Return to Stories

Dark Side of the Boom

The state of Jharkhand is home to one of the largest Adivasi (tribal) populations in India. It is also the location of an estimated 40% of the country's deposits of coal, iron ore, uranium and other minerals considered essential for India's industrial and energy needs. Unfortunately for Jharkhand's Adivasis, the mineral wealth lies beneath the land that they have farmed and hunted on for millennia but for which they do not hold title deeds.

As the original inhabitants of the Indian subcontinent, Adivasis have ancient land rights protected by law. But 'in the national interest' they are being forced to leave their ancestral lands to make way for new mines, steel mills and hydroelectric projects, with little or no compensation. Once their farms, villages and forests are swallowed up by industrial development, many Adivasis are reduced to scavenging on the edges of new mines, gathering bits of coal or other minerals which they try to sell, earning just 50 or 60 rupees ($1) per day.

While the media focus on India's recent economic boom and the new urban middle class, this is the darker side of the story. In this India, 'development' has brought environmental destruction and the loss of traditional, sustainable ways of life. Meanwhile raw materials flow out to faraway cities that the rural poor will never visit. Jharkhand is, as one local put it, a 'paradox - rich land, poor people'.

Some Adivasis are trying to fight the new economic reality. They have a history of resistance since leading the first ever rebellion against British colonial rule a century before Gandhi. As in earlier rebellions, resistance can elicit a violent response; police and paramilitaries have killed Adivasis protesting against new industrial projects on tribal land. The tough reaction of the police has in turn encouraged support for the Naxalites, a Maoist guerrilla movement, dedicated to the overthrow of the Indian government, which is spreading across parts of rural India among the displaced and disempowered.

The choices India makes about its industrial development and energy policy in the 21st century will have an impact beyond its borders as the burning of fossil fuels speeds global climate change. The indigenous people of Jharkhand, who worship nature and who have always lived sustainably on their land, are already suffering the consequences of the development path the government has chosen to pursue so far.

A full text by Jennifer Wallace is available.

View the multimedia presentation here.
powered by