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The Other Side of India's Boom

1000 Conflicts Now

by Asian Centre for Human Rights, New Delhi, December 12, 2007

Instead of attempting to address the root causes of these conflicts, the State’s tactics to deal with local conflicts are making things worse.

In combating insurgency the State has not advanced much beyond the tactics of the British Empire. The response is based on the idea of "divide and rule": pitting one local group against another. The use of the vigilante groups has been traditionally limited to insurgency affected areas.

ACHR Weekly Review
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Index: Review/197/2007

There are two booms in India. With over 9% growth rate so far in 2007, India’s economy is booming. India’s other boom is in conflict. Instead of attempting to address the root causes of these conflicts, the State’s tactics to deal with local conflicts are making things worse.

In combating insurgency the State has not advanced much beyond the tactics of the British Empire. The response is based on the idea of "divide and rule": pitting one local group against another. The use of the vigilante groups has been traditionally limited to insurgency affected areas. But it is clear that the State has now extended these policies to counter protests against forcible land acquisitions that fuel India’s industrialization.

I. State sponsoring conflicts to suppress protests against land acquisitions

Across India, social movements of the dispossessed and displaced face harassment, intimidation and violence. As the poor get left out of the benefits of India’s extraordinary development, protests against development projects have turned into mass-movements. While the companies usually start by seeking to provide inducements, in most cases the offers have been inadequate. Then the State, often with the militant cadres of the ruling party and backed by the security forces, seeks to resolve the conflicts with brutal force.

a. Nandigram – State supporting the CPI-M violence

Nandigram of West Bengal has become synonymous of the conflicts with the Special Economic Zones (SEZs) that provide attractive economic packages such as fiscal sops, tax concession, exemptions from environmental clearance to companies setting up factories and businesses. Across India, a total of 404 SEZs have been formally approved and 165 have been approved in principle under the SEZ Act of 2005.[1] As of 30th November 2007, a total of 172 SEZs have been notified and therefore started functioning.

Nandigram - identified by Salem group of Indonesia for establishment of its Chemical factories - has turned into a battleground between armed cadres of the ruling Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) and the anti-land acquisition Bhumi Uchhed Pratirodh Committee (Land Eviction Resistance Committee, BUPC), made up of poor people who do not want to sell their lands, and are allegedly backed by the opposition Trinamool Congress. Gross human rights violations have been committed with absolute impunity as the State government either perpetrated or remained complicit with the violence of the ruling party cadres.

On 14 March 2007, 14 BUPC protesters were shot dead by the State police. An inquiry by the Central Bureau of Investigation was ordered. On 16 November 2007, the Calcutta High Court declared the police killings as “unconstitutional”, unjustified” and awarded compensations of Rs 500,000 (US$ 12,690) each to those killed, Rs 200,000 (US$ 5,076) to each of the rape victims and Rs 100,000 (US$ 2,538) to each injured person.[2] The State government has since challenged the order before the Supreme Court.

On 28 March 2007, the chemical hub project at Nandigram was declared abandoned by West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee[3]. But conflict continued.

As the CPI-M cadres “recaptured” the areas in Nandigram from 6 November 2007,[4] an unknown number of supporters of the BUPC were killed, women raped and displaced from their homes. Shockingly West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee justified the actions of the CPI-M cadres saying that the victims were “paid back in the same coin”.[5] Given the view of the head of the State government it is hardly surprising that West Bengal Police did nothing to prevent the violence. With much reluctance, the Central security forces were called but the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel who are required to operate under the command of the State Police allegedly did not receive instructions and support from the local police to bring the situation under control.

On 5th December 2007, the CRPF personnel dug up five graves at Bamanchak village. On 10 December 2007, the CRPF personnel found another grave at Parulia village in Nandigram. Many other burial sites remain undiscovered.[6]

b. Orissa government’s role for violence against protestors against the POSCO Steel Plant

On 22 June 2005, the government of Orissa signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Korean Pohang Steel Company (POSCO) to set up a steel plant at Paradeep in Jagatsinghpur district. The investment of $12 billion represents the largest ever foreign direct investment in India. The project will displace around 4,000 indigenous/tribal families.[7]

Local indigenous/tribal peoples have come together under POSCO Pratirodh Sangram Samiti (Committee for Resistance Against POSCO) to oppose the POSCO steel plant. The state has responded with violence against those opposing the plant.

On 29 November 2007, POSCO Pratirodh Sangram Samiti activists were attacked by supporters of the steel project in Balitutha in Jagatsinghpur district.[8] The attackers hurled crude bombs at the protesters, 15 members of POSCO Pratirodh Sangram Samiti were injured and their tents burnt down.[9] Instead of taking action against the attackers, the State government deployed large number of armed policemen around Dhinkia village, the headquarters of the POSCO Pratirodh Sangram Samiti.[10]

As we upload this issue of ACHR Weekly Review, the villagers of Dhinkia are effectively being detained in their homes. All three exits are being manned by pro- POSCO activists along with the state armed police.[11] About 13 platoons of armed forces have been deployed in the three gram panchayats (Village Councils) under Ersama block in Jagatsinghpur. Prohibitory orders under Section 144 of Criminal Procedure Code, which prohibits assembly of more than five persons, have been imposed.[12]

c. Taking over the lands allotted to the Adivasis in Munnar of Kerala

The ruling Communist Party of India (Marxists) cadres in Munnar of Kerala have been forcibly taking over lands earmarked for distribution to Adivasis, indigenous peoples. In 2003, following the killings of the Adivasi protestors at Muthanga, the State government allotted an acre of land each in Chinnakanal to more than 700 tribal families. However even after four years, only 540 families have received land. Some 200 tribal families have built makeshift huts on the government land in Munnar in protest.[13]

But on 26 November 2007, they were attacked by the CPI-M cadres. Over 2,000 CPI-M cadres captured a 1,500-acre stretch of prime government land in Munnar’s Chinnakkanal area and forced the 200 Adivasi families to flee. The CPI-M cadres destroyed the huts of the Adivasis and put up party flags to symbolize their victory. They fenced off the area and began constructing their own huts there. In the evening of 27 November 2007, an all-party meeting was called by the Munnar Additional District Magistrate. The meeting decided that both the CPI-M and Adivasis would move out of the area within 48 hours.[14] But Adivasi leader C P Shaji was attacked by alleged CPI-M cadres after leaving the meeting.[15]

II. Repeal the Land Acquisition Act

At the root of the crisis is the concept of ‘eminent domain’ under which State exercises its sovereign power to grab land under a concept of “public purpose” under the Land Acquisition Act of 1894. “Public purpose” under the Land Acquisition Act has increasingly come to mean the State taking over the lands for the benefit of private companies. The land is taken without prior consultation or adequate compensation of the landholders. The government of India has never sought to address the need to amend the Land Acquisition Act of 1894 but instead only sought to address the symptoms - relief and rehabilitation of the displaced persons.

Even the government’s attempts at relief and rehabilitation have miserably failed. In 2003 the government of India adopted the Relief and Rehabilitation Policy. It failed to address key issues and a draft National Relief and Rehabilitation Policy was issued in 2006. It also failed to address the key concerns. As the conflicts over SEZs and other development projects have further intensified the government has recently issued the 2007 National Relief and Rehabilitation Policy. It fails again, among others, to mention about the need for amendment of the Land Acquisition Act of 1894.

Unless the State recognizes the rights of individuals/groups over their lands, protests against acquisition of lands for socalled development purposes will intensify. This requires repeal of the Land Acquisition Act of 1894 but the States, instead, respond only with violence.

III. Prevent militia-isation of the civilians

India urgently needs to rethink its approaches to opposition against industrial projects by the land owners. Encouraging formation of politicized militias is not the answer. An untrained, unaccountable and undisciplined militia is only likely to deepen the localconflicts. They are likely, in due course of time, to become a serious security concern for the State. The creation and support of these groups will impact negatively on peaceful reconciliation efforts, since they have the effect of setting neighbours and communities against each other.

Similar experiences from elsewhere are too extremely negative. Civil defence groups like the Patrullas de Audodefensa Civil (Civil Defence Patrols) in Guatemala were responsible for atrocious human rights abuses and contributed to deepening of the conflict. In Colombia, the para-military forces have been encouraged and financed by the State to confront the ultra left wing Fueras Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) with disastrous consequences on human rights and conflict resolution.

As the State governments tend to blame the alleged Naxalites for any protest against land acquisition, India must not increasingly follow the disastrous practices of militia-isation of the civilians as practised across Latin America.


2. Firing wholly unjustified: HC, The Statesman, 17 November 2007

3. Buddhadeb scraps Nandigram project, Rediff News, 28 March 2007,


5. Buddhadeb accuses Centre of delay in CRPF deployment, The Times of India, 13 November 2007  

6. Grave in Nandigram paddy field, The Times of India, 11 December 2007  

7. “Atrocities at Singur, India:A matter of rights of the dispossessed”, ACHR Review No. 144/06, Asian Centre for Human Rights

8. Opposition to POSCO mounts, The Hindu, 1 December 2007

9. Divide over Posco plant turns violent, yet again, The Telegraph, 1 December 2007

10. Uneasy calm at POSCO project site, NDTV, 9 December 2007

11. Posco protesters held hostage, The Hindustan Times, 10 December 2007  

12. Patnaik’s dig at Posco ‘peace’, The Telegraph, 10 December 2007

13. After CPM men attack activist, tribals refuse to vacate Munnar land, The Indian Express, 29 November 2007  

14. After Nandigram, red terror in Munnar, The Indian Express, 28 November 2007

14. After CPM men attack activist, tribals refuse to vacate Munnar land, The Indian Express, 29 November 2007


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