In a startling instance, a Union minister from the Congress party has dashed off a letter to the Andhra Pradesh governor, urging him to take action against the state government ruled by his own party
In a strongly-worded letter to Andhra Pradesh Governor ESL Narasimhan, Union Minister for Tribal Affairs and Panchayati Raj V Kishore Chandra Deo has urged him to exercise his executive powers to put an end to the alleged bauxite mining going on in the tribal region bordering Andhra Pradesh and Odisha.
The letter was written by Deo, a member of Parliament from Araku in AP, on March 14 this year.
Deo pointed out that Vizianagaram district, a Schedule V area (dominated by Scheduled Tribes), has witnessed a spurt in violence due to Left-wing extremism. Maoists are returning to their former stronghold, regrouping, assembling weapons and recruiting new cadres, warned Deo.
The extremists have also gained the sympathy of local tribals who are threatened by the rampant bauxite mining in the region, said Deo, adding that the Maoists are targeting agents and members of the mining lobby.
Deo pointed out that as per the Alienation of Land Transfer Act to protect the rights of Scheduled Tribes living in Schedule V areas, a non-tribal person cannot be allowed to purchase or even lease a piece of land in the region.
In blatant violation of the SLTR Act, alleged Deo, the state government had inked Memorandums of Understanding with several corporations for mining of the precious bauxite. It had also granted several mining leases to the AP Mining Development Corporation. None of these corporations are owned or controlled by members of Scheduled Tribes, said Deo.
Presenting a strong case against the mining of bauxite ore and its effect on the tribal population, Deo claimed that it would destroy the sources of three rivers that originate from this region -- Gosthani, Champavathi and Sarada. These rivers are the main sources of irrigation in Vizianagaram and Visakhapatnam districts and also provide water to the Tatipudi and Raivada reservoirs, which supply drinking water to the two districts.
Deo implored the governor to exercise the special powers vested in him by the Constitution, pertaining to Schedule V, to cancel the MOUs to 'maintain/restore peace and good government'.
Incidentally, while Deo is a minister in the Union Cabinet of a coalition government headed by the Congress, the Andhra Pradesh government is also ruled by the same party.
In his letter, Deo has cited several instances when a state governor had exercised his/her Constitutional and 'wide, discretionary' powers to direct that a law of the state government shall not apply to a scheduled area, without consulting the council of ministers.
Stating that extremist activities in the area had reached a point where they were 'threatening national security', Deo told the governor that his intervention was crucial to send out a strong message about the critical situation that was 'haunting the minds of Scheduled Tribes'.
Nearly two years ago, in June 2010, Deo had shared his concerns with then Union Minister for Mines Bijoy Krishna Handique.
In a letter to the tribal affairs minister, Handique had assured him that as per the information available with his ministry, no mining lease had been granted for Visakhapatnam district. But he conceded that prior approval for bauxite mining had been given as far back as 1957, to APMDC and the National Aluminium Company.
Handique admitted that there had been 'some opposition' to mining operations and they might have some negative impact, but the 'positive impact cannot be ignored'.
He further argued that as a result of mining activities, the 'living standards of people in periphery areas changes substantially due to direct and indirect employment opportunities'.
But Deo was apparently not convinced by the arguments put forward by Handique. The increase in Maoist violence in his constituency has prompted him to seek the scrapping of a law put in place by a state government ruled by his own party.