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Scheduled Tribes panel order on land transfers hailed

May 15, 2017

Scheduled Tribes panel order on unlawful land transfers is welcome in the interest of tribal peoples, said human rights watchdog, Amnesty.

Raipur/New Delhi: Human rights group Amnesty International India has welcomed a latest order by India’s National Commission for Scheduled Tribes (NCST) to the Raigarh district authorities in relation to unlawful transfer of land.

Calling it a positive move, Amnesty hailed the NCST order that directed the District Magistrate in Raigarh of Chhattisgarh, a tribal dominant state for action in cases of unlawful transfer of Adivasi land.

On May 9, the NCST directed action to be taken under the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act – a special law to protect the rights of Dalit and Adivasi people – in cases where Adivasi land was transferred to other people through forgery.

The order follows recent allegations that about 121 hectares (more than 300 acres ) of land belonging to tribal peoples had been unlawfully transferred to non-Adivasis in Kunkuni village, Raigarh between the years 2009 and 2015. A farmer named Jailal Rathiya who had filed a petition in the Chhattisgarh High Court in relation to the transfer was found dead in March 2017.

Amnesty said that government authorities must protect Adivasi rights and bring to book those who violate the law.

“The dispossession of Adivasi land without their free, prior and informed consent is widespread in Chhattisgarh. The NCST’s recognition that this amounts to a crime against Adivasi communities is a welcome development,” said Karthik Navayan, Programmes Manager, Business and Human rights at Amnesty International India.  
Several members of local communities in villages in Raigarh apprised Amnesty International India about them being forced into selling their land through illegal means like threats, intimidation, coercion and misinformation.

The Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, (PoA Act) criminalises the wrongful dispossession or interference with the lands of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.

In January 2016, the Indian Parliament passed an amendment to the Act, which, among other things, inserted an explainer stating that the word “wrongfully” included dispossession or interference done “against the person’s will”, “without the person’s consent”, or “with the person’s consent where such consent has been obtained by putting the person, or any other person in whom person is interested, in fear of death or hurt”.

In June 2016, the Kerala police registered a First Information Report under the PoA Act against officials of a Coca-Cola subsidiary for alleged pollution and groundwater exploitation.

The NCST order also highlights the intimidation and threats faced by human rights activists. An independent and impartial investigation must be conducted by authorities into the death of Jailal Rathiya. The NSCT also directed authorities to ensure that unlawfully transferred land to return to its original owners.

As per the international human rights law and standards, states have an obligation to protect the rights of Indigenous peoples to free, prior and informed consent on decisions that affect them. This right has also been recognised in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and also by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, to which India is a state party.

Indian laws such as the Panchayat Extension to Scheduled Areas Act or the PESA and the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers Act also require authorities to consult, and in some cases seek the consent of, Adivasi communities before acquiring or using land. However, laws such as the Coal Bearing Areas Act ignore this right, undermining communities’ security of tenure.

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