Thousands of dalits from across the country reportedly reached Delhi on foot after walking for 26 days. As I pen down my reflections on the recently concluded workshops organized by CRG, one is left to ponder why so many people had to come down on the streets claiming right to land after 60 years of independence. The right to food, water, land and employment continues to haunt the dispossessed and displaced till date. Despite the policy exercises by the National and state governments and the institutionalization of the quasi-autonomous institutions like NHRC and State Human Rights Commissions it is time we reflect about the people’s movements and responsibility to protect – the onus and its dynamics?
In the recently concluded CRG workshop, we pondered on these issues with a range of civil society organizations, independent social activists, academics and lawyers. While all of us agreed on the systematic pattern of displacement and the way it has been naturalized through a rebuilding of populist consensus under the garb of the policy exercise; we tried to engage with NHRC and State Human Rights representative in the course of the three workshops. In the first workshop we had the pleasure to interact with the three NHRC representatives who were involved in various rescue operations against trafficking of women and children. There was a concern among the participants that the issues affecting the grassroots are often subtle and fails to grab attention. Dr. K. M. Parivelan from UNDP pointed out that the Chennai airport expansion will displace thousands and one of the questions raised was whether or NHRC could intervene in such cases. Even Dr. Ranabir Samaddar, Director,CRG felt that the catastrophic things grab more attention than the endemic things. He cited that humanitarian agencies in the recent past have conducted public hearings, which have been instrumental in mobilizing people and meeting the requirements of the people. He felt that NHRC should conduct public hearings and that could be an effective way to address people’s issues rather than wait for redressal of complaints. One of the main concerns raised by the activists, media persons and academics was the process of addressing the problems. Most of the people felt that mere redressal of complaints cannot be an effective way of addressing the concerns. Participants were also critical of NHRC’s role in the framing of the NRP 2006. The interaction and dialogue with NHRC participants was only restricted to the Bangalore workshop. Unfortunately the participants in the Bhubaneshwar and Kolkata dialogue could not interact with the NHRC personnel. Thorough this forum we want to draw attention to some of the problems raised in the Kolkata Workshop.
1.One of the main concerns of the Kolkata workshop was to understand the policy exercise. CRG had organized a one-day deliberation in Delhi to develop a critique of the R&R policy. The meeting was attended by a select group of academicians, lawyers and activists. In this meeting, we came to a consensus that NRP2006 should be read with the communal violence bill to understand one concern whether or not the proliferation of policy exercise actually reflects the state responsibility to protect or is it a way of copying with developmental strategies. The details of the proceedings are available in our publication. (For details of the report contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org)
2.Another concern voiced by participants from Ganga Bhangan Pratirodh Action Nagorik Committee, Panchanandapur, Bangitola, Malda was the enormous displacement caused by the construction of Farakka Barrage. Prior to the construction of the Farakka Barrage the river erosion was restricted to a limited area in Malda District. Since the construction of the Barrage, the erosion has been on the eastern bank and resulted in displacing thousand of people living on the east bank in the district of Malda. Currently the residents of the Malda town, NH43 and the railway tracks will be affected due to the massive erosion. The details are available in a book written by Dr. Kalyan Rudra , Ganga Bhangan Katha.
Gangetic erosion has displaced 5 lakh people. 14 high schools and Madrasas as well as more than a hundred primary schools along with many private educational institutes and I.C.D.S. centers have been destroyed. The schools have been rebuilt at locations, which are not easily accessible to the children of the locality resulting in increase in dropout rates.
About 125 thousand people are forced to live on alluvial deposited land in the middle of the river (locally they are called “charvari”). They are not recognized as “inhabitants” of the Malda West Bengal Government.
The only ray of hope for the victims of erosion amidst all of these lay in Section II of W.B. L.R. Act which guaranteed that the land eroded by any river would belong to its previous owner if it submerged as alleviated land within 20 years from the year of its being eroded. The government of West Bengal through the amendment in 2000 abolished this section. This amendment has taken way their right to land eroded by the river. This amendment has been done without any prior notice and information or warding compensation as it reads, “ Any land gained by- gradual accession to a plot of land, within from the recess of a river or of the sea, shall vest in the state Government and the raiyat who owns the plot of land shall not be entitled to retain such land as an accretion there to”.