural forces as well as human investments. It is normally the case that human investments in land to raise land fertility happen closer to existing centres of population and commerce than away from these. Fertile tracts of land therefore are generally located closer to existing centres of population and commerce. Now, owners of industry need also land. But their need for land is different. They need to locate their factories on: land is not used as an input in the way it is used in farming. And in a market economy, they need land in a specific location: industry tends to be located closer to existing centres of population and commerce for the reason that greater profits are made possible by greater geographical accessibility. Therefore, the fight over industrialisation often becomes a fight between owners of industry and owners of land (including peasants). This fight is over not just an absolute piece of land but over its location.

To be able to understand the on-going struggles over industrialisation, we have to carefully distinguish between industrialisation per se which is necessary in all modern societies from its various historically specific forms, and we need to also distinguish between various forms of struggle over industrialisation.
There is a strong logic to locating industry on the land which is not currently cultivated or irregularly cultivated, in relatively less accessible locations and away from the locations of fertile land on which peasants are currently dependent on or which may soon be used. Why? Firstly, as mentioned above, industry does not need fertile land as an input. Location of a factory on or close to a fertile land destroys natural fertility of soil which is almost impossible to manufacture in industry. It is indeed a great social cost to use a fertile land for industrialisation which does not need it. Secondly, forcing the industry to locate in these areas (e.g. relatively less accessible areas, away from fertile land) will result in the development of new means of transportation and communication (which will also create jobs). Industrialisation in these less accessible locations will also give an impetus to agriculture. It is unfortunate that when industries could be located in more remote locations on land that is relatively less fertile, they are being located on currently cultivated fertile land. This must be fought against. This is one form of struggle over industrialisation.

If, however, a fertile land currently being cultivated must absolutely be used for an SEZ — and whether this must be the case should be democratically decided and not decided by business — several conditions must be laid out. The value of the land as a compensation to the family must be determined in relation to what the value of the land would be after the industries have come up. Under no circumstances must the living standards of the families losing the land and the families losing access to employment on that land (farm labourers, tenants) be allowed to be worse than what they were before the change in the use of the land. Indeed, because industrialisation will make possible greater production of wealth and because this is possible only by displacing the people who currently occupy the land and depend on its use, it must be an absolute precondition of displacement that their material and cultural needs (adequate food, clothes, shelter, education, health care, etc.) are satisfied (including by giving employment to at least a single person from every affected family with a living wage in the industry) and that environmental sustainability of the place and nearby-places is maintained. Investment must be made in the lives of the people who are affected before the investment is made in the SEZ itself. This will not happen automatically. This requires democratically mobilised struggle. This is the second form of struggle over industrialisation.

Peasants as peasants have been involved in heroic battles over dispossession from their land – in Bengal, in northern Orissa, in Maharashtra, and so many other places. This is not the decisive battle against the industrialist class (domestic or foreign), however. The decisive battle against it cannot be, and will not be, fought by peasants as property owners against dispossession, although local and temporary success is possible. The battle against unjust dispossession can only be successfully fought by urban workers in an alliance with peasants and rural workers. Note also that the issue of peasants being separated from land is not a single separable visible act of a group of industrialists, backed by the state. Given, for example, the high costs of farm inputs which come from the industry and given the decreasing prices of farm products from which industry benefits, millions are going into debt, and to clear their debt, peasants are selling their land. Many are leasing their land to better-off farmers, including those who enter into contract with industrialists, domestic and foreign, to produce farm products for industrial processing. There is therefore a potential site of struggle against this insidious form of dispossession from land. The industrialists who set up an SEZ by displacing peasants from land and the industrialists who benefit from high prices of goods sold to peasants which contribute to their economic unviability and separation from land are both members of the same family. The fight against high prices of industrial goods used by peasants is therefore an important part of the fight for a particular form of industrialisation, one that would seek to remove the differences between peasants and industry and the relations of oppression between them.

There is still another form of struggle over industrialisation. Peasants turned into the proletariat in the SEZs, in newly industrialising areas – whether located on fertile land, displacing peasants or in remote locations — will and must fight against the monied class, initially for better wages and working conditions. One may respond by saying that the SEZ framework of industrialisation does not allow for the working class organisation. But then who said that the SEZ must be a necessary form of industrialisation? Or if it does, who said that an SEZ – understood as an industrial cluster — must be one where workers are to be alienated from their democratic right to organise? If business has the right to make money, then surely, and in the interest of democracy, workers have the right to organise to demand a decent life? This is the fourth form of struggle over industrialisation, the struggle that connects workers of different industrial clusters and cities politically and that demands that industrialisation must be of a particular form such that those who do the work must be fully able to meet their social and cultural needs. An SEZ, an industrial project is not based on a one-time act of separating people from their land and livelihood. Much rather, the particular form of industrialisation that is in question is based on a continuous separation: separation of people from the product of their labour, from their blood and sweat. It represents endless money-making at one pole and limitless misery at another. This form of industrialisation does not just produce things that are of potential use. It reproduces an invisible relation of separation of masses from their lives, a relation between them and those who control their lives at work (and outside). So because separation of people from their land creates a ground for the second form of separation, the struggle against the former must be connected to the struggle over the latter, and can only be fully successful if it is connected that way.

Protecting the peasants does not necessarily mean protecting the peasant property. If industrialisation can better the conditions of peasants (i.e. outside of farming), perhaps ‘sacrificing’ their property to make room for industrialisation can be favourably considered. Everyone must be provided with an opportunity to live a life with dignity. Whether it is in industry or farming should, ordinarily, be beside the matter. But there is an ‘if’, as in ‘If industrialisation can better conditions of life of peasants…’. Industrialisation, whether led by state-capital or private capital has not done much for millions of peasants. And it won’t unless it is a site of contestation.

The current struggles around SEZs and displacement appear to be a little narrow. They are often too defensive. The message of these struggles seems to be: ‘don’t take away our land, leave us alone (to our misery)’. The struggle against displacement should be a part of larger family of struggles, i.e. struggles over industrialisation as such. This is because the objects of struggle are objectively inter-connected. The fight against SEZs must be a fight against a particular existing form of industrialisation which leads to double dispossession: political acts of dispossession or primitive accumulation and dispossession through market mechanisms (rising prices of industrial goods leading to debt). A part of the fight should also be within SEZs (and other industrialised areas). Seen in another way, the fight against SEZs and displacement is a fight for a certain form of industrialisation, which, in turn, is a fight for (deepening) democracy and for the satisfaction of social, cultural and ecological needs of those who are displaced to make room for industries, those who lose land because of rising prices of industrial goods, and those who work inside the industrial areas.

Raju J Das is an Associate Professor at York University, Toronto, Canada. Email: rajudas@yorku.ca

More exclusions from the FRA

Rahul Choudhary

One of the most significant aspects of any right-giving legislation is the institution of layers of filters by which newer forms of segmentation and identities among “citizens” are created – a whole series of the included and excluded is generated every time a new law is legislated. If statutory laws are insufficient in this regard, judicial pronouncements fix the filtering machinery.

Persons having shops inside the Tiger reserve were not considered as “Forest Dwelling Scheduled Tribes” or “Other Traditional Forest Dwellers” by the High Court of Allahabad (1) and the same has been confirmed by the Supreme Court (2). A petition was filed in Allahabad High Court challenging the order of eviction passed by the Deputy Director, Dudhwa Tiger Reserve and the order passed by the Chief Conservator of Forest, Dudhwa Tiger Reserve.

A notice was sent to the shop owners on 11th July 2010 for eviction from the forest area. The shop owners claimed protection of the Forest Rights Act, 2006 (3). As per their contention, it recognizes the rights and occupation on forest land, of the Forest dwelling scheduled tribes and other traditional forest dwellers. Under this Act a complete procedure to deal with the matter has been provided, therefore, they are liable to be governed only under the procedure prescribed therein. They claimed eviction process initiated by the Forest Department is under Forest Act, 1927 and therefore is illegal.

The stand of the Forest Department before the High Court was that the persons who have come to court are shop owners and doing business. They neither belong to any Scheduled tribe nor they are traditional forest dwellers, whereas the Forest Rights Act gives protection to Scheduled Tribe and traditional forest dwellers who depend on forest for their livelihood.

The Forest Rights Act defines ‘forest dwelling scheduled tribes’ and ‘other traditional forest dweller’ as:

(c) “forest dwelling Scheduled Tribes” means the members or community of the Scheduled Tribes who primarily reside in and who depend on the forests or forest lands for bona fide livelihood needs and includes the Scheduled Tribe pastoralist communities;

(o) “other traditional forest dweller” means any member or community who has for at least three generations prior to the 13th day of December, 2005 primarily resided in and who depend on the forest or forests land for bona fide livelihood needs.

The High Court came to conclusion in its order and judgment dated 22.02.2011 that the Forest Rights Act only provides protection to the Forest Dwelling Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers, and the shop owners are not covered under the Forest Rights Act.

The shop owners challenged the order before the Supreme Court, and the Supreme Court agreeing with the findings of the High Court dismissed their petition. The Supreme Court was of the pinion that the person claiming protection under Forest Rights Act as ‘other traditional forest dweller’ has to satisfy both the requirement – of residing in and being dependent on forest. But in this case they were not residing inside the forest nor were dependent on it.


(1) Ishwer Chandra Gupta Vs. State of U.p Writ Petition No. 6887 of 2010 and other six petitions
(2) SLP (C) No. 9837-9838 of 2011
(3) Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006

POSCO: A Lie Repeated Three Times Does Not Become The Truth


Odisha Government Repeats the Same Old Lies in “Assurance” to Environment Ministry

Today the Odisha government sent a “categorical” assurance to the Ministry of Environment and Forests, claiming that no one in the proposed POSCO project area is eligible under the Forest Rights Act. The Ministry’s request for a “categorical assurance” came after two Committees had already exposed that the Odisha government had lied on this matter.

The latest “assurance” repeats exactly the same lies that were told and exposed before – as if there had never been any enquiry committees. The Odisha government has also challenged the Ministry’s interpretation of the law as well as the Ministry’s own orders.

For instance:

– The government continues to say that the area was “wasteland” and therefore the people are not forest dwellers. The Odisha government’s own revenue maps of 1928-1929 and the Survey of India in 1929 all clearly show the area marked as “dense jungle” and “miscellaneous jungle.” These were brought out by the POSCO Enquiry Committee. Does the Odisha government believe that its own maps are forgeries?

– The government claims that it “implemented” the Forest Rights Act by calling palli sabha meetings in March 2008; and, in just one meeting in each village, apparently the Act was explained, the forms and records supplied and the people trained. But, as per their own records, the required legal quorum was not met in a single one of those villages, again as exposed by the Enquiry Committee. One of the meeting “records” attached to the assurance – that concerning the village of Govindpur, where a large part of the forest land lies – shows a total of 34 people attending this meeting. Is this what the Odisha government has to show for implementation? A single meeting of 34 people, which is not a valid meeting under any law and certainly not under the Forest Rights Rules?

– Moreover, what has happened to the claims filed since by the people of the area? Who gave the Collector the unilateral power to decide who is eligible in this area? In what sense is this within the law?

– The Odisha government not only has contempt for the law – it also has contempt for the Environment Ministry. Despite being explicitly instructed in the January 31st order that people are not required to be cultivating for 75 years to be eligible, it says they do. It has tried to act as if the Ministry’s own orders and conditions do not exist, saying that FRA implementation and consent of the gram sabhas are not required – when, in addition to being required by law, the Ministry itself made these an explicit condition for this project. Finally, the government has not bothered to reply to a single one of the legal points made in any of the representations forwarded by the Ministry to it, except for disputing the validity of some resolutions.

Every single claim that the Odisha government makes in this assurance has been proven false by us, by political leaders, and by two official Enquiry Committees. There is not a single shred of new evidence in this “assurance”. Moreover, the proof that it is a bunch of lies is already with the Ministry.

The question now before the Environment Ministry is simple. Is it going to continue colluding with a State government that has demonstrated its utter contempt for law, truth and people’s rights? Is it going to grovel before a State government that challenges its interpretation of law and ignores its orders? Is it going to tell the nation that it will ignore lies when they stare it in the face?

Less than a week after claiming that it is going to battle corruption and remove scams, is the UPA government now going to yet again throw the law to the winds for the sake of vested interests and a private company? Is it going to show again that it is just a front for money and muscle power? Whatever the answer may be, the struggle of the people will go on.

Prashant Paikray
Spokesperson, POSCO Pratirodh Sangram Samiti

A New Threat to Forest Dwellers and Protected Areas

Campaign for Survival and Dignity

Having cleared the destructive Chiria mines and the POSCO project in violation of the law, the Environment Ministry has proceeded to grossly violate people’s rights in protected areas – to the detriment of both people and wildlife. On February 8th, it issued new guidelines for the declaration of “critical wildlife habitats” under the Forest Rights Act. These guidelines are in direct violation of the Forest Rights Act and will encourage the kind of brutal forced relocation that harms people, increases conflict with wildlife and leads to more destruction in protected areas. Everyone from the Tiger Task Force through numerous conservationists themselves have pointed out the dangers in the current relocation process.

Once again, we see that the primary interest of this system is not in wildlife, forests, people or even “development”: it is retaining its own power.

The guidelines are in violation of law on the following counts (for a quick summary see table below):

  • Identification of CWHs: As is admitted by most wildlife organisations and by the government itself, existing national parks and sanctuaries have often been demarcated arbitrarily without consulting either the people of the area or scientists; as a result many are of limited wildlife significance. Therefore the FRA requires that a consultative and scientific process, “case by case, on the basis of scientific and objective criteria” (s. 2(b)) for identification of critical wildlife habitats should be undertaken in all existing protected areas. In order to ensure that this process is actually sound (and not arbitrary again), it should be done by an Expert Committee including experts from the locality and a Tribal Ministry representative. The new guidelines do not satisfy any of these requirements.
    • Scientific basis:The new guidelines say nothing about which “scientific and objective criteria” are to be used. They also ignore the requirement that critical wildlife habitats should only be established where it can be scientifically proven that the presence of forest dwellers is causing irreversible damage to wildlife and that co-existence is not possible. The only reference to any of this is a vague statement that studies on human impact should be carried out – but this is in Annexure 2, a list of points to be taken into account for financial planning, long after identification is over. Finally, the process of identification is to be carried out by the DFO and a “local scientific institution” in the space of a mere 60 days. The result can only be imagined – exactly as occurred in the case of critical tiger habitats, all existing protected areas will simply be sought to be converted into critical wildlife habitats, followed by pressurising people living inside them to relocate. The guidelines also sneak in the intent of extending CWHs to areas “in and around” protected areas (point 5.6.2) thereby leaving room to extend PA boundaries to larger areas. This is a total perversion of the intent of the law.
    • Consultation: On consultation, the guidelines are a farce. The identification of the habitat, as said above, will first be carried out by the DFO; whereupon the guidelines say there should be “extensive consultation” with forest dwellers by an Expert Committee. What will happen to the results of this “extensive consultation” and the comments of the people? Nothing. They are never referred to in the guidelines again. Thus this consultation process is actually non-existent.
    • No Expert Committee:Indeed, the role of the Expert Committee – which is to identify the critical wildlife habitat – has been reduced to “motivating” villagers for relocation, after the two technical members have on their own decided the area to be demarcated as a CWH. In sum, the guidelines reduce the process of identification to an administrative exercise controlled by the Forest Department.
  • Relocation: In addition to the scientific evidence of irreversible damage from people, the law requires that relocation from a critical wildlife habitat requires the free informed consent of the gram sabha (s. 4(2)(e)), must provide a secure livelihood (s. 4(2)(d)), and can only take place after rights are recognised (s.4(2)(a)), and facilities are complete (s. 4(2)(f)). Every one of these conditions is violated:
    • Consent of gram sabha: There is no reference in the guidelines to taking the consent of the gram sabha for relocation at any point, except when the section itself is quoted. Instead there is talk of relocating even if “a small number of families agree”, which by implication means that the majority do not do so – and hence the gram sabha could not have consented. This will open the way for individually pressurising families and pushing relocation step by step, once again in violation of the law.
    • Secure livelihood: The guidelines again say nothing about providing any livelihood at all, leave alone a secure one acceptable to the people. Instead, they say that two “options” will be offered (based on the Project Tiger package) – Rs. 10 lakhs per family or a vague reference to “rehabilitation by the Forest Department.” In fact, the law does nota allow such provision of mere cash compensation, as this is at the root of all the rehabilitation failures of the past. It is also a total violation of people’s rights, since they lose their livelihoods and access to the forest and only get a sum of cash – which itself often doesn’t reach them.
    • Completion of recognition of rights: Once again there is no reference to this except in Annexure 2, where it is irrelevant. Since rights are hardly being recognised in protected areas and the guideline imposes an absurd 60 day time limit, relocation will now proceed without bothering with people’s rights – making harassment and pressure on forest dwellers more likely.
    • Completion of facilities: This was intended to protect against hasty relocation without any facilities being provided. In the last year alone, two people have died (in Similipal in Orissa and Achanakmar in Chhattisgarh) after being forcibly relocated from tiger reserves and not provided any proper shelter.There is not a word about this requirement anywhere in the guideline.

Despite some weaknesses and internal inconsistencies, the October 2007 guidelines that this order replaces had covered all these issues. This new set of guidelines completely throws to wind the law and violates all the Act’s provisions on procedures of determining and notification of critical wildlife habitats. Indeed, relocating anyone on the basis of these guidelines would be in direct violation of the law; and hence a criminal offence under section 7 of the Act. Following this policy will only ensure the continuance of the earlier form of forced arbitrary relocation, harming both people and wildlife.

Summary of Violations of Law

Provision Requirement of Law What Guidelines Actually Do
s. 2(b) Decide wildlife habitats on basis of scientific and objective criteria No criteria specified; left to administrative fiat
s. 2(b) On a case by case basis Left to concerned DFO “in consultation” with “local scientific institution”
s. 2(b) Decide through a process of consultation by an Expert Committee Identification entirely by DFO and “local scientific institution”, without any consultation; role of Expert Committee is restricted to “sensitising” people to the relocation package after the proposal is sent to MoEF
s. 2(b) Recognition of rights and other pre-conditions to be met prior to any relocation (s.4(1) and 4(2)) Ignores and therefore violates both
s. 4(2)(a) Rights have to be recognised first Completely ignored except irrelevant reference in Annexure 2
s. 4(2)(b),(c) No relocation unless can be shown that human presence causing irreversible damage and co-existence not possible Completely ignored
s. 4(2)(d) Relocation must provide a secure livelihood Rs. 10 lakh compensation or vague “rehabilitation” mentioned; no reference to providing a livelihood
s. 4(2)(e) Free informed consent of the gram sabha to be taken in writing Ignored; no procedure stated, implicitly refers to consent of individual families
s. 4(2)(f) No relocation until facilities at new site (by implication including livelihood) are complete Completely ignored

In sum, every provision of the law has been violated.

The POSCO “Green Signal”

Campaign for Survival and Dignity

On January 31st the Environment Ministry finally gave its long delayed decision on the POSCO project. The brazen chicanery of this decision is already well known. It asks the Orissa governmen,t already caught lying, to lie again, and promises a forest clearance in exchange; it imposes wonderfully meaningless conditions, such as the craven request that the company “voluntarily sacrifice” water which does not belong to it; and it violates the Forest Rights Act, the Forest Conservation Act and the Environment Protection Act. All this is hardly surprising from a government that has shown time and again that it cares a fig for the rights of people.

But the true message of this decision has nothing to do with the “environment” alone. It is quite simple: when a government is faced with real democracy, when it confronts organised people’s power, it will brush aside law, constitution and environment to destroy it. POSCO, the government and the business media all agreed on one point – how could they possibly accept that people themselves could decide on the fate of a project? How could they tolerate the idea – now required by law – that the project could not take forests and forest lands without the consent of the local community? Bring on the guns and the numbers – 51,000 crores, etc. etc. – to justify brazen illegality. Never mind that an international study exposed that this project will destroy far more livelihoods than it creates. Never mind that an official enquiry committee said “such attempts, if allowed to succeed, will result in neither development nor environmental protection, but merely in profiteering.” Who needs to know the facts when bigger issues are at stake. The key question that jarred our nation’s “best minds” was – who are these people to say we cannot take their resources? So what if the law is on their side?

Today land and forests are too important to be left to democracy and the rule of law. Even as the resource grabbing proceeds apace, a great charade has been played out in the media between our supposedly “green” Environment Minister and our supposedly “anti-green” industrialists, all of whom, however, agree at the end: they must control the decisions, not the people. Even when they don’t, they will act like they do; thus, after six years of determined people’s resistance to POSCO, the entire media today talks as if the only opponent of POSCO in India was the Minister. January 31st exposed this “debate” for what it always was: a farcical dance between Tweedledum and Tweedledee. On the one side, a Ministry whose only consistent act has been to deny people’s rights; on the other, a big business class that knows only too well that the state is on its side (as a CII representative said, “We know most clearances get through”) but likes to deflect the debate away from the issues and on to personalities.

After the Vedanta mining decision, we called it “a victory for the heroic struggle of the Dongaria Kondhs and for the spirit of democracy; and a betrayal, because the government will not comply with its own words.” That betrayal has come true today. Whatever law, democracy and human rights exist in this country are a reflection of the struggles of people. The “rule of law” is upheld by resistance, not by the state. The same is true of environmental protection; it was people’s resistance that stopped Vedanta and it is people’s resistance that will stop POSCO. At least now let us not hear of “green” Ministries and caring policies; the mask has been torn off to show the face of pitiless greed underneath.

A “Green Signal” for the Rape of Justice and the People: Environment Ministry Decision on POSCO


Jairam Ramesh and the UPA government have shown their true colours with their decision today on the POSCO project. Ignoring the reports of its own advisory bodies and enquiry committees, violating its own orders and the laws of the land, this Ministry has shown that the naked face of corporate greed – not the “rule of law”, the “aam aadmi”, “inclusive growth” or any of these other lies – is what rules this country. The decision today can be summarised in one sentence: “Repeat your lies, give us promises that we all know are false, and then loot at will.”

We repeat: we will not give up our lands, our forests and our homes to this company. It is not the meaningless orders of a mercenary government that will decide this project’s fate, but the tears and blood of our people. Through the road of peaceful demonstrations and people’s resistance we have fought this project, in the face of torture, jail, firings and killings. If this project comes it will come over our dead bodies.

We note the following about today’s decision:

  • The Orissa government has been asked to give an “assurance” that the people of the area are not forest dwellers under the Forest Rights Act, after which the “final forest clearance” will be granted. The Orissa government has already lied on this count on numerous occasions. Indeed, the majority report of the POSCO Enquiry Committee said “The Committee finds that the government’s own records such as census reports and voters list confirm that there are both other traditional forest dwellers (OTFD) and forest dwelling Scheduled Tribes in the project area and the statement of the District Collector of Jagatsinghpur to the contrary is false” (para II.1, Conclusions and Recommendations). Even the dissenting member agreed that the Act had not been implemented. The same finding had been reached by the subcommittee of the Saxena Committee earlier. After the Ministry’s own enquiry committees have found the Orissa government guilty of lying, what is the meaning of saying the project can proceed if the liars repeat their lies?
  • This Ministry has earlier made a song and dance of respect for people’s views and environmental laws. Under the Forest Rights Act, the consent of the gram sabhas of the area is an essential requirement, and this was confirmed by the Ministry’s own order. Three different committees – the Saxena Committee, the POSCO Enquiry Committee and the Ministry’s own Forest Advisory Committee – all therefore said the clearance should be withdrawn. The Minister today claims that the project can go ahead if he and the Orissa government decide they want it to. So much for the law and for people’s rights.
  • On the environment clearance, we recall again the words of the majority Enquiry Committee, which said “Potentially very serious impacts …have not even been assessed, leave alone planned for…. The cavalier and reckless attitude of the concerned authorities to such potentially disastrous impacts is horrendous and shocks the collective conscience of the Committee….There appears to be a pre dominant belief that conditionalities in the EIA/ CRZ clearances are a substitute for comprehensive evaluation and assessment of the environmental impact by the authorities. Imposing vague conditionalities seems to be a way out for the various agencies from taking hard decisions on crucial issues.” Again, it is not us who said this – it is the Ministry’s own Committee! And yet this is exactly what the Minister has chosen to do.
  • Independent reports and studies by reputed academics have confirmed what we have always said – this project will be of no benefit to anyone except POSCO’s profit margins. But yet we find this being called a project of “strategic importance.” To whom?
  • Today the veil stands ripped open; the government stands exposed before the nation, a mercenary willing to put its regulations, officials and security forces at the disposal of the highest bidder. Let the UPA and the Central government answer: where is the rule of law today, in the name of which you crush struggles across the country? Where is your much vaunted love for the people and for the environment? What do you stand for if not for corporate greed?

    Ministry uses rhetoric of “community control” to hide the actuality of intensified state control

    Campaign for Survival and Dignity

    Much press attention in the last week has been devoted to the Environment Minister’s statements on “democratic forest management” and how the existing forest management system needs to change. Such statements are welcome, for they mark an official admission that India’s forest bureaucracy has impoverished millions and increasingly been an opponent of both forest conservation and forest dwellers.

    But what the Ministry says does not at all match what the Ministry does. Not only is the Ministry not moving in the direction of democratic management; it is moving against democratic management, while using the rhetoric of “community control” to hide the actuality of intensified state control.

    At a time when state control over forests and forest lands is a major weapon in the assault on people’s resources and livelihoods, this is not an arcane policy issue alone; it is one component in the ongoing intense struggle over deciding how we will use our natural resources and how we will define our society.

    A simple comparison throws up what is actually going on (click on links to know more about each issue):

    Issue What the Ministry Said What the Ministry is Doing
    Diversion of forest land for corporate projects One and a half years after passage of FRA, Ministry finally issues Aug 2009 order that requires FRA compliance i.e. recognition of rights and consent of gram sabha before land can be handed over * As per public minutes of Forest Advisory Committee, there is not a single project in which the Ministry has complied with FRA or its own order. In Polavaram, the FRA has been brazenly and publicly violated. In only one project has compliance even been considered – POSCO – but even after non-compliance has been exposed by three different committees, and five years of protest by the people, the forest clearance is still standing.
    * Meanwhile, there are ongoing attempts to get the order withdrawn.
    Joint Forest Management Throughout this year, including this week, statements by Minister that Joint Forest Management has become a Forest Department proxy and needs “reform.” * The reality is that there is only one nation-wide law that provides for democratic community control over forests – the Forest Rights Act(PESA provides even more extensive powers in Scheduled Areas). This supersedes all existing schemes. Therefore, if the Ministry is genuinely interested, the first steps for democratic control would be to shut down JFM, put the funds into the NREGA or other systems which permit local institutions to decide their priorities, and direct forest authorities to comply with local powers as provided in the FRA. MoEF would then have to join other Ministries in a coordinated effort towards democratic resource management, which is not MoEF’s domain alone.
    * What is happening is exactly the opposite. There is repeated talk of “revamping” Joint Forest Management (which has no legal validity), and this translates into giving JFM committees powers that actually belong to democratic institutions.
    * Even the basic fact that forest guards sit as the secretaries of JFM Committees, and their funds are controlled through the Forest Department, is completely ignored.
    In short, the Ministry is strengthening its proxies, not democratising them.
    Forestry Projects The Ministry repeatedly claims that the huge amount of money being poured into forestry projects will benefit forest dwellers and be spent in a “decentralised” fashion under “people’s control.” The money put into forestry includes money from the Compensatory Afforestation Management and Planning Authority (CAMPA) (1,000 crores per year), the proposed Green India Mission (46,000 crores in total), Japanese-funded “external” forestry projects, the National Afforestation Programme and the developing international REDD agreement. In every single one of these programs, funds are being channeled or are proposed to be channeled through JFM and the Forest Department, directly undermining democratic control and driving land grabbing. This is true in the case of CAMPA – despite a direct indictment by a Parliamentary Standing Committee. For details of other programmes see our statements on the proposed Green India Mission and the MoEF approach to REDD. If the Ministry is interested in democracy, why is it channeling funds to the very institutions that undercut democratic control – and this after it has itself said that they do so?

    The “forked tongue” approach that has come to characterise the forest bureaucracy and this Ministry is extremely dangerous. It blocks actual change by claiming to be engaging in it; and then it does precisely the opposite, cleverly garbed in the right terms and the right language. In the process, “participation” becomes a code word for devolving huge amounts of money to select individuals and sections of villages in order to create what are essentially state proxies and vested interests. Nor is this confined to the Environment Ministry; we now have a “Integrated Action Plan” for “developing” Maoist areas by putting thousands of crores into the hands of the very officials who have destroyed people’s lives and livelihoods, organised inhuman repression and violated all norms of democracy. In the long run, this approach is a formula for dividing communities, breaking resistance, undermining democracy and destroying resources. It may make sense for the interests of corporations and state machinery; but to the rest of us it is a formula for resource grabbing and destruction.

    Nisan Sammelan 2010, Bhubaneswar: A Report


    On the 21st of November, 2010, a meeting was organized in Bhubaneswar by the leading leftist cultural magazine in Oriya, Nisan. The meeting was supported by several other left, Lohiaite and Gandhian groups. It was held under the banner of Nisan Sammelan — 2010 with a discussion on “CULTURAL RESISTANCE: WAR ON PEOPLE IN CORPORATE INTEREST.” Twenty-six tribal organizations participated in the meeting with each of them discussing problems that they are facing in the ongoing struggles in their regions. Incidents of police atrocities, rape, false arrests were made public in the meeting. The police in their bid to stop the tribals from reaching Bhubaneswar harassed them at several railway stations. A group comprising of thirty members which was supposed to come from Kashipur was arrested.

    The groups unanimously decried the attempts by the State and capitalists to displace or alienate them from their resources and they shared their experiences of struggle in front of a gathering of about 5000 people. The tribal organizations called for intensifying solidarity efforts and a close coordination among various organizations to confront the state which has instrumentalised itself as the blatant political wing of corporate capital, branding all struggles for popular self-determination as Maoist.

    The invited speakers included writer-activist Arundhati Roy, revolutionary Telugu poet Varavara Rao, Oriya novelist and short story writer Bibhuti Pattnayak, veteran journalist Rabi Das, poet Kumar Hasan, poet Rajendra Panda, advocate and human rights activist Biswapriya Kanungo and noted Gandhian Prafulla Samantara .

    Arundhati Roy while arriving at the venue was greeted by about 7-10 ABVP cadres with black flags protesting against her visit. Tribals, with their lathis chased them away. It is noteworthy that all prominent local and national bourgeois newspapers have presented this local communal hooliganism against the Kashmiri struggle as a major incident.

    Arundhati Roy

    In her speech Arundhati Roy, after facing the ABVP cadres outside, talked about patriotism nurtured in the struggles of indigenous peoples led by the anti-hegemonic forces of various ideological hues. Varavara Rao too spoke about the relevance of tribal struggles and drew an analogy between such struggles and anti-US imperialist struggles of the oil rich regions of the Middle East. He said that the tribal struggles were results of oppression of the state which wanted to take away whatever means of livelihood they had. He asked not to analyse these struggles just on the basis of their formal contours, rather they must be understood in terms of what provokes them. He spoke about the relevance of revolutionary violence which he interpreted to be a tool to fight structural violence of the system.

    Varavara Rao

    The speakers revealed the truth of peoples’ struggles and their spirit against the state’s insistence to “massacre every revolt that makes sense.”