Column : Who’s here for the tribals?

Dec 22 2012, 02:15 IST
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SummaryAuction of coal blocks might bring huge financial gains to the government, but what do the tribals get?

In recent times, the issue of coal block allocation has seen unprecedented discussions in the media, Parliament and legislative assemblies of various coal-bearing states. But amidst the heated political discussions, what has clearly been missed, is a serious effort or thinking in setting things right. While CAG’s revelation vis-a-vis allocation of coal blocks has given enough ammunition to various political parties to sling mud at each other, it’s the poor tribals who continue to lose out as ever before.

In the wake of recent economic developments, there is no denying the fact that natural resources like coal, iron ore, etc, need to be put to prudent use. Unfortunately, policymakers at various levels have inevitably failed to gauge the hopes and aspirations of the poor and marginalised tribals of the country.

In the last eight years itself, 138 coal blocks have been given away to the private sector almost free of cost in the name of captive usage. Often, a picture is painted that tribals are anti-development, but if any sane person would bother to analyse the conditions under which these coal blocks have been allocated, he would realise the apathy with which the poor tribals have been treated. There are inherent flaws in the principles on which coal block allocations are made. For instance, the Punjab State Electricity Board, a public sector undertaking, was given a 3,000-acre coal block in Puchwara region of Jharkhand in 2006 for supporting the fuel requirement of the state’s power plants. Within days, PSEB gave away 74% equity in the project to a private company, EMTA. This JV company subsequently acquired the 3,000 acres at an average price of just about R1 lakh per acre, the highest price paid to any farmer being just R1.41 lakh per acre.

When a tribal is made to give away his roots for a throwaway price like this and then is made to realise that “his” land is a source of major prosperity to a private sector developer, will he not feel agitated? It needs to be understood that it’s practically impossible to put a concrete economic value to the land in a remote tribal area. For the tribal, it’s the only source of sustenance, and this should be the only factor in mind for policymakers when dealing with the issue of tribal land.

The question here is what is the right balance? The inherent problem here is that for private sector companies,

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