By Paritosh Chakma
Andermanik is a village inhabited by ethnic Chakma tribals in Mamit district of Mizoram. There are 227 families with population not less than 750. All these are poor people without livelihood, except for Jhum cultivation upon which the forest officials have imposed restrictions. For the past one year, there has been no cultivation due to fear of the long hand of the law.
The Forest Department of Mizoram claims that Andermanik village falls within the Dampa Tiger Reserve area, and hence must leave their homes and hearths. In practical sense, this is a ridiculous claim. This is because these innocent villagers were evicted from the Dampa Tiger Reserve area in 1989 and resettled by the state government outside the DTR area at the present Andermanik village. All in the name of tiger protection! At that time the officials promised them Rs 1 lakh per family but they actually received only a few thousands.
It is said that there are only a little over 1,400 tigers left in this country. And, therefore, their protection is a supreme necessity. Agreed. However, this has provided to Mizoram government another opportunity to displace the minority tribals who are extremely poor and mostly illiterate. The forest officials claim that there could be 5 or 6 tigers in Dampa Tiger Reserve which has an area of 500 sq km. Pench Tiger Reserve in Maharashtra with only 257 sq. km has 14 tigers and Bhadra Tiger Reserve in Karnataka with a total area of 492 sq. km has 35 tigers. So, is it really necessary to increase the area of the Dampa Tiger Reserve at the cost of the tribal villagers? But the Mizoram government is not worried; it is rather happy. By increasing the Dampa Tiger Reserve area it is going to accomplish three motives at one time: evict the minority Chakma villagers, earn good name as protector of tigers/environment and fill its purse with Central funds under Project Tiger Scheme.
As per the “Revised Guidelines for the Ongoing Centrally Sponsored Scheme of Project Tiger” (February 2008) of the Ministry of Environment & Forests, Government of India, the Andermanik villagers have been offered two options:
Option I – Take the entire package amount (Rs. 10 lakhs per family) and the Forest Department will not be involved in any rehabilitation / relocation process
Option II – The Forest Department will carry out relocation / rehabilitation of village from the tiger reserve.
The money being offered is lucrative – Rs 10 lakhs per family, that is a total of Rs 22,70,00,000 ( Twenty Two Crores Seventy Lakhs) for the entire village. Big money. But the major problem lies in the lackluster, secretive attitudes of the officials and politicians who are involved.
From the interaction this writer had with the village leaders, it clearly appears that the officials have adopted a policy of spreading misinformation and keep the entire affair non-transparent for reasons best known to them. And, they have succeeded. Today, the villagers are a divided lot. We have learnt well from the Britishers the policy of “Divide and Rule”.
If the villagers opt for Option I, they take Rs 10 lakh per family but need to find their own homes – somewhere, somehow (so says the Guideline as per the interpretation of the officials). The officials also interpreted to them that their Village Council would be dissolved (Andermanik is a full-fledged Village Council/Court). The villagers are strongly opposed to the dissolution of their Village Council.
Contrary to the opinion of the officials, Section 7.22.4 of the National Rehabilitation and Resettlement Policy, 2007 provides that “While shifting the population of the affected area to the resettlement area, the Administrator for Rehabilitation and Resettlement shall, as far as possible, ensure that: a) In case the entire population of the village or area to be shifted belongs to a particular community, such population or families may, as far as possible, be resettled en masse in a compact area, so that socio-cultural relations and social harmony amongst the shifted families are not disturbed.” Therefore, the question of disintegration of the Village Council of Andermanik does not arise after rehabilitation.
Article 10 of United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples provides that “Indigenous peoples shall not be forcibly removed from their lands or territories. No relocation shall take place without the free, prior and informed consent of the indigenous peoples concerned and after agreement on just and fair compensation and, where possible, with the option of return.” But the right to “free, prior and informed consent” of the Chakma tribals in this case has been thrown out of the window, as the villagers have been completely kept in the dark about the land acquisition and relocation/rehabilitation. This displacement process absolutely lacks transparency; so much so that the villagers do not know about the fate of government servants such as teachers! The teachers fear that they may lose their jobs after relocation.
In case of option II, the following package is proposed, at the rate of Rs. 10 lakhs per family: Agriculture land procurement (2 hectare) and development – 35% of the total package; Settlement of rights – 30%, Homestead land and house construction – 20%, Incentive – 5%, and Community facilities – 10%
Here too, there is a problem. The District Commissioner of Mamit has allegedly told the representatives of the Andermanik village that each family would get only Rs 2 lakhs (for the purpose of house construction) out of Rs 10 lakhs and the rest (i.e. Rs 8 lakh from each family) would be used by the state government to provide land title, develop their lands, and create infrastructure in the new village site. The villagers feel they are being cheated.
The local MLA and Deputy Speaker, Mr. John Rotluangliana has promised the Andermanik villagers a new life in a “model village”. But few are ready to buy this assurance. How can they forget so soon that in 1989 displacement they received only Rs 5000 out of the promised Rs 1 lakh per family? No one knows where the money had gone. The politicians had promised everything. But even today the Andermanik village has no road connectivity and no health care centre. The villagers have to track hostile terrains to have access to PDS food grain or medicine from the nearest shop at Rajiv Nagar which is 18 km away!
The village leaders told this writer that they won’t settle anything less than Rs 5 lakh per family in cash in addition to land title, livelihood and other basic facilities in their new village which the authorities must undertake with the remaining amount i.e. Rs 11 crore 35 lakh (Rs 500,000 X 227). I absolutely believe the villagers are justified in their demand. There is no doubt that the real answer to this problem lies in the total respect of the “free, prior and informed consent of the indigenous peoples” of Andermanik village by the authorities. That means that the villagers have the right to know what’s happening with them and everything should happen with their free will and prior consent. The poor should get the maximum benefits of land acquisition.
( This article is also available at Mizoram Express, 18 September 2010: http://mizoramexpress.com/index.php/2010/09/the-pains-of-mizorams-andermanik-villagers/ )