Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Centre mulls equity war against Maoists

NISHIT DHOLABHAI

New Delhi, April 28: Given a bloody nose by Maoists, the government is planning to add a new weapon to its arsenal — free shares.

Companies taking over land for mining will have to allot 26 per cent “free” equity to people whose plots are being acquired, according to a draft bill the Centre is planning to introduce soon. The move comes in the wake of mounting pressure to find ways to tackle the Maoist problem apart from use of force.

One reason Maoists have succeeded in extending their domain is because they have been able to tap tribal anger over inadequate compensation for land acquired by mining companies.

In Chhattisgarh, where 75 CRPF jawans were slaughtered in an ambush recently, Jharkhand and Orissa, thousands of tribals have been evicted from their ancestral land for mining interests.

To wean the tribals away from the rebels, the government, sources said, has come up with the free equity plan.

According to the draft bill, a mining company has to “allot free shares equal to twenty six per cent in the company… in case the holder of the lease (the land being taken over) is a company”. If the holder of the lease is a person, “an annuity equal to 26% of the profit after tax” has to be given as “annual compensation”.

The draft Mines and Minerals (Development & Regulation) Act, 2010, also proposes that the mining company has to provide employment and/or other assistance in accordance with the rehabilitation and resettlement policy of the state government concerned.

Government sources said they hoped the draft bill would address these issues through the “partnership” plan. “Their (tribals’) home is being taken away so how will they feel. The point is being driven home,” said an official with the mines ministry.

Ministry sources said mining companies had raised objections to the provisions in the bill, but the government was determined to introduce the partnership scheme. The sources said the bill could come up before the cabinet for clearance in a few weeks.

The bill envisages the involvement of gram sabhas or district councils or panchayats — as the case may be — who would identify the families to be affected by mining projects, directly or indirectly, before the commencement of operations to “ensure appropriate benefits”.

“A mining welfare fund will be set up, funds from which will be only for tribal land,” sources in the government said. The plan is to create “model villages”, added an official.

The bill also proposes a mandatory Corporate Social Responsibility document to be attached to the mining plan. The document envisages a scheme for annual expenditure by the mining company on socio-economic activities in and around the mine area to facilitate self-employment opportunities.

P. Chidambaram’s home ministry, too, has come up with a plan to assuage tribal sentiments. It has proposed free power for villages within a certain radius of power plants. “People should not feel that the power generated from their land is benefiting only the rich in cities,” said a home ministry official.

Civil society groups, however, say the government should implement its plans first and then talk of mining. Justice Sachar, of the Citizens’ Forum for Peace and the man who probed the condition of minorities in India, said: “First let them (tribals) have their share, alternative land and then speak of mining….”

Home ministry officials said the focus was now on “micro-management” to understand the problems of tribals. On April 30, MPs from 34 districts most affected by Maoist violence will be briefed by home ministry officials. “We can put things right in the bureaucracy, but it is the duty of MPs to go and talk to affected people,” said a source.

On policing, the ministry wants to deploy police personnel “sympathetic” to tribals. “Otherwise, the tribals would obviously find the Maoists better although the Naxalites have their own selfish agenda which the tribals do not know,” said a senior official.

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