HRF letter to The Chairman of National Commission for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes on Proposal to amend LTR Act, Andhrapradesh

The Chairman
National Commission for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes
New Delhi
Sub: Govt of A.P. – A.P. Scheduled Areas Land Transfer Regulation Act – amendment harmful to tribal interests mooted – request intervention – Art 338(5) – regarding

This is to draw the Commission’s attention to the efforts being made by the Government of Andhra Pradesh to amend the A.P.Scheduled Areas Land Transfer Regulation Act (the L.T.R.Act, in short) and the Mines and Minerals (Regulation and Development) Act (the MMRD Act, in short) to permit lease of lands to rich and influential non-tribal private persons (including companies) in the Scheduled Area of Visakhapatnam and neighbouring districts in order to undertake the mining of Bauxite and the production of Aluminium on a large scale.

We do not know whether the Government of A.P has consulted you in the matter as is mandatory under Art 338(9) of the Constitution of India. Whether it has done so or not, we wish to invoke your initiative under Art 338(5) to investigate into the matter and advice the State government to desist from undertaking the proposed amendments and consequent actions which are: (i) unconstitutional; and (ii) potentially very harmful to the tribal people.   

The Scheduled areas of Visakhapatnam and neighbouring districts are believed to possess a very sizable deposit of Bauxite. The total deposit is estimated at 750 million tonnes, of which 515 million tonnes are said to be in what is being called the Chintapalli group of deposits in Visakhapatnam district.

The Government of Andhra Pradesh, which has an ambitious programme of rapid development defined exclusively in terms of growth rate of GDP, has been eyeing this deposit as a source of industrial growth. In tune with current philosophy, it wishes to lease out mining rights to private companies, preferably foreign companies.

It perceives two legal hurdles to its project. One is Sec 3(1) of L.T.R.Act, which prohibits all transfer of land from any person to a non-tribal in the Scheduled areas of the State. The Supreme Court, in Samatha vs State (1997), has interpreted the word `person’ to include the government too. Hence the government cannot lease out land to nontribals in the Scheduled Areas. Now the State government wishes to amend the section and declare that `person’ does not include the government.

The other legal hurdle is Section of 11(5) (A.P.State Amendment) of the M.M.R.D.Act which prohibits mining leases in Scheduled Areas except to tribal persons or societies composed exclusively of tribals. The State government now wishes to delete this provision.

We believe that any extensive mining in the Scheduled Areas will have a devastating effect on the life and livelihood of the tribal people. It does not matter whether it is in the public sector or the private sector. The promise being made by the State government, namely that tribal people will get jobs in the bauxite mines and the Aluminium factory, is nothing but a mirage. The experience with all big industries has been that the displaced persons rarely get the jobs they are promised at the time of ousting them. If this is true of oustees in general, it is much more true of tribal people since very few of them have the technical qualification or expertise that the industry would demand. A few of them may get some work as casual labour, but the majority are likely to lose their livelihood in the forest with no job to compensate for that. Marginalisation often ending in either destitution or criminalisation has been the lot of displaced tribals in the mining-industrial zone of  Central and East India.    

Promise is also being made that the displaced tribals will be rehabilitated elsewhere. But it is to be noted that the Scheduled area is located on a hilly and forested terrain. The livelihood of the Scheduled tribes is based on cultivation (settled as well as slash and burn) and minor forest produce. No rehabilitation on the Hills is possible since the forest is Reserve forest. And where is the government going to find cultivable land down the Hills for all the persons likely to be displaced ?

These promises are meant only to create illusions for the consumption of the gullible tribal people, and to obtain the consent of the Tribal Advisory Council. The consent has been obtained, but that is not the end of the matter. The statutory amendments that the State government seeks to effect are beyond the competence of the State legislature, since the Supreme Court has held in Samatha vs State (1997) that the prohibition against transfer of land in Scheduled areas to nontribals is contained in paragraph 5(2) of the Fifth Schedule of the Constitution itself.

But since the State government may be inclined to rush in where saner minds would fear to tread, we request that the Commission should intervene immediately and exercise its responsibility under Art 338(5) of the Constitution to prepare a report on the matter and advice the State government accordingly, so that the life and livelihood of the Scheduled tribes are protected.

                                                                                       Yours truly

(S. Jeevan Kumar) 

 (R. Madhusudan Raju)

 (K. Balagopal)

Address for correspondence:
S. Jeevan Kumar
H.No 3-12-117/A2/1, P.S.Colony
Ramanthapur, Hyderabad – 500013

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