Niraj Lakra
JTICI Vol.5, Issue 1, No.2, pp. 13 to 21, March 2018

The amendments in CNT and SPT act – A Crucial Conjuncture in the Lives of Adivasis of Jharkhand

Published On: Saturday, August 4, 2018

Background:

From the past nine months Jharkhand is burning over the issues of amendment in the Chhotanagpur Tenancy Act (CNT) and Santhal Pargana Tenancy Act (SPT). The Adivasis have a long of history of struggle and movement against state repression. All these struggles are related to protection of land, Adivasi identity and esteem. The CNT and SPT act were a result of continuous Adivasi movements and revolt against the oppression of Britishers, zamindars and local money lenders. These revolts were done under the leadership of various Adivasi leaders, prominent among them were Birsa Munda and Sidhu-Kanhu. The CNT act was enacted in 1908 (Eight years after the death of Birsa Munda) and the SPT act was enacted in year 1949. These acts safeguarded the land and identity of the Adivasis. Since time immemorial the Adivasis have demanded autonomy and freedom from the oppression of the ‘dikus’. The Jharkhand movement was based on such ideals, drawing leadership from the likes of Jaipal Singh Munda, N.E. Horo, Bagun Sumbrai, Sibu Soren etc. Finally, after a long struggle, Jharkhand was carved out of Bihar in the year 2000. From then on, the state had never received a stable government, with BJP ruling the most in short tenures.

After receiving 31.3% of votes in the state assemble election, the Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) came to power in Jharkhand on 28th December 2014. Raghubar Das was sworn in as the 10th Chief Minister of Jharkhand. It was the first time a non-tribal became the Chief Minister of the state. There were protest by Adivasis over the move, but the ruling party assured that Raghubar Das will work hard for the development of Adivasi communities and the state. There was a mixture of skepticism and optimism among the Adivasis of the state over the new government. The true colors of this government only were revealed after the introduction of the new domicile policy on 7th April 2016.

Going backwards to the history of the domicile policy, the Adivasi community, right from the beginning was demanding that the khatiyan (land records) of the year 1932 be made the reference point to determine the actual residents of Jharkhand. Babulal Marandi (who was then part of the BJP), the first chief minister of Jharkhand, initiated the task. After lot of deliberation, in 2002, Marandi proposed that the Khatiyan of the year 1964 be made as a reference point. The non-Adivasis opposed Marandi’s proposed domicile policy. Violent agitation over the issues occurred and finally after tussles between Marandi and his party, he was removed from the post of Chief Minister.

After the BJP came to power in 2014, Raghubar Das, with a majority government at state and centre, sensed the opportunity to impose the domicile policy. The new domicile policy stated that all people living in the state for the last 30 years or more would be considered residents of Jharkhand. Since the majority of influx into Jharkhand took place during 1970s and 80s, this 30 year parameter was probably framed to accommodate the those who came into the State from Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Odisha and other states.

After this policy, an Adivasi who have land records since the year 1932, and a ‘Jharkhandi’ (if it can be called so after the new domicile policy), will also have rights and claims over government jobs and post. This move by the BJP government was certainly anti-Adivasi and pro-outsiders (‘Dikus’). But few people would have expected that the government will go as far as amending the law which is considered the Magna Carta for Adivasis in Jharkhand.

The amendment:

On 3rd May 2016, the cabinet of Jharkhand government approved the changes in the two Act. On 21st May 2016, the government issued two ordinances – The Chhotanagpur Tenancy Act, 1908 (Amendment) Ordinance, 2016 and The Santhal Pargana Tenancy Act, 1949 (Amendment) Ordinance, 2016. There were protests over the proposed amendments. But the government repetitively claimed that the Adivasis has been cheated for a long time and these amendments were made for the betterment of the community.

On 3rd November 2016 the Tribal Advisory Council (TAC) passed the ordinance. Amidst massive protest in the Assembly by the opposition and the Adivasis across the state, the Sections 21, 49(1) & (2), 71(A) of CNT Act and section 13 of SPT Act were amended on 23rd November 2016. There was no proper debate and discussion inside the assemble house and this historic act got amendment in mere three minutes. In these three minutes the fate of the Adivasis in Jharkhand was doomed forever. On 18th December 2016, the Bill was sent to the Governor for signature. After the consent of the Governor, the Bill will be send to the President via the Central home ministry. After the consent of the President the amended Act will become law.

The amendments in the Chotonagpur Tenancy Act 1908 are as following:

  • Section 21 of amended act gives power to the state government to regulate and notify any given geographical area of land for non-agricultural purposes. The state government shall from time to time notify the use of such land. The state government shall charge non-agricultural tax in such land. The standard rate of this tax will not be more than 1% of the market value of the land. The standard rate will be applicable for five years starting from the date of issues of notification by the government. Farmers using land for agricultural purpose within and outside the municipal corporation will not be charged tax under non-agricultural purposes. Land used under non-agricultural purposes will be application for non-agricultural tax within and outside the municipal corporation. Ownership rights of ‘raiyats’ (owners) will be maintained in spite of land converted from agricultural to non-agricultural purposes.

  • In Section 49 (1) it has been stated that state government can incorporated any land for industrial project or any other projects recommended by the state government or projects for the purpose of developmental and social public welfare like road, cannal, railway, cable, transmission, water pipe and public utility services, pipe line, school, college, educational universities, panchayat bhavan, hospital and Aanganwadi. The value of this land will be not less than the rate as determined by the land accusation law.

  • In Section 49 (2) there is provision that the land will be used for the purpose which it has been originally notified. If the notified land is not used for a term of five year, then that land will be returned to the owner (rayiyat) or the descendents. For this the owner does not have to return any amount which was given during the notification.

  • Section 71(A) subsection 2 of the CNT act has been removed. As a result of this, the land of Adivasis cannot be notified as land for the purpose of compensation to anyone.

Amendment has been made in section 13 of Santal Parghana Tenancy Act 1949 which is:

  • Section 13(A) has been installed in the SPT act. This section gives power to the state government to regulate and notify any given geographical area of land for non-agricultural purposes. The state government shall from time to time notify the use of such land. The state government shall charge non-agricultural tax in such land. The standard rate of this tax will not be more than 1% of the market value of the land. The standard rate will be applicable for five years starting from the date of issues of notification by the government. Farmers using land for agricultural purpose within and outside the municipal corporation will not be charged tax under non-agricultural purposes. Land used under non-agricultural purposes will be application for non-agricultural tax within and outside the municipal corporation. Ownership rights of ‘raiyats’ (owners) will be maintained in spite of land converted from agricultural to non-agricultural purposes.

The debate

After the amendment was made, there were widespread celebrations by the workers of BJP. The opposition on the other hand lamented that the day will go down as the black day in the lives of Adivasis in Jharkhand. There were repeated claims by BJP that the amendment has been made for the betterment of the Adivasis and that the original spirit of the Act has not been hampered. Fierce protests have occurred since the Amendment Bill has been passed. Numerous rallies, protest march, band, chakka jam are taking place in which Adivasis from several districts are taking part. Large and small public gatherings are also being organised in both in the state capital and various other places in Jharkhand. The mobilization of Adivasis is majorly being done under the banner of various social organizations like Jharkhand Adivasi Sangharsh Morcha, Adivasi Mulnivasi Astitva raksh Manch, Adivasi Sengal Abhiyaan, Adivasi Budhijivi Manch, Birsa Munda Ulgulaan Manch, CNT/SPT act bachao samanvay manch and numerous other regional and local groups. Whereas, major opposition political parties including Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM), Jharkhand Vikas Morcha (JVM) and Congress have put forth their protest by interrupting the progress of the state assembly, state wide band, press release and issue of statement.

The post amendment period is witnessing the rise of debates over issues which are certainly not new, through very important in the lives of Adivasis. These debates can be categorized in three major discourses.

  1. The question of land and its acquisition

The history of Adivasis of Chota Nagpur reveals the tragic story of land grab and displacement in the name of ‘national interest’. They were always cheated in name of compensation, rehabilitation and employment in industries set on their land. The proponents of the amendment claim that after the land acquisition for the purpose of industrial setup, the change in nature of land from agriculture to non-agriculture purpose will not result in change in ownership of land title of the Adivasi ‘Rayitis’ (original owner). Adivasi activists, on the other hand, claim that this argument is completely lame because once the nature of land changes from agriculture to non-agricultural purpose, then the land will come out of the protection of the CNT and SPT Act. Hence, the land will come under commercial use and be eligible under taxation of the government. Any dispute henceforth brought under the court of law will be settled land dispute act and not under CNT and SPT act.

The amendment also speaks about return of the acquired land to owner once it is not used for its acquired purpose within five years. Similar provisions were also present in Land Acquisition Act of 1894 but in spite this Tata Steal was leased with 12709 acres of land at Jamshedpur in 1907, among this only 2163 acres were utilized. Heavy Engineering Corporation Limited (HECL), Ranchi was leased with 7200 acres of land in 1958, among this only 4031 acres were utilized. The remaining land was never returned to the original owners. The government never took step to make sure that the provision should be followed.

Under these circumstances it is difficult to trust the government and its intention is certainly questionable. The vagueness of the term ‘public purpose’ in Land Acquisition Act and various loopholes in the original act of CNT and SPT provided space for successive governments to acquire land for ‘developmental’ and ‘social public welfare’. Then the big question is why these amendments are necessary? Earlier, the CNT act of 1908 and SPT act of 1949 restricted purchase of tribal land by non-tribal. Only tribal can purchase tribal land and that to with the permission of the District Collector and Police Station. In spite of this, lot of land was acquired for non-agricultural purposed, creating havoc in the lives of Adivasis. This was possible because the original CNT act of 1908 was itself amended for 26 times by successive governments. Then what is the reason for weakening the act further? These are pertinent question raised by Adivasis. They fear that the present amendments will legitimize the land grab and rampant industrialization, leaving them with no shield against the state cum corporate repression.

Land is not only linked with the livelihood of the people but is also part of the identity of the Adivasis. In various public meetings it being repetitively said that without land the Adivasis lose their culture, social life and hence its existence. In one of the public gathering held on 13th June 2017 at Manika, Latehar, Mr. Bhukhan Singh (Adivasi Activist) spoke about the importance of the protection of Jal, Jungle, Jameen and its importance for the identity and existence of Adivasis. His speeches revealed the emotional attachment of Adivasis over the land and other natural resources.

  1. Development model

The BJP government is blaming that those who are part of the agitation are ‘anti-development’, and do not want the progress of the Adivasis because of vested political interest. They are claiming that without these amendments Adivasis cannot conduct commercial activities on their agricultural land. Henceforth, the act is hindering the aspirations of the Adivasis in conducting businesses like shops, hotel, marriage hall, shopping mall etc. They are also giving justification that with the original act Adivasi students cannot take educational loan from banks on the basis of mortgaging their land. The government also asserts that the amendment will lead to progress of the state with industrials development and creating of employment opportunities. This has brought focus over the discussion over development perspectives and what ‘development’ actually means for the Adivasis. Development is not a new word for the Adivasis of Jharkhand. It has been used since independence by various governments.

Adivasis across the state have repetitively challenged the usefulness of the development model promoted by the government from to time. The present government is trying hard to forcefully coerce the Adivasis to accept the corporate model of development. In one of the pamphlets issues by the Jharkhand Adivasi Sangarsh Morcha, they are claiming that with the amendment the present government wants to change the nature of 23% agricultural land of Jharkhand to that of commercial use and acquired for non-agricultural purpose1. It is being blamed that with this move the government is trying to wipe out the traditional occupation of the Adivasis, making them work as slaves and provide a source of cheap manual labor for industries. The intention of the government became clear when they organized the Momentum Jharkhand Global Invertors Summit, held at Ranchi on 16-17 February 2017. During the summit 209 MOUs (around 3 lakh crore of investment) were signed with the Jharkhand government. The government promised to the investors that they will allot land for industrial purpose and are willing to help them at any cost. They also coined terms like ‘ease of doing business’, ‘single window system’ ‘land bank’ etc. After the summit it was found that the government’s ‘land bank’ is actually includes the gair mazurwa or GM land (common land including pastures, hills, religious place etc) of the village. The government claims they have till date 11 lakh 56 thousand acres of land under ‘land bank’. This move by the government without the consent of the village and Gram Sabha has added fuel to fire.

Adivasi activists are blaming that the government is enforcing their development model on the Adivasis, which is based on handing over the natural resources to the corporate companies. Activists are backing their claim with the statement made by the chief minister to regulate the sale of mahua2, which is considered sacred among Adivasis in Jharkhand because of the tree’s medicinal values. Ramesh Jerai from CNT SPT virodh samiti of Kolhan spoke in one of public meet that the government is trying to weaken the economic base of the Adivasis by bringing in regulation in the use and processing of Mahua flower. He also said that the objective of the government is to hand over the license of liquor brewing to private companies, thereby reducing the income of the Adivasis through the minor forest product. The move of the government over licensing and regulations in the sale of livestock is also seen as a threat over rural livelihoods.

The Adivasis have always been cheated in the name of development, compensation, employment and rehabilitation. In spite of the CNT SPT law 30 lakh Adivasis had been displaced from their land. The Adivasis who had always lived in close harmony with the forest are repetitively stated that the present corporate based development model is unsustainable and will cause environmental catastrophe. They had always maintained a good relationship with the environment and been the preserver of environment since time immemorial.

  1. Adivasi autonomy and governance system

One strong feeling that is being emerged is that of the need for autonomy of Adivasis over their social, cultural and political life. Bringing in the historical context, the Adivaisi have repetitively claimed that are owners of land and that their ancestors had worked hard in preparing land fit for agriculture and living, which is now being eyed by corporate and politicians for generating their own profit. In one of the public gatherings organized under the banner of Birsa Munda Ulgulaan Manch at Ranchi on 9th June 2017, Mr. Prem Chand Murmu and Gladston Dunngdung blamed the present government with its new domicile policy and violation of constitutional provision, with a conspiracy to fill all the administrative post by non-Adivasis.

In various gatherings Adivasis are becoming more vocal in challenging the legitimacy of ‘dikus’ (outsiders or non-adivasis) in taking decision on behalf of the Adivasi community. The anger and frustration of the Adivasis was very much visible in one the rallies I attended at Ranchi. The slogan raised by the people were ‘diku sarkar nahi chahiye’ (we don’t want non-adivasi leadership) and ‘Chhattisgarhya vapis jao’ (referring of Jharkhand chief minister Raghuvar Das to go back to his native state). The message is loud and clear that they will no more accept the rule of a non-Adivasi chief minister.

The role of Tribal Advisory Council (TAC) and that of the governor is also being questioned after the amendment. Both TAC and governor have constitutional power to accept or reject policies which are not in favor of the Tribals. Activists blame that both the bodies have failed to address the issues of the Adivasis, and are nonfunctional, being reduced just as a mouth piece of the government. Also, there is growing debate over the legitimacy of a non-tribal (Chief Minister Raghuvar Das) over the chairmanship of TAC.

Adivasi activists are raising the issues governance with reference to the provisions of 5th schedule and the provisions of PESA. They are questioning the validity and legality of institutions like nagar nigam (Municipal Corporation) and Development Corporation (which are coming in urban areas) in 5th schedule area. They claim that by creating these bodies, the government is ignoring tribal autonomy, creating ways for enforcing alien culture and outsider’s rule. The constitution under 5th schedule gives provisions governance system which is meant to guard the social, cultural and economic interest of the Adivasis. In spite of this open violation of constitutional provisions are being made. The state municipal laws are being forced to be applicable in 5th schedule area. In this way little pockets of unscheduled of area are being created within the schedule area. The Ranchi city of Jharkhand is one such example in which the Adivasis have lost control over administration. At a public gathering organized under the banner of Bhumi Adhikaar Aandolan at Ranchi from 29th to 30th June 2017, Deme Oraon, Adivasi activist from Odisha, challenged the provision of body like ‘Rourkela Development Authority’3. He said that the body has been formed in an unconstitutional manner, violating the provision of 5th schedule. He blamed that the government had taken this step to weaken the interest of Adivasis.

The passing of the amendment, the issue of land bank and the violation of rights of Gram Sabha (granted under the provisions of Panchayat Extended to Schedule Area – PESA) is being also continuously raised by Adivasi activists across the state. Addressing a large gathering of people during a national meet at Ranchi, Dalamani Barla – Adivasi activist, spoke at the importance of community life, participation decision making and democracy in Adivasis society. She said that the decision of amending in CNT SPT act and the subsequent declaration of common land under government’s land bank has been taken without the consent of Gram Sabha, which is a gross violation of rights of Adivasis.

The ‘Manki-Munda’, ‘Parha’, ‘Manjhi’ etc are examples of good governance system of Adivasis. The customary laws and system was based on principals of democracy and equality. This system of governance was neglected by the state due to the promotion of the so called national mainstream development. The present agitation of amendment in CNT and SPT has again given an opportunity for assertion for self-rule of Adivasis.

Present situation over the issue

The amended bill was send to governor of Jharkhand (Draupadi Murmu) for her consent. On 25th June 2017, the governor returned the bill to the government for reconsideration and discussion at the State Assemble. She also raised around nine objections, regarding the consequences of the amendment on the people, referring to the issues brought out through 192 memorandums or objections received the governor’s house given by various political and social organizations over the issue. These objections were mainly related to objective of the amendment, change in nature of land from agriculture to non-agriculture, displacement of Adivasis and non-approval from Gram Sabha and violations of PESA. After this move the BJP government, who were earlier adamant not to take back the amendments, came to back foot and on 4th July 2017 the Cabinet decided to nullify the proposed amendments in section 21 and 13 of the CNT and SPT act respectively (relating to change in nature of land from agriculture to non-agriculture). Earlier, at the TAC meeting held on 3rd July 2017, the members had raised objection over the hurriedness of the government over passing the amendments. During this meeting it was decided that one month time will be taken by the TAC members to study the bill and proposals send to the governor by different organization and come up with a decision. With the objective of going forward with the other earlier proposed amendments (or other fresh amendments), the government has postponed the monsoon session of the state assemble which will now be held in the month of August. The keenness of the government over the amendments has drawn criticism and warning by various political and social organizations.

Earlier the BJP government has used all its tactics to suppress the protest over amendment of CNT and SPT. The first of its signs was that of police firing at Khuti while trying to block people from attending a protest rally at Ranchi. The incident took place on 22nd October 2016, where a protester named Abraham Munda being killed in the blockage. Whereas, on 1st October four people were killed in police firing in Barkagaon at Hazaribagh while protesting against land acquisition for coal mining by National Thermal Power Corporation. Similar incident was occurred in Gola block at Ramgarh district, where on 29th August 2017 two people were killed while protecting against non-granting of displacement benefits by a private sector power plant named Inland power limited. These incidences have again raised the anger of the people who were already agitated by the government’s move over the amendments.

Presently, the government is trying hard to break Adivasi unity by creating a rift between the Sarna and Christian Adivasi. BJP is claiming that those who are opposing the amendment are people who have played politics in the name of Adivasis and claimed to be their well wisher. The Chief Minister is also hinting that Christian missionaries, who have promoted conversion, are ‘anti-national forces’ behind the agitation. While addressing a public meet at Gumla on 15th June 2017, the Chief Minister said that conversion is a very serious issue in Jharkhand and soon the party will bring legislation over religious conversion. Earlier, on 7th March 2017, the Catholic Bishop Conference of India (CBCI) header by all India chairmen of tribal affairs Bishop Vincent Barwa and Ranchi archbishop Cardinal Telesphore P. Toppo had met the Jharkhand Governor Draupadi Murmu, requesting her not to ratify the CNT-SPT Amendment Acts. Soon after this the Kendriya Sarna Samiti, a socio-religious-cum-political outfit of the tribals, took a procession against the archbishop. Laxman Gilua, the state chief and one of the tribal faces of BJP, critiqued that “Catholic Bishops should take care of their religion and religious activities instead of interfering in the decisions of the legislature and the government”. Recently at Ranchi, on 9th June 2017, the occasion of martyrdom’s day of Birsa Munda, a rally and public gathering was organized by Birsa Munda Ulgulaan Manch (which claimed to be a common platform for all the social organization fighting to Adivasi rights). The administration blamed that the people who participated in the rally created chaos in the streets of Ranchi by taking out the procession without their permission and also causing loss of public money by destroying the posters of Birsa Munda portrayed by them at the martyrdom’s day. On the next day an FIR was filed against the 14 organizers of the event. The Kendriya Sarna Samiti also came out with a press release on the same day, blaming, that the rally was organized by the Christian Missionaries, who have no respect for Adivasi leaders like Birsa Munda. This event has again displayed the faction between the Christian tribe versus non-Christian tribe. Though, a faction of Kendriya Sarna Samiti is against the amendment.

Senior leaders from BJP including Karia Munda and Arjun Munda have spoken against this move by the state government. Rally and public gathering organized by various social groups are putting pressure on the government to take back the decision. Adivasi Sengal Abhyan has raised the slogan Sarar Garao Jharkhand Bacho. The group is pressurizing the Adivasi MLAs (including in BJP) to resign from the state assembly and pull down the government. They are also threatening that if the Adivasi MLAs will not resign, they will be socially boycotted from their villages and not allowed to enter. With regular public pressure the Adivasi MLAs (especially the members of TAC) are raising concerns for discussion and celebration required over the issue. Though, still lot of Adivasis politicians within the BJP is favoring the amendments. The civil society groups are presently strategizing their future move. However, a coordinator effort by leaders of various groups and movement is of utmost required.

Conclusion:

Land has always been a contentious issue in Jharkhand. The Adivasis, who have always been betrayed and faced the brunt of development induced displacement, will certainly not trust the present government over its captivating claims. The government might have taken back the decision of amending few sections of the law, but its intention is still duplicitous as its eye is fixed over the land and mineral resources of Jharkhand. The civil society should not relax after a temporary victory, as the resistance over autonomy, rights and survival should continue. It is certainly one of the most crucial conjunctures in the history of Adivasis in Jharkhand. It is time we put aside our personal ego and work together in one force to take the community out of this danger.

1Invitation for rally towards Rajbhavan and public meeting for CNT & SPT amendment agitation organized on 13th May 2017.

2Madhuca indica

3Rourkela Development Authority is body created by the Odisha government in the year 1995. This was formed under the Orissa Development Authorities Act 1982. The main objective of this body is ‘planed and systematic development’ of area covering Rourkela civil township, Rourkela Industrial Complex, Rajgampur, Birmitrapur and Sundergarh.

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