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Promise of land

Print edition : Oct 27, 2001 T+T-

Kerala's Adivasi Dalit Action Council ends its struggle over land and livelihood issues following an agreement with the State government.

R. KRISHNAKUMAR in Thiruvananthapuram

THE 48-day-old agitation over land and livelihood issues undertaken for the tribal people in Kerala ended on October 16 following a seven-point agreement between the State government and the Adivasi Dalit Action Council. The Adivasi "refugee camps" erected by the agitating tribal people outside the State Secretariat and the Chief Minister's official residence in Thiru-vananthapuram and in the district headquarters were dismantled soon afterwards. There was jubilation in the streets, and praise for C.K. Janu, chairperson of the Action Council, who led the agitation.

This is what the Adivasi agitation has seemingly achieved for the 3.2 lakh tribal people:

* "Wherever possible", the government is to provide five acres (two hectares) of land to each landless Adivasi family; at other places, the offer is a minimum of one acre, which can go up to five acres, "depending on the availability of land";

* A five-year livelihood programme is to be implemented in the land thus provided until it becomes fully productive for Adivasis to sustain themselves;

* The State is to enact a law to ensure that the land provided to Adivasis is not alienated as had happened in the past;

* The State Cabinet is soon to pass a resolution asking the Union government to declare the Adivasi areas in the State as scheduled areas, bringing them under Schedule V of the Constitution;

* The government also gave a commitment that it will abide by whatever decision the Supreme Court takes on its appeal against the Kerala High Court order quashing the unpopular law (the Kerala Restriction on Transfer by and Restoration of Lands to Scheduled Tribes Bill, 1999) passed by the State Assembly in 1999;

* The government is to implement a master plan for tribal development and the plan is to be prepared with the participation of Adivasis;

* The maximum possible extent of land will be found and distributed in Wayanad district - at least 10,000 acres - where there is the largest concentration of landless Adivasis.

The agitators' demand that all landless Adivasi families must be given five acres each has not been conceded. Chief Minister A.K. Antony told Frontline it was impossible for any government to agree to such a demand in a State where there was so much pressure on land. But the government had readily agreed to provide at least one acre during its earlier round of discussions with leaders of the Action Council and other tribal organisations (Frontline, October 26).

In effect, this is what the Action Council accepted eventually.

This does not mean that the agitation was a failure. For the first time, landless Adivasis in Kerala have got a firm commitment from the government on at least one acre of land. They are also to get the protection of a new law preventing any further alienation of their land. In Janu's own Wayanad district, the government is to make an extra effort to find more land for Adivasis.

Perhaps the most important fallout of the latest agitation is that both the government and the Action Council leaders have succeeded in shifting the focus of the nearly 50-year-old tribal struggle in Kerala from the issue of "restoration of alienated land" to one of "land for the landless tribal people".

In short, whether Adivasis are any better off as a result of the agitation will be known only in January 2002, when the government, as per its promise, has to start distributing the land. The identification of the beneficiaries would prove a major hurdle in the interim period.