Ministers only speak of issues like building a road or doing small favours; the larger issues have never been addressed,
Chandrapur's sizeable adivasi population has been in the political wilderness for a long time. Parties have done little to bring the original inhabitants of this forested district in Vidharbha out of it.
"Ministers only speak of issues like building a road or doing small favours; the larger issues have never been addressed," says Godrupatil Zumnake, member of Chandrapur's Zilla Parishad.
Chandrapur's MP is Hansraj Ahir of the BJP, who has again been nominated from here. In the last election, he beat Naresh Puglia of the Congress by over 59,000 votes. The voters in the district are likely to experience a feeling of déjÀ vu, as Puglia is again the Congress candidate.
Vijay Siddawar, general secretary of Elgar Pratishthan, a people's organisation, says Mr. Ahir has done good work in the region and Puglia is recognised as a labour leader. However, the major issues, especially relating to the adivasis, remain largely unaddressed.
There are about three and a half lakh Scheduled Tribes (ST) in Chandrapur, comprising 19.7 per cent of the total population of over 20 lakh. In the absence of a political voice, elections have little meaning for them.
The scramble for resources squeezes the tribals of Chandrapur from many directions. They have been systematically losing their lands to non-adivasis.
"In the 70s, there was a massacre of adivasis by non- adivasis like the Banjaras and Other Backward Castes. Around 18 tribal villages were pillaged. Adivasis have lost lands on such a large scale that many have left the region and the tribal population has depleted," says Mr. Siddawar who has been fighting for pattas (land titles) for them.
Maru Jhangu Kodafe, from the Kolam tribe, says there is now an ashram school on his land. "I have land, but no ownership," he says.
Struggles to reclaim land have met with violent opposition with 513 cases of atrocities being registered. Over time, the resistance waned and land grabbing stopped by 2004. However, the fight for land rights is far from over. Even those who have got pattas complain that encroachers have not vacated their land. The landless do not get loans from banks and have to turn to the traditional moneylender or the sahukar. Typically, they repay one and a half times or twice the amount borrowed.
Political parties have been silent over the issues of pattas as non-adivasis outnumber the STs and form a majority vote bank, says Mr. Siddawar.
Nor have they addressed the issue of water scarcity in Chandrapur. Around 65 villages in the district suffer from water scarcity, says Paromita Goswami, president of Elgar.
According to Ghanshyam Ramesh Meshram, taluka secretary in Jiwati, one of the most backward taluks in Chandrapur, people have to walk two kilometres up and down the hill to fetch water. The irrigation scenario is equally dismal. Of the 11,000 hectares of agricultural land, only 3,000 hectares are irrigated. Because of this, Chandrapur can reap only one harvest. Not a drop has flowed from the Gosikhurd dam project in Nagpur, and the Amalnala lake, meant for irrigation, now supplies water to the district's cement factories, says Siddawar.
Although bereft of basic necessities, Chandrapur is on the road to industrialisation with cement factories, mining projects, a thermal power station and paper mills lining the rocky landscape. But this is likely to be of little solace to the adivasis, who have little access to healthcare and lack even the most basic facilities.
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