The Indian state has actively supported the encroachment of the imperialist capital in collaboration with feudal elements on the lands of marginalized communities and the natural resources of India. The latest amendment to the rules of the Forest Conservation Act of 1980, called the Forest Conservation Rules 2022, is a legal vehicle to ensure that imperialist plunder, exploitation and subsequent ecological devastation can be carried out in an easier manner. One of the fundamental changes legally introduced by the new rules is the removal of the provision where the central government had to seek the consent of the village-level Gram Sabhas for clearance of any development project in areas where tribal farmers are settled. The autonomy of the Adivasis over their own land has been taken away by this law.
To be clear, the law itself is merely a factor in the larger changes that have been ongoing at the service of imperialism for a much longer time period. These new rules are actively in violation of the Indian state’s own laws, in The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 (FRA), in the Panchayat Extension to Scheduled Areas (PESA) Act, 1996 and even notifications issued by the Ministry of Environment and Forests in 2009. This so-called democracy bends at the will of capital and the law merely functions as an arm to further facilitate exploitation. In the new framework, the Adivasis will learn that their land has already been pawned off by the Indian state to big bourgeoisie and landlords after the act, their approval is to be sought when Stage 1 of clearance had already been granted. In case they do not approve, their only option is to take the matter to court!1 A specially constituted Forest Advisory Committee (FAC) would have the task of approving projects first and the state administration would finish the rest. In a judicial system where cases take decades to find resolution, justice is an exception that becomes more and more difficult to find. The legal changes, in fact, represent the open terrorism against its own people that the brahmanical Hindutva fascists have resorted to, shedding all pretensions of a democratic rights-based framework to facilitate their goals of serving foreign finance capital.
Dilution of Rights and the Plunder of Natural Resources
In environmental conservation law, the “precautionary principle” is considered a fundamental aspect and the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), under the Environment Protection Act, 1986, is an important tool in highlighting the potential environmental hazards of various ‘developmental’ projects. EIA is therefore, a part of the democratic exercising of the Constitutional right to clean environment. Yet, this tool has seen a dilution with amendments introduced in 2020, with the introduction of seeking post-facto EIA clearance. Essentially, industries can flout all environmental conservation norms and only after an EIA is done after commission of the offense, they can be penalized. This penalty is usually a compensation to be paid to the state.2 This practice has already seen its fair share of ecological disasters, particularly with the example of LG Polymers India plant in Visakhapatnam. LG Polymers India, a subsidiary of the South Korean giant LG Corporation, had a plant in Visakhapatnam where a gas leak in May 2020 led to the death of 12 people, injuries to another 585, affecting 20000 people from the five villages near the plant. The villages saw a massive impact on their social and economic lives, with animals implemented in husbandry also incurring deaths and injuries along with freshwater bodies, farmlands, soil, vegetation and livestock incurring long term impacts.3 LG walked away from this situation by paying a compensation to the state, even when the EIA report after the gas leak clearly highlighted complete negligence from LG as the cause of the leak.4
A similar situation occurred with the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013 (LARR Act). This act regulates the power of the state to acquire land for various projects from private persons. This act itself was nothing more than an aesthetic change to the colonial Land Acquisition Act, 1894. The act has had a history of using the bureaucratic state structure to grab land on a mass scale in the name of ‘development’ and ‘public purpose’ at the service of imperial capital. Even on paper, this nature is apparent in the fact that only 80% of the persons holding the lands to be acquired for a private project need to consent for land to be lawfully stolen. This number is lowered to 70% only when it comes to public-private-partnership (PPP) projects, a renewed fad post-neoliberalization in India wherein the bureaucratic capitalist state takes the financial burden of creating space for imperial capital. One example of this is the Delhi Airport Express Metro project, or the Orange Line of the Delhi Metro, wherein the Ambani’s Reliance Infrastructure Ltd. somehow attempted to reap the financial gains of the construction project while the state, like its lackey, acquired land for the project while offering virtually no compensations , took the financial burden of the Rs. 5500 crore project through PSU bank loans and other state-funding measures while Reliance only paid Rs. 1 lakh for their share! In fact, Reliance itself only functioned as an intermediary, while CAF Spain, MTR Hong Kong, Siemens Germany and RailOne AG Germany ran the project in reality through import of technology since Reliance itself had never constructed a metro project.5 Land acquisition undertaken wherein not even the entirety of the people whose lands are being stolen for such sham projects are required to consent are a clear violation of any semblance of democratic rights. In fact, in 2015, the BJP government attempted to dilute this even further but had to change strategy amid opposition. They are now pushing those changes through introducing state-wise amendments to land laws, with one particular example being Jharkhand where the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement (Jharkhand Amendment) Act, 2017 was introduced to remove the need for the state to do a Social Impact Assessment as required under the larger LARR Act. Even though the provision is still nominally there, it has lost its substance in this state amendment. This amendment also removes the need to hold public consultations with Gram Sabhas and that land may be acquired by way of merely publishing a public notice by the state.6 Given that Jharkhand is a mineral rich region with vast natural wealth, this amendment attempts to remove any pretenses of democratic rights for the sake of creating better conditions for expansion of imperial capital’s domain.
In terms of the new Forest Rules, this farce started to reveal itself very early on, as the bureaucracy had actively attempted to subvert the right of consultation of Gram Sabhas even legally. In 2012, the Ministry of Environment and Forests had tried to dilute this right by moving the requirement of Gram Sabha approval to the second stage of the clearance of projects, that is, after the state had already taken the money from the big bourgeoisie and had handed over the land. The Ministry was unable to concretize this as a law at the time, but this became the de-facto practice that was followed for the clearance project, without legal sanction. Even so, this failure to legally introduce this practice was due to the success of the people’s struggle to protect Niyamgiri Hills from big bourgeoisie bauxite mining projects of Vedanta. The Supreme Court had to side with the people, affirming that Gram Sabha consent was required, in Orissa Mining Corporation vs Ministry of Environment & Forest & Others, 2013.7
Myth of Democratic Rights Fractured Under Operation SAMADHAN-Prahar
The FRA, 2006 was introduced to enforce the rights of the Adivasis on their own land by making a provision that the consent of the Gram Sabha is required prior to the approval of the so-called developmental projects. Multiple sections of the Act would reinforce the authority of the village-level government body, the Gram Sabha, on these matters. Yet, it is now clear that such legal pretensions were made as part of a larger project of the Indian state in its genocidal war against Adivasis as part of the erstwhile Operation Green Hunt, as a measure to appease and subvert Adivasi resistance against plunder of their lands for the sake large-scale mining and afforestation projects. The Adivasis faced the lumpen goons at the service of imperialism, the fascist Salwa Judum militia which would burn villages, plunder farmland, rape women and murder with state sanction. As agents of imperialism, the Indian comprador bourgeoisie, such as the likes of Vedanta Limited, Tata Steel, Jindal Group, Adani Group, South Korean group POSCO and the Ambanis attempted to steal thousands of hectares of Adivasi land, rich in natural wealth, with the legal change serving as part of the larger “Hearts and Minds” strategy of the Indian state to win over the Adivasi people by selling the myth of democracy to them.
For clarification, a comprador, in the original sense of the word, was the Chinese manager or the Chinese senior employee in a foreign commercial establishment in colonial China, a member of the bourgeoisie who serves foreign capital and has its interest closely tied with their own interests. Compradors grew significantly as a class, by serving foreign monopoly capitalists as conditions prevailing in a colony or a semi-colony are detrimental to the growth of an independent national bourgeoisie. This class is parasitic in its relation to imperial capital for their own sustenance and thus form a close nexus with feudal landlords and rely on heightened bureaucratic intervention from the state. For example, the recent Adani thermal power project in Godda was developed and constructed by Chinese imperialist capitalist, SEPCO3, while Australian capital is funneled into the project through Adani’s Australia subsidiary, Bravus Mining & Resources. Further, Adani funneled in US capital in the project by taking a debt of 1.3 billion USD from Indian state, which in itself relies on foreign debt to sustain a free fall of the Indian Rupee.8 Therefore, it is apparent that India does not have its own independent capital generation and relies deeply on imperialist capital. The majority of the capital reproduction and production work is being done by imperial capital and the electricity which is also being transferred to Bangladesh by Adani’s project is just the propagation of imperial capital in Bangladesh through Indian expansionism.
With the victory of the Bharatiya Janata Party in 2014, open onslaught of brahmanical Hindutva fascism on all fronts began, with Operation Green Hunt being transformed into the significantly more aggressive and elaborate Operation SAMADHAN-Prahar. The new forest rules legalize the practice of seeking the post-facto approval of the Gram Sabhas. Given the nature of India and its lack of true democracy, it should also not come as a surprise that a study conducted by journalist Chitrangadha Choudhary in Keonjhar, Odisha, discovered that the state authorities would utilize fake approvals from fictitious Gram Sabhas to carry out their projects even when the law was supposedly favourable to the Adivasis.9 Academic Tushar Dash would add that “from 2014 onwards, the rate for diversion [of forest land] has increased from 6,000 hectares to 10,000 hectares a year. Most of these diversions are for mining and infrastructure activities.”10 Plunder of resources and land by extra-legal means has only increased manifold under fascism and the legal changes merely make way to advance this further.
Pay A Small Entry Fee to Enter A Free-For-All For the Resources of India!
The new rules legally concretize what the fascists dub “compensatory afforestation.” Given that the land in question is forest land and holds significant ecological value, imperial capital must also satisfy the ideological fantasies of ‘sustainable development,’ bourgeois environmentalism and whatnot. Ignoring that these lands are home to the Adivasis, compensatory afforestation requires the state to establish tree plantations as compensation for the afforestation that these massive projects would eventually lead to, by seeking funds from these projects at fixed rate for the amount of forest land they ravage. This market rate is called ‘net present value,’ which, in the last 13 years have only been re-evaluated once. The state essentially froze the market rate of the land at prices deemed in 2009 and allowed the destruction of forests after taking their token fee in the name of sustainable development.11 This sort of pay-to-plunder policy is also not restricted to these rules alone, as the same has also become policy when it comes to the EIA, as previously mentioned.
The cause behind legally changing the procedure is to fastrack the process of stealing Adivasi land and grant these holdings at a faster rate to big bourgeoisie and landlords at the service of foreign finance capital. This is in part of India’s focus on creating an “ease of doing business” and the “New India” branding that the brahmanical Hindutva fascists do on a world scale. In an 11-year period, from 2008 to 2019, 300000 hectares of ecologically sensitive forest land was diverted to such projects and put up for afforestation. Compensatory afforestation at market rates frozen in 2009 ensures that the state will never make enough to match the environmental destruction caused. Using such frameworks, the state only sells the myth of progressive nature of capitalism, trying to cover up the moribund nature of imperial capital.
Peoples’ Resistances and the Need for Mass Struggle
The issue of the forest rules is not one restricted to Adivasis but is a concern for all the people. The environmental damage created by mass scale afforestation affects every single person on the planet. Even so, protracted people’s struggles such as the one in Niyamgiri, the resistance against Tapi-par-Narmada river link project in Gujarat, the resistance against Sardar Sarovar Dam, the on-going people’s resistance in Silger, etc. continue to struggle against corporate loot and function at the forefront of true environmental struggle. Under the fascist Operation SAMADHAN-Prahar, the state has set up warzones in the homes of people, with military camps which dictate every aspect of life around them and armed personnel occupying every area where resistance stems up. In fact, they would themselves start to take up land as postulated under new forest rules to set up their military camps and outposts. Incidents of openly firing on gatherings and unlawful detainment become part and parcel of daily life.12 Such large-scale invasion into the lives of people is part of a larger project in the state’s attempt to militarize resource-rich areas, to genocide the people who live there so as to create easy access for imperial capital to create its space. The forest rules therefore, are an integral part of the larger project of Operation SAMADHAN-Prahar and India’s war against people. The defense of the environment from this project as well as the preservation of the lives and homes of Adivasis is therefore a concern for all Indian peoples and the concern of working-class peoples worldwide.
by Mukundan, student of law at O.P. Jindal Global University
- Jha, Shuchita. “New FCA Rules Not in Compliance with FRA, Endanger Rights of Tribals and Forest Dwellers.” Down To Earth, July 29, 2022. https://www.downtoearth.org.in/news/forests/new-fca-rules-not-in-compliance-with-fra-endanger-rights-of-tribals-and-forest-dwellers-84052
- Mishra, Anurag, Neha Mohanbabu, and Krishna Anujan. “Draft EIA 2020 Undercuts India’s Biodiversity and Climate Goals.” Down To Earth, September 3, 2020. https://www.downtoearth.org.in/blog/environment/draft-eia-2020-undercuts-india-s-biodiversity-and-climate-goals-73201
- Bisht, Digvijay Singh. “Vizag Gas Leak: Govt Report Details Short and Long-Term Impact on Nearby Areas.” Down To Earth, July 17, 2020. https://www.downtoearth.org.in/news/pollution/vizag-gas-leak-govt-report-details-short-and-long-term-impact-on-nearby-areas-72343
- Kumar, Manish. “Years of Neglect Led to Vizag Gas Tragedy.” Mongabay, May 20, 2020. https://india.mongabay.com/2020/05/years-of-neglect-led-to-vizag-gas-tragedy/
- Varman, Rahul. “Public Private Partnerships – Subsidy and Impunity for Private Corporations.” Research Unit for Political Economy (blog), January 3, 2022. https://rupeindia.wordpress.com/2022/01/03/public-private-partnerships-subsidy-and-impunity-for-private-corporations/
- Kiro, Santosh. “Opposition Unites to Fight BJP on Land Act Amendment in Jharkhand.” The Wire, June 22, 2018. https://thewire.in/rights/opposition-unites-to-fight-bjp-on-land-act-amendment-in-jharkhand
- Orissa Mining Corporation vs Ministry of Environment & Forest & Others, WP (Civil) No 180 of 2011.
- Kondratieva, Ksenia. “ Adani Power Seeks ₹10,000-Cr Loan from REC, PFC for Godda Plant; to Export Power to Bangladesh .” The Business Line, January 14, 2019. https://www.thehindubusinessline.com/companies/adani-power-seeks-10000-cr-loan-from-rec-pfc-for-godda-plant-to-export-power-to-bangladesh/article25994247.ece.
- Choudhury, Chitrangada. “How To Steal a 79,000-Crore Rupee Forest.” People’s Archive of Rural India, February 26, 2016. https://ruralindiaonline.org/en/articles/how-to-steal-a-79000-crore-rupee-forest/
- Trivedi, Divya. “Where Would the Proposed Forest Conservation Rules Leave Forest Dwellers?” Frontline. The Hindu, July 24, 2022. https://frontline.thehindu.com/environment/snatch-and-grab-proposed-forest-conservation-rules-2022-dilute-rights-of-forest-dwellers/article65661818.ece
- Rupavath, Prudhviraj. “Changes in Conservation Rules Ease Development Projects on Forest Land.” Frontline. The Hindu, November 3, 2022. https://frontline.thehindu.com/environment/spotlight-no-jungles-out-there-changes-in-conservation-rules-ease-development-projects-on-forest-land/article66056457.ece
- Forum Against Corporatization and Militarization (2022) On The Repression of Tribal People in Silger, Revolutionary Democracy. Available at: https://www.revolutionarydemocracy.org/rdnsv1n2/Silger.html
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