Home > Archives (2006 on) > 2010 > In Quest for a Proactive Approach

Mainstream Vol. XLVIII, No 17, April 17, 2010

In Quest for a Proactive Approach

Monday 19 April 2010, by B K Roy Burman

Harmonising the Gandhian Orientation for Constructive Engagement with Self-patronising Bureaucratic Narcissism on the One Hand and Militant Left Radicalism on the Other

On April 12, the Statesman News Service (SNS) flashed the observation of a People’s Tribunal to the effect that the “entire executive and judicial administration appears to be totally apathetic to the plight of the poor, specially the tribals. Violations have now gone to the extent where fully tribal villages have been declared to be non-tribal.” The SNS further reported that while giving her testimony to the tribunal, Booker Prize winner and human rights activist Arundhati Roy accused the government of playing into the hands of the mighty corporate houses. She advised the Government of India to give up its current misdirected development policies for the sake of democracy.

It is good that the Tribunal has spoken out and Roy has held out her accusing finger. The magnitude and forms of violation of human rights norms are, however, more extensive than what the Tribunal is reported to have observed. And the nature of the malaise is much deeper and rooted in history than what Roy is reported to have stated. But the moral authority that the Tribunal and Arundhati Roy each commands has the aura of transcendence. This by itself has political therapeutic value of no mean order. Even then, for sustained civil society initiative facts in as much detail as available should be widely known.

In my article published in Mainstream of April 10, 2010, about a dozen types of predatory action by the apparatus of the state have been described. Some of these, promoting the neo-feudalisation process, for instance, symbolise not only accentuation of people’s misery, but the backward journey of the society to the grimace of the Middle Ages. Some others like harnessing nuclear energy without capacity building through research support for taking prophy-lactive action against epidemiological hazards and genetic abberations symbolise social irresponsibility of diabolical dimension.

As regards the aspect highlighted by Arundhati Roy, some more narratives are available with the Gandhi Peace Foundation in the consolidated write-up on my presentation and supplementary communication in the consultation meet on “People’s Movement to Protect Natural Resources” held on March 6, 2010. For shortage of space I do not propose to make any rehash of them in the present write-up.


My presentation at the Gandhi Peace Foundation contains a third part also, covering the action agenda for aspects of the life situation of the vulnerable sections of the population and the slow and steady march to the valley of annihi-lation for humanity as a whole through environ-mental degradation as well as of determined action on several fronts for snatching life out of the jaws of death, of humanist retrieval of the triumph of human will over corrosive cynicism. Relevant extracts from the same with one or two supplements are furnished here.

1. At present statutory recognition of the Gram Sabha is not mandatory for States not having Scheduled Areas. The Gram Sabha as recognition of direct democracy should be by statutes recognised in all States and should be endowed with the same core powers manda-torily formulated at the national level and many and other powers which the State Legislatures may confer at their option.

2. In many tribal areas while the community is the land owning primary entity and individual rights are embedded in community right, such rights are manifested in various forms. As promised by the government in the Lok Sabha (USQ 675 dated 15.4.1987), a survey of such community rights should be carried out by covering the whole of India by involving the Gram Sabhas so as to be able to take appropriate policy decision.

3. Land Survey Acts and Rules in all the States of India should be reviewed with broad participation of different segments of society so as to ensure that

i. Gram Sabhas are involved in actual Survey and Settlement operations.

ii. Appropriate technologies in traverse and cadastral survey respectively are adopted.

iii. The rights of the community and of individuals, as agreed to by the Gram Sabha, are fully and unambiguously recorded.

iv. Before finalisation of the record-of-rights, a draft copy of the same is to be made available to the Gram Sabha for authentication. All existing records of rights in the predominantly tribal areas all over the country should be reviewed with the involvement of the Gram Sabhas to determine whether they satisfy the conditions on the ground as at 4. If not, revisionary Survey and Settlement operations in accordance with the guideline as in 3 should be undertaken.

4. The Mohan Dharia Committee Report on Debureaucratisation of Cooperatives, the Sankaran Committee report on mutually aided cooperatives and the Andhra Pradesh experience about implementation of mutually aided cooperatives should be made widely known. The International Cooperative Association has been advocating for years complete freeing of the cooperative movement from state intervention. The issue should be examined in depth and the cooperative laws should be amended at the Central and State levels.

5. The banking law should be amended to enable banks extend institutional finance to the community as the land holding legal person. For this some preliminary work was done by a committee jointly set up by NABARD and the Nagaland Government in 1989-90.

6. Banking law should also be amended so that in very special situations authorised nationa-lised banks can discharge investment functions with ancillary institutional arrangements so that management and control of the enterprise rest with the tribals for the welfare of the tribes and for augmentation of the quality of the environment. As junior partner the bank should also be involved in decision-making and should share the risk of the enterprise.

7. Along with 161 countries, India has signed a protocol to develop an approach to forest management called Criteria and Indicator (C&I) approach which would combine people’s ecopru-dence at the grassroot level, and research insight at the technical level. It will ensure involvement of community organisations at the grassroot level for the preparation of their working plan. While in 2000 the Government of India had issued a circular advising the States to follow this approach, it seems that there is not much enthusiasm at any level to implement it. There should be a civil society initiative on this; as it seems, this may radicalise forest management with a pro-people orientation to a considerable extent.

8. The Forest Survey of India publishes every second year a report on the status of forests in all the States. Analysis of the same in a time-frame gives very important insight about the changing profile of the quality of forest management in the country. These reports should be discussed in multi-disciplinary forums, as it seems these do not support the premises of forest orthodoxies in many aspects.

9. (a) There is reason to think that the status of bio-diversity research is extremely inadequate in India. Even at the conceptual level there is extremely inadequate understanding of what it stands for. Most of what passes for bio-diversity does not go beyond bio-geography. The wrong concepts about bio-diversity have been found to have adversely affected actual forest manage-ment. The matter should be carefully looked into.

(b) Research priorities and training modules of the forest research and training centres at all levels including FRI and IIFM should be reviewed by an independent agency.

10. There is reason to feel that while several States have gone ahead with the agenda of universalisation of organic farming, research support for the same is extremely inadequate. As a result in some areas the farmers are becoming sceptic. A high-powered review is needed very urgently as it has considerable implication for eco-conservation.

11. (a) While in the context of global warming bio-gas energy generation has assumed considerable urgency, a few years ago it was found that there was over-centralisation of research in this matter. As a result generating plants suitable for different agro-climatic regimes were not available. The current situation should be reviewed and requisite corrective actions should be taken.

(b) It has been found that while adoption of non-conventional energy generating technology requires considerable preparatory work, in many areas such work has not been started, even though much cost is not involved in this matter.

(c) While in India three sites for generation of wave energy have been identified, as some international understanding seems to be needed the matter has not been pursued. Perhaps a more proactive policy keeping international amity and cooperation in view should be pursued.

12. In India while uranium is found in different sites from Kerala to Meghalaya, the radiation level differs considerably from site to site, with different epidemiological effects, and even causing genetic aberrations. But there is reason to think that much systematic research has not been done on this. This has caused much apprehension among the concerned population in this regard. Rightly or wrongly there is a feeling that the reality is being pushed under the carpet. In Singbhum of Jharkhand and in Meghalaya it has been a political issue; there should be a civil society review of this controversial issue.

13. With the involvement of Prof D.S. Kothari (Chairman of the famous Kothari Commission on Higher Education), the NCERT had in the early 1980s got prepared a report on community work as a curricular activity in the secondary level of education. This line of thinking should be further developed and actually implemented at all levels of education. Simultaneously action-research should be carried out so as to make such an approach to education more relevant both for pedagogy and society.

14. There is an erroneous view that science and technology are two sides of the same coin. They are not. Science should develop to expand human freedom. Technology should develop to meet social needs in the specific historical, ecological context. Its trajectory should be prioritised by society.

15. There is reason to believe that most of the entrepreneurial development schemes are marked by fragmented approach all over the country. There should be multi-disciplinary review.

16. (a) In India there is a rapidly growing creative tribal literature and Dalit literature. In 1987 the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, New Delhi initiated the first move at the national level to collect creative literature in tribal languages from all over the country. In 1993 the Indira Gandhi Rashtriya Manav Sangrahalaya, Bhopal made a much larger collection. Now there is reason to think that there are more than 50,000 publications covering almost all genre of literature in different tribal languages. These should be collected at State and national levels and annotated bibliographies of the same should be given wide circulation. Similar action should be taken about Dalit literature, whose vigorous existence however is generally well recognised in the country. This action agenda is very important for two reasons, namely,

(I) the Dalit and tribals should feel that the nation looks upon them with due dignity, and

(II) analytical appraisal of thier creative literature will provide insight into the dimensions and processes of social transformation taking place among the Dalits and the tribals.

(b) The collection of tribal and Dalit literature should routinely be followed by multi-level seminars and workshops.

17. India is very rich in medicinal herbs. In the name of bio-diversity research, drug industries are getting particulars of the same collected and making commercial exploitation of the same. The Kerala Government had taken a commendable initiative along with the Law University, Bangalore to protect the intellectual property rights of the tribals in respect of the same. There should be renewed effort at the national level.

18. (a) India has the unique advantage of having time series village-wise data in more or less uniform format for the 1961, 1971, 1981, 1991 and 2001 census covering the land-use pattern, population data covering gender, number of SCs and STs, literacy, working force by nine industrial categories. In 1971 a frame for analytical interpre-tation of the same at district level was published. Now that time series data are available covering half-a-century, the change in several dimensions can be measured. Unfortunately this work has not been pursued to a significant extent. One of the reasons is that while it requires some capacity to handle large quantitative data, it also requires deep insight about the social organisation of different groups, and life pattern in their ethno-regional variations. There has not been much composite training on the foregoing line. A serious attempt in this direction requires to be made.

(b) The type of social demography with reference to Dalits, tribals and OBCs that scholars like S.D. Thorat are doing is extremely useful. Diffusion of the insights should be promoted from the district to the national level.

19. Some State tribal research institutes have done significant work. It seems that the tribal administration and evaluation agencies have failed to draw upon the same. Annotated bibliography of their researches and research findings should be prepared and circulated.

20. Pending a thorough examination of various aspects of transformation of the political economy, a few tasks should be taken up urgently, to wit:

(a) A competent review of the personnel pattern, norms of function and actual works being done by the State tribal research institutes should be made.

(b) A broad-based public debate on the draft National Tribal Policy of 2006 should be initiated at all levels.

c) A review of the famine codes of all the States should be undertaken.

d) Analysis of published data suggests that while in some areas indebtedness of tribes is rooted in the feudal mode of agricultural production, in other areas, even in the hills, the emerging capitalist system of agricultural production accounts for it. Indepth research and communication should be initiated so that the present rule-of-thumb approach can be appropriately replaced.

e) Preservation and storage norms suggested by the Pollution Control Boards at the national and State levels in respect of different industries and the implementation of the same should be reviewed by multi-disciplinary agencies and the findings should be widely disseminated.

f) NSS data indicate that around 50 per cent of the tribal workers are wage-labour. In their case along with employment generation and asset building under the NREGA, special arrangements will have to be made to ensure that the assets thus created are not alienated.

g) A national workshop on the tribal situation in India of at least seven days duration with requisite preparation under the guidance of a Steering Committee should be constituted in consultation with the ICSSR and broad-based participation should be arranged.

h) A seminar on Peaceful Resolution of Conflicts with involvement of all research institutes recognised by the ICSSR, recognised national level NGOs, University Peace Research Departments, and selected political science, sociology, anthropology, history and law departments should be organised.

21. The Planning Commission-UNDP’s joint projection on Human Development has generated wide awareness about the human development agenda. The concepts are also becoming progressively free from the technocratic approach. The process should be accelerated through broad-based participation of different sectors of society, including academics, social activists, trade unions, peasant organisations and others.

22. It is reported that on the other lands of the villages from where the tribals have run away to take shelter in the camps managed by Salwa Judum or elsewhere, mining holders have commenced their operations. For varying reasons this must not be allowed.

23. The post-independence social, socio-religious, socio-cultural, socio-economic, socio-political and political movements among the tribal peoples and Dalits should be systematically documented and subjected to multi-dimensional analysis in terms of their genesis, role and impact in diverse ecological, including human ecological, and social-demographic contexts. These should serve as essential inputs in the preparation of a proactive initiative to meet the contemporary human imperative and predicaments and invite the political radicals, including the different hues of Naxalites, to be active partners in the uphill task of alleviating the contemporary human situation.

24. a) Action research on application of Mahatma Gandhi’s concept of trusteeship as expounded in 1944 should be undertaken in selected areas after due multi-dimensional preparation.

b) Keeping in view the fact that action research in Mahatma Gandhi’s revised frame of trusteeship requires a wide political space of self-management and also keeping in view the fact that the Seventh Plan Task Force for Tribal Development as well as the Committee of MPs and Experts have put on record their view that while the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution has the grain of self-management, the Fifth Schedule is paternalistic in its thrust, it is to be examined whether (a) a modified Sixth Schedule can be extended to all predominantly tribal areas across the country, and b) the positive provisions of PESA can be mandatorily incorporated in the same.

25. Action research with Gandhiji’s politico-social philosophy as reference requires a legal epistemology

harmonising with the same. In India the Austinian Command Law orentation is the dominant legal epistmology as a British legacy. The classical Indian concept of law as norm regulating the actual life situation of the people finds its echo in Savigny’s concept of law as unconscious organic growth. This along with Duguit’s functional orientation to law focusing on social solidarty should also be subjected to multi-disciplinary discourse.

Prof B.K. Roy Burman is the former Chairman, Study Group on Land Holding Systems of Tribals, Planning Commission, Government of India (1985-86), and former Chairman, Committee on Forest and Tribals Backward Classes Unit, Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India (1980-82).

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