World Rainforest Movement

India: Jatropha plantations destroy the livelihoods of poor local communities

The plans for the establishment of jatropha plantations aimed at the production of biodiesel are based on the alleged availability of “barren and degraded” lands in the country. Within government there is a belief that large areas within forests are wastelands, including degraded forests, pasture and grazing lands, and under-stocked forest land that could be used for jatropha plantation.

Indigenous and local communities contest the criteria of barren and degraded lands. For instance, many arid and semi-arid ecosystems have been classified as ‘barren and degraded’, in spite of the fact that those areas are often inhabited and used by communities, who themselves do not consider them to be barren nor degraded. When these lands are categorized as such, this opens them up for jatropha plantations, or other so-called “land improvements” that the affected community may strongly oppose.

To fulfill their ambitious jatropha plantation targets, state governments like that of Chhattisgarh virtually let loose the forest development corporation (FDC) and the forest department (FD) and give them a free hand to carry on this mission. Both FDC and FD officials started indiscriminate planting of jatropha saplings on any land, forest or non-forest, or disputed, that they could lay their hands on, often forcibly, leading to major rights violations of the vulnerable forest communities, dalits and tribals, severely curtailing their rights to livelihood.

During the second half of 2007, hundreds of tribal families, living for generations in the forests of Chhattisgarh, were displaced from their cultivable land by the forest department and jatropha was forcibly planted on their lands. “Incidents of such forcible planting of jatropha by the forest department have happened in at least five districts of Kawardha, Bilaspur, Korba, Kanker and Rajnandgaon,” said Pravin Patel of Tribal Welfare Society.

Baigas are an indigenous group, spread across the forest regions of Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh. These tribals live in extreme poverty; grow some staple food such as kodu, some lentils and paddy where they have access to cultivable lands. A large number of them engage in manual work and tend to cattle.

As Budhu Ram of Baridih in Bilaspur district, described, “The local forest officials, usually forest guards and deputy ranger, accompanied by the Sarpanch (village Panchayat chief) come with a big herd of cattle, which runs amok over their crops, trampling them down and destroying them totally. Subsequently, that crop land is forcibly planted with jatropha”.

This is precisely what happened in the Baigatola of Baridih village on August 7, 2007, when 400 heads of cattle were herded into the cultivable land of the Baigas, destroying their Kodu crop planted in June. The whole area was then planted with jatropha saplings. The Baigas fought back, uprooted the jatropha saplings and filed a complaint with the local police. But the Baigas, Bhils and dalits in other villages were not so lucky. Protesting villagers in Belgahona, Konochara, Mithtu Nawagaon and Kekradihi were beaten up by the forest guards and arrested by the police. In the process more than 150 families lost their cultivable land, the only means of their subsistence.

The story repeats itself in the forests of Kanker and Bastar districts. According to Ratneshwar Nath of Parivartan, an NGO working among the tribals of Kanker and Bastar districts, at least 355 families of 27 villages were affected and displaced by the forcible planting of jatropha on their land. “More than seventeen hundred acres of land cultivated by the tribals for generations, have been taken away from them for planting jatropha”, Ratneshwar said.

Field visits and media reports indicate that forcible plantation of jatropha on the land of tribals and dalits, on village common lands and grazing lands are rampant in the other districts of Raipur, Dhamtari, Kabirdham, Durg, Rajnandgaon, Korba, Sarguja and Jashpur.

All for the sake of feeding cars!

Article based on a yet to be published report by Souparna Lahiri for Friends of the Earth International. For more information, please contact the author of the report: