Maruti Workers’ Movement: Resisting Exploitation And Defending Democracy

CPIML Liberation

The workers’ struggle at the Maruti Suzuki’s Manesar plant has, once again, exposed the ugly and exploitative underbelly of liberalised ‘growth’. The intrepid struggle of young workers there is a glaring reminder that in the celebrated industrial enclaves of the national capital region, profit margins are extracted by abuse of contract labour laws, relentlessly exploitative work conditions – and above all by the brute suppression of the basic democratic right to organise and unionise. It is bringing home the fact that the Government of Haryana is treating the workers’ legally mandated right to unionise as disruptive; while it is condoning and even defending the flagrantly illegal lockout by the management!

Since the Maruti workers’ strike was defeated in 2000, the management had allowed only a pocket union to function. In the past few years, the automobile industry has chosen to cope with recession by imposing even more exploitative work conditions and even more restricted democracy. This may be the reason why many recent instances of workers’ resistance and severe repression have been witnessed in the automobile sector – at Honda in 2005, at Pricol in 2009, at Rico in 2009 followed by the workers’ strike in Gurgaon, and at Maruti in 2011.

A majority of the Maruti workers are contract workers, most of them skilled – who are paid less than half the salary for the same work, and denied various benefits. This pattern of cutting costs by employing contract labour (in violation of the labour laws) has increasingly become the norm, not only in the private sector but even in the public sector. At the Maruti Manesar struggle, a remarkable feature is the unity between the permanent and contract workers.

Some months back, the workers at Maruti’s Manesar plant had formed an independent union of their own – the MSEU (Maruti Suzuki Employees Union) – to voice their grievances over the severely exploitative work conditions. When the management dismissed and suspended the MSEU leaders in June 2011, the workers went on a strike that lasted 13 days. The strike ended with an understanding that the Haryana Government and Maruti management would recognise the MSEU, take back the dismissed workers, and refrain from further victimisation. Instead, in late August, the MSEU’s application for registration was turned down on technical grounds. On the heels of this rejection, the management swung into action. Workers were told that they could enter the factory premises only if they signed a ‘good conduct bond’ – thereby signing away their right to protest in any form. Scores of workers – all active in the formation of the union – were suspended and dismissed.

Workers refused to sign the ‘good conduct bond’ and began a dharna. Ever since, the gates of the factory have been encircled by hundreds of policemen behind a barricade. The bond itself is absolutely illegal, and the management’s action amounts to an illegal lockout. Yet, the Haryana Government has, throughout, sided with the management against the workers. During negotiations, three top MSEU office bearers were arrested after they refused to relent till all dismissed/suspended workers were taken back. Haryana Labour Minister Shiv Charan Lal Sharma defended the arrest, accusing workers of being ‘adamant’ in their demand that all dismissed and suspended workers be reinstated. The Haryana Labour Commissioner has actually made the indefensible claim that the ‘Good Conduct Bond’ is legal, while echoing the MSI management’s allegation that the MSEU and the workers’ struggle is the handiwork of ‘outside’ elements. Meanwhile, workers in other Maruti factories in the region, as well as workers in the entire Gurgaon-Manesar industrial belt have shown great solidarity with the Maruti workers’ struggle.

The young, skilled workers who are at the frontline of the sustained agitation at the Maruti plant are the emerging face of a new chapter of the working class movement in India. Many of them have strong roots in rural Haryana and western UP. Their struggle is a challenge to the two foremost (and illegal) offensives on workers’ rights by liberalisation and corporate capital – contractualisation of labour and denial of the right to unionise.

The Maruti workers’ movement is not just a trade union struggle. Their struggle for the right to organise, unionise and protest against exploitative conditions is a crucial, and welcome, aspect of the struggle to defend democracy in India today.

CPI (Maoist)’s letter to civil liberties organisations

Bihar-Jharkhand-North Chhattisgarh-UP Territorial Regional Committee
1st September 2011

Red salute to all the members of PUCL, PUDR and all the justice loving intellectuals!

This is to inform you that on 2nd March, 2011, Niyamat Ansari of village Jerua, PO Manika, District Latehar (Jharkhand) was awarded the death penalty as per the regulations/procedure of our lower level committee. As Niyamat Ansari and Bhukhan Singh, were working in close association with Gram Swaraj Sanstha and Jean Dreze, member of the Central Vigilance Committee of NREGA, some intellectuals across the entire state and country have in one voice criticized the CPI (Maoist) party for this incident. Along with this a fact finding team was constituted under the leadership of Jean Dreze in which some of the intellectuals who support our movement were included. Nandlal Singh, Gokhul Basant, Aruna Roy were part of this team. Following this in reaction one of the members of our lower level committee without applying his mind put up posters asking for action against these intellectual friends in our people’s court. Also some words were used in a pamphlet, which were nowhere near correct, as citizens can express their reaction even on any right action of ours. It is their right to express their opposition in response. Even in such a situation our organisation does not believe in taking any such action. Therefore in this matter, with the most heart-felt self- criticism we take back the decree issued by our lower committee members and apologize to all the justice loving intellectuals for these mistakes. Also no action will be taken on Bhukhan Singh for the time being and the lower level committee too has been prohibited from taking any such action.

Now the question is why was Niyamat Ansari awarded the death penalty. On this matter too several facts have been provided by the lower level committee. But nevertheless we have not reached a conclusion, as a team has been constituted to do a fact finding on the above incident. We assure you people that we will do an in depth fact finding in this matter and will try to present the truth behind this incident at the earliest.

With revolutionary greetings.

MSEU: Condemn the arrest of MSEU leaders

Maruti Suzuki Employees Union
18th September

We write this at a time when our movement is under attack from all quarters, and three of our leaders, namely, Sonu Kumar (the President of MSEU), Shiv Kumar (the General Secretary of MSEU) and Ravinder, have been arrested by the police in a completely unjustified and unlawful manner.

All concerned probably know the way in which processes unfolded over the past few weeks. Our leaders went to the negotiation table with the management of Maruti Suzuki and the Labour Department on the 16th of September. Talks were still going on today, when they broke down because the management stubbornly refused to take back those workers that had been thrown out.

We believe that the management, prepared for this eventuality, had already made suitable arrangements with the police and the administration. That the government and its police have been bought over by the company management is absolutely clear. When talks broke down at about 10:15 pm today, the police spared no time in arresting our leaders. The attempt, clearly, is to cripple our movement when we have refused to back down in the face of all threats and enticements.

It is known to us that Ravinder already has an FIR filed against his name; but Sonu Kumar and Shiv Kumar have never been charged before. However, looking at the foul play that the police are already indulging in, we are sure that our leaders will be charged of crimes they never committed.

This way or that, we will continue our struggle. We appeal to all to condemn such acts by this unholy alliance of the police, the government and the company management. We ask you to stand in our support, in the support of our movement, of our arrested leaders and against injustice.

Executive Member
Maruti Suzuki Employees Union (MSEU)

Two Years after the Eelam War: The Flames of Liberation Continue to Expose the Oppressors and their Apologists!

Democratic Students Union (DSU)

Two years back, on 18 May 2009 the Sri Lankan army claimed to have killed Vellupillai Prabhakaran, the leader of LTTE, along with hundreds of his comrades. The next day in the Sri Lankan parliament a jubilant Rajapakse declared victory in the Eelam War IV. This was the day, two years back, when the Eelam Tamils lost their hard-fought freedom at the hands of the fascist and expansionist Sri Lanka. This week the Tamils in Eelam and outside remember the heroic sacrifice of the sons and daughters of Eelam who laid down their lives fighting the armed forces of the chauvinist Sri Lankan ruling classes. Braving threats, intimidation and harassment from the Sri Lankan armed forces and intelligence, the people of Eelam paid homage to those who have fallen in the decades-long struggle for national liberation. They reiterated that it is the people of Tamil Eelam alone who have the mandate to chose their destiny, denouncing and warning against any ‘negotiated settlement’ of the issue which compromises with the historical realities. The people have stated that any secret deal or confidential talk with the Sri Lankan state by those who claim to represent the Eelam Tamils will not be acceptable. The ‘solution’ only lies in the recognition of the historical reality of Tamil Eelam, i.e., its right to exist as a free and independent national state.

The injustice, oppression and discrimination of the Eelam Tamils by the Sinhala chauvinist ruling classes of Sri Lanka has a long history that goes back many centuries. The genocidal murder of Tamils in the first five months of 2009 in the last phase of the war was one of the most extensive and brutal phases of this national oppression. In the last days of the war alone, more than 40,000 Tamils – including combatants and non-combatants – were slaughtered by the marauding Sri Lankan army and air force. As the ‘international community’ watched in silence, cluster bombs and chemical weapons were unleashed on the entire population. Houses, schools, hospitals, ambulances, civilian shelters, and even No Fire Zones were bombed with impunity. By the time the war was declared over, almost the entire Tamil population of the north and east was uprooted, their lives and property was destroyed, and were forcefully confined in concentration camps which the Sri Lankan state calls ‘refugee camps’. Even conservative estimates put the number of displaced people to be above 3.5 lakhs. A large part of them are still not allowed to return to their villages, most of which have been ravaged and ruined beyond recognition. Eelam has been transformed into a mammoth prison-house by the occupation army of the Sri Lankan state. Here any form of dissent and articulation of political demand is strictly prohibited. The aim is to enslave the entire nation, and to kill the very hope of a free homeland. By forcing them into utter misery, the Sri Lankan state expects the Eelam Tamils to give up their aspiration for liberation, to abandon their dream of Eelam as a mere illusion, and to accept the present condition as their immutable fate.

Living under the shadow of fascist repression, experiencing the terror unleashed by the Sri Lankan state, and deeply aware of the historic oppression of their nation, it is the Eelam Tamils more than anyone else who seek the punishment of the perpetrators – the Sri Lankan ruling classes and its mercenary army. They deserve the severest of reprisal and punishment for their crimes. The question however is, what should they be punished for? For ‘crimes against humanity’, ‘war crimes’, ‘international crimes’, ‘violation of human rights’, flouting the rules of ‘Geneva Convention’, etc.? Or, for trying to wipe out a whole nation fighting for their inalienable right to self determination and national liberation? Here lies the difference between the perspective of the peoples’ movements and that of the International Human Rights industry/NGOs promoted by the imperialist camp. It is in the name of humanism, humanitarian intervention, and the so-called crimes against humanity that imperialism and its faithful lackeys such as the comprador ruling classes of Sri Lanka commit national oppression. Not for nothing that the Sri Lankan state called its war on Eelam a ‘humanitarian war to liberate the people of the Northern Province’. This is how the warmongers sell their wars, and the international weapons industry, its wares. This is the language in which the ‘internationally recognised bodies’ like the United Nations (UN), NATO and the European Union wages war on peoples’ movements and organisations. No wonder the imperialist countries and their ‘recognised legal bodies’ like UN spends millions of dollars every year to promote the discourse of ‘human rights’ or ‘crimes against humanity’ by funding thousands of human rights organisations and Non-Governmental Organisations. In the ‘conflict zones’ they protect the interest of the forces of oppression by accusing and persecuting the oppressed people, their leaders and their organisations, who dare to rise up against imperialism and its lackeys, while silently or vocally approving the acts of the oppressors. In the name of ‘conflict resolution’, they seek to take away the oppressed peoples’ right to fight back.

Any talk of ‘humanity’ and ‘humanism’ in a world divided into oppressor and oppressed classes, or oppressor and oppressed nations, is nothing but a sham. It is not in the name of ‘humanism’ that oppressed nations demand the right to self-determination. It is not in the name of ‘human rights’ that oppressed people seek liberation. The right of every oppressed nation to self determination including secession from the oppressor nation is a political right. It is a genuine collective right of a nation or a people, which even the UN was forced to recognise under pressure from the tidal wave of anti-colonial and anti-imperialist liberation struggles in the twentieth century. It is this inalienable political and collective right that the Eelam Tamils and their organisation Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) fought for almost four decades without compromise. In the path of liberation they unflinchingly suffered, but have not surrendered. Even today, after undergoing such extreme forms of repression and near extinction, they have not given up the aspiration for liberation. Therefore, when some sections who claim to represent the Eelam Tamils or to be in solidarity with them talk of ‘war crimes’, ‘crimes against humanity’ or ‘human rights violations’ in Sri Lanka without even acknowledging the right of a separate, sovereign and independent Tamil Eelam, stands accused of not only betraying this heroic struggle, but also of colluding with imperialism and its trusted executioners, the Sri Lankan and Indian ruling classes. They would do well to pay heed to the students of Jaffna University, who while remembering the martyrs of Eelam War this week, warned that it is the Eelam people alone that have the right to decide upon their destiny, and not those who compromise with the peoples’ aspirations in the name of tactics.

The Sri Lankan ruling classes responsible for centuries of oppression of the Tamil national minority must be punished so that the people of Eelam can win their freedom. But this punishment can only be in the form of overthrowing the repressive rule of the Sri Lankan state and through the liberation of Eelam, not by ‘demanding punishment’ for this or that member of the ruling classes. Let us not forget that the Rajapaksas –Mahinda, Basil, Gotabaya, or Sarath Fonseka etc. are mere instruments of class rule and national oppression – they are the puppets of imperialism. To howl for the punishment of such puppets without opposing Eelam’s continued occupation by the Sri Lankan state and its plunder by the imperialists is nothing but to legitimize this oppression and to backstab the Eelam liberation movement. Only the wolves in sheep’s skin are capable of such opportunism. The struggling people everywhere – including the Eelam Tamils – have seen too many of these chameleons to be fooled by their pretensions.

Who then will punish the ruling classes of Sri Lanka and bring them to justice, after all? Will it be United Nations, International Criminal Court, United States of America, India, the Sri Lankan state itself? Or the oppressed people of Tamil Eelam and Sri Lanka? Anyone who trusts the collective strength of oppressed people and believes in their unwavering determination to struggle against injustice knows the answer. However, those who are in the payroll of imperialism or benefits from oppression and status-quo, call upon the people to repose faith in their masters to ‘deliver justice’. This is the characteristic role of the imperialist-funded human rights industry and the NGO racket. What is the track record of imperialist agencies like the United Nations or the International Criminal Court (ICC) in ‘punishing’ despotic and authoritarian rulers complicit in mass murders? The worldwide operations of ICC, for example, are run by a consortium of international NGOs called ‘Coalition for the International Criminal Court’ which has over 2,500 NGO members in 150 different countries, most of which are directly funded by the imperialists. No surprise that ICC has prosecuted ruling-class members of six countries for ‘crimes against humanity’, all of which are from African countries. The latest target against whom ICC prosecution has begun is Muammar Gaddafi of Libya, his gravest crime being the opposition to imperialist intervention and the US-led war. As per the official rhetoric, however, he is to be tried for ‘war crimes’ and ‘crimes against humanity’! On the other hand, the biggest criminals in the world – George Bush Junior and Senior, Barack Obama, Tony Blair etc. are roaming free, some even managing to get Nobel ‘Peace Prizes’! Therefore, at a meeting of 30 African ICC member states in June 2009, several African countries called on African ICC members to withdraw from the Court in protest against the Court’s targeting of only Africa. The Commissioner of African Union, Ramtane Lamamra, said that the Prosecutor of the ICC was applying “a double standard in pursuing cases against some leaders while ignoring others”. Knowing all this, can anyone be so naïve to be ignorant of the politics of ‘war crimes’, ‘crimes against humanity’, and the ‘justice’ system of “internationally recognised legal bodies”?

Is the real character and purpose of the UN any different? History proves that this ‘recognised legal body’ too has been a ‘powerful tool’ and a ‘strategic weapon’ in the hands of the imperialist powers and their surrogate regimes the world over. Just five years after its establishment, the UN –brainchild of US president Roosevelt – fought in favour of South Korea against Peoples’ Republic of Korea and revolutionary China under Mao in the Korean War (1950-53). From its inception till now the UN and its legal wing, the so-called International Court of Justice, has worked untiringly for establishing the New World Order under US imperialism. Its role during the ‘Cold War’ and thereafter needs no elaboration. In light of this dark history, to welcome the UN to be the arbiter of ‘international crime’ and ‘world peace’ is to invite imperialist intervention, to strengthen the forces of oppression and to deny any possibility of justice. Has the Libyan ‘rebels’ who invited UN bombardment in the name of ‘ousting Gaddafi’ and ‘liberating’ Libya opened doors for peace, justice and democracy? The people of Libya know that they are the lackeys of imperialism, no matter how much they try to convince the world about the ‘strategic’ need of using the UN-led war in Libya. For the Libyan people, the so-called rebels are nothing but imperialist collaborators and traitors.

The recent UN Expert Panel’s report on Sri Lanka exposes its real character to those who care to see. The so-called ‘major limitations’ of the UN report are nothing but the very basis of the report. Like any other imperialist agent, it does not recognise the right of Eelam Tamils for a separate and free homeland, instead offering a humiliating ‘common homeland’. It falsely accuses LTTE and its leadership, the force spearheading the decades-old liberation struggle, of using Eelam Tamils as ‘human shields’ and of even ‘point blank shooting of civilians’! In fact, while the UN Expert Panel finds five allegations of ‘potential serious violations’ against the Sri Lankan state ‘credible’, it held the LTTE guilty of six such ‘potential serious violations’, including the killing of its own people for whose defense and liberation it heroically fought for three decades! By accepting, welcoming and propagating the UN and its report, one tacitly accepts that the leaders and cadres of LTTE were also criminals, an opinion which is alien to the people of Tamil Eelam. The oppressed people of Tamil Eelam will never accept such a conclusion against the very organisation which they built and sustained with their blood and sweat. Nor would the LTTE or its leadership would accept such a verdict, no matter how much the report is ‘critical’ of the Sri Lankan genocidal state.

Sri Lanka’s ruling classes too have rejected the report, but for entirely different reasons. They know very well that the report and the threat of ‘prosecution’ in international courts will be used as a tool by the Western imperialist countries to wrest economic benefits, and hence is this rejection. Apart from outright imperialists, only those turncoats who see opportunities in the decimation of LTTE and the plight of the Tamils in Eelam can talk of ‘using the report as a strategic weapon’ in favour of Eelam Tamil and their political aspiration, after slyly declaring that “considering that the Lankan government claims that all the leaders of the Eelam movement have been eliminated, it can be presumed that the report shall apply only to those in state machinery who were responsible for war crimes”! We must thank them for exonerating the martyred sons and daughters of Eelam from being prosecuted for ‘war crimes’! But we have no right to anticipate whether the oppressed people of Tamil Eelam will be so merciful and benevolent as to exonerate the renegades for their crime of betraying the ongoing Eelam liberation struggle at one of its most critical junctures. Long live the struggle for free and independent Tamil Eelam!

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

Environment Ministry’s Steps on Bamboo and Forest Act Amendment

Campaign for Survival and Dignity

On March 22nd, the Environment Ministry announced two significant decisions: a letter to State governments on bamboo and Cabinet approval for an amendment to the Indian Forest Act. In both cases, the stated intent does not match what has actually been done; and while the claim is being made that these will protect people’s rights and reduce harassment, the former will have no effect at present and the latter will make the situation worse.

In the case of bamboo, consider the following:

  • As has recently become characteristic of the Environment Ministry, the letter has several welcome statements of principle – which are then essentially nullified by the operational provisions. Thus, for the first time, the letter recognises that the Ministry and the State Forest Departments have been breaking the law by not treating bamboo as a minor forest produce; it talks of democratic management, community planning and gram sabha transit permits; etc. But what it promises is not matched by what it actually provides for.
  • Thus, first, the letter actually does not suggest any change in the status quo in forest lands except in areas where community forest resource rights are recognised. That change is at least mandated in such areas is welcome in principle; but in practice there are hardly any villages in the entire country where such rights have been genuinely recognised. In fact this right is precisely what the governments at both Central and State levels, and particularly the Forest Department, have been ignoring and opposing.
  • In the meantime the letter goes on to reiterate the demand that Joint Forest Management committees be made into standing committees of panchayats, without allowing the panchayats themselves any say, and without addressing the real reason that such committees are anti-democratic – the fact that forest guards are their secretaries and joint account holders, that all the committees’ work is subject to Department working plans, and that their funds are controlled through the Department-controlled Forest Development Agencies. Now that communities have a legal right and power to protect and manage forests, these bodies are both unnecessary and of questionable legality. As we said in an earlier statement, keeping the forest bureaucracy in control, but making JFM committees into panchayat bodies, will not make them democratic – it will subvert actual community forest management and therefore block recognition of community forest resource rights. By advocating JFM and community forest resource rights at the same time, the letter is contradicting itself – and will nullify whatever benefits it is supposed to give while increasing conflict.
  • After acknowledging that bamboo must be treated as an MFP, the letter goes on to ignore what this actually means – namely that under the FRA, in all forest areas (not just community forests), forest dwellers are the owners of bamboo and have the right to use, collect and dispose of it. This right is being violated by all State governments with impunity. By saying that the existing arrangement will continue except in community forest resource areas, the letter is upholding an illegal system. Moreover, it goes on to talk of revenue sharing, when there can be no question of revenue sharing between the owners (the community) and a state regulatory agency (the Forest Department).
  • The sleight of hand is far more blatant in the case of the Indian Forest Act amendments that have now been approved by Cabinet. Consider the following:

  • The Ministry’s press note claims that increasing the amount of money that can be levied as a fine (and hence allowing compounding of more high value offences) will reduce harassment of forest dwellers. What we need is not easier compounding of offences but an overhaul of the offences themselves. The IFA provides penalties for all kinds of things – such as collection of MFP in reserved forests, cutting grass,transporting without a permit, etc. – that are now rights under the Forest Rights Act. It also contains draconian provisions (e.g. arrest without warrant in most cases; presumption that any forest produce found on anyone is actually govt property, meaning the person is guilty until proven innocent, etc). This combination is what makes the law an instrument of harassment. Merely revising the monetary limit on compounding will only increase the power to extract bribes – indeed one might even expect an increase in booking of cases, since now the forest officers also know that they need not go through the rigmarole of courts etc. and can simply extract payment of large sums of money on the spot. As long as the Indian Forest Act continues to be a colonial and autocratic law, this decision will in fact increase harassment.
  • The most egregious perversion of law occurs in the second proposed amendment – for compounding of offences in the Fifth Schedule areas. Both PESA and the FRA empower the gram sabha to manage their forests and community resources in these areas. Now, under this proposed amendment, it will be given the farcical job of “giving views” on how the Department should punish people, i.e. on whether they should be fined or jailed. One should remember that this proposed amendment comes in a context where the gram sabha’s actual legal powers are being ignored when forests are being diverted and destroyed; but now it is to become an an aide for legitimising the Forest Department’s actions. This is an absurdity. The gram sabha is a statutory management authority to which the Department itself is subject, or ought to be subject if the law were being followed, not a sidekick of a colonial institution.
  • Cyrus Bina’s “Oil: A Time Machine”

    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.

    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.