Jharkhand: How Tribals of East Singhbhum won Against the State Government
The first week of April was full of happiness for the residents of Kashidih village. The government finally conceded defeat in the face of the ongoing agitation against the Heavy Motor Training centre in the village.
Kashidih is a village of Santhal tribes located on NH 33 in East Singhbhum of Jharkhand and has a population of around three hundred.
In East Singhbhum and adjoining districts, the village is known for its grand Durga Puja celebrations, but this village became the subject of discussion when the State government of Jharkhand, with an investment of Rs 13 crore, passed a plan to set up a Heavy Vehicle Training centre here in 2015.
In the work order issued to the contractor, the deadline was fixed to complete and start the training centre in 13 months.
This training institute was a joint venture between the Transport Department of the Jharkhand government and Tata Motors.
The cost and land for the scheme were provided by the Jharkhand government, while it was scheduled to be operated by Tata Motors
The institute was to be established in about 12 acres of land, for which the foundation stone had also been laid. The government had said that around 120 youth would be trained in vehicle operation in this institute simultaneously. The accommodation for the trainees would be arranged on the Institute campus itself. Along with this, a track would be constructed to give vehicle training.
This was to become the only institute of the state government to impart training in driving. Till now, there is only one private institute for training heavy vehicle drivers in Jharkhand, which is run by the brother of a retired Indian Administrative Service officer in Dhanbad. There is a shortage of heavy vehicle drivers due to a lack of training institutes in the state. The government predicted that with the establishment of the institute, the shortage of trained drivers is expected to be overcome to a great extent.
This decision of the government was strongly opposed by the villagers as they believed that this plan could harm the village and the surrounding habitat.
The villagers argue that a portion of the area selected for the driving school is private agricultural property of a villager and the remainder of the land falls under the ownership of Gram Sabha, where the people conduct their Sarna Rituals.
The government granted the contract for the building of the driving school to Jamshedpur-based construction company KK Builders. When the building work of the driving school began in late 2019, the construction company also took the canal flowing through the indicated site under its limits.
In view of the villagers' anger, the construction work was postponed, and in 2019 the government changed, with Hemant Soren becoming the state's Chief Minister. After this, the construction started again, but the villagers continued their protest.
The villagers actively protested the development by repeatedly petitioning the local MLA, Chief Minister Hemant Soren, the Governor and other government authorities, and owing to their protest, the construction work was halted. But lately, the construction work began again. And the whole territory was militarised by the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF).
As soon as the work began, the villagers summoned the Gram Sabha meeting and agreed to protest against the recent development.
At the beginning of the protest, an FIR was issued against 12 members of the village from the side of the construction firm, accusing them of theft and extortion.
Nitesh Besra, who is a school student and one of the accused, says, "We are not anti-development, but what is the use of such development for which we had to sacrifice our village and nature? If the government has to develop, then it should build a road in our village, fix the condition of government schools, and build a university so that the people of our village do not have to go out to study. The nearest hospital to our village is about thirty kilometres away. We need a hospital, but the government doesn't even pay attention to our demand."
Another accused in this case and member of Gram Sabha, Bengal Soren, claims, "We were booked because we were protesting against the construction. The police officers investigated our residences, but they could not uncover anything relating to the construction firm."
At that time, Dinesh Ranjan, DTO of the Transport Department, stated in this respect, "Gram Sabha was conducted in 2019 in connection with the building of a driving school on the unapproved property, with the approval of which construction work commenced. Right now, some outsiders are intruding in the Gram Sabha."
After the declaration of the DTO, the villagers had grown bitter again and were urging the government to take harsh action against the DTO. In this respect, they had also submitted a number of papers in which it is stated that, according to an RTI report dated March 15, 2020, Gram Sabha's approval was not obtained prior to the commencement of construction work.
In the same report, it was also stated that, under the driving school's plan, no portion of the canal is permitted to pass across the driving school's property.
Demka Soy, a social worker and member of the Gram Sabha, said that "State and the Local Administration were working together to seize our property. Our community is located inside an eco-sensitive zone, which means that big vehicles are not permitted for commercial reasons."
"We have brought our whole matter to the attention of the Chief Minister and Governor." The Governor also asked the District Authority and the Transport Ministry to conduct a comprehensive investigation into the incident, but recently, building activity had begun in our hamlet as a result of the deployment of CRPF," he further added.
As reported by the locals, this hamlet in East Singhbhum lies near the Dalma Wildlife Sanctuary and is hence considered an Ecologically Fragile Area. The transit of any kind of big vehicle through this area has the potential to disrupt the natural environment.
"Kashidih is an Ecologically Fragile Area since it is a part of the Elephant Corridor and because it is home to many endangered kinds of animals," says Desh Pargana (Leader in Gram Sabha System) Baiju Murmu while discussing the situation.
"This village is not only included in the EFA but it is also included in the Fifth Scheduled Area under Article 244 (1) of the Indian Constitution, which is a special designation. According to this, a meeting of the Gram Sabha should have been summoned, and approval should have been obtained before any building work could begin here, but in this instance, no such processes were followed. As a result, this is a flagrant infringement of our fundamental constitutional rights," he adds.
A massive public assembly was conducted on January 9 under the banner of Manjhi Pargana Mahaal in Kashidih. The meeting was led by the members of the Gram Sabha.
The members of all the Gram Sabhas of Jharkhand attended this meeting and resolved to organise against the construction work being done by the state.
During this conference, the villagers respected all the rules of Covid and maintained their commitment by maintaining a proper space among themselves.
Describing the decision on behalf of the Gram Sabha, Deepak Murmu, a member of the Gram Sabha and Manjhi Baba (Village Head) of Dimna, stated, "When this decision was made in 2015, the BJP regime of Raghuvar Das backed it. Together we defeated the BJP and elected Hemant Soren, and made him the Chief Minister. We know that he will undoubtedly listen to us. We hope that Hemant Soren will halt this unconstitutional and unlawful act at the earliest. We have made this resolution that we, all the people of Manjhi Pargana, would put all our demands before the Chief Minister."
In the first week of April, the State government issued a circular saying that in view of the opposition of the gram sabha, the decision to build the Heavy Vehicle Training centre in Kashidih has stayed, and the government is looking for land in some other area for the training centre.
For this, the administration has marked the land in Jodisa and Potka Tetla of Galudih police station area of Ghatshila block. The site will be decided after inspection by the officials of the Transport Department. ADC Sourav Kumar Sinha has written a letter to DTO Dinesh Kumar Ranjan giving information about both the lands and ordered to inspect the site.
The author is an independent journalist. The views are personal.
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