Down to Earth - - COVER STORY -

As In­dia de­bates how to al­lo­cate nat­u­ral re­sources, the north-east­ern states face a pe­cu­liar chal­lenge: com­mu­ni­ties want recog­ni­tion of their own­er­ship over coal, forests and oil, the three na­tion­alised" re­sources.

Th­ese tribal com­mu­ni­ties have tra­di­tion­ally con­trolled vast tracts of land and its re­sources, such as forests and coal, through well-es­tab­lished com­mu­nity in­sti­tu­tions. They are now ea­ger to ex­er­cise their own­er­ship over oil. The Cen­tre has for long pro­tected their au­ton­omy through var­i­ous Con­sti­tu­tional pro­vi­sions. The state gov­ern­ments have ac­knowl­edged this. But as the value of nat­u­ral re­sources touch an all-time high, the gov­ern­ments turn their eyes to the largely un­tapped re­gion, per­haps the most re­sourcerich land­scape in the coun­try. The hy­dro­car­bon re­serves in Na­ga­land may in­crease In­dia's on-shore oil and nat­u­ral gas pro­duc­tion po­ten­tial by 75 per cent. The coal re­serves in Megha­laya are worth 10 times the state's GDP. In Arunachal Pradesh and Mi­zo­ram, 60 per cent and 30 per cent of forests are with com­mu­ni­ties (see map `Cen­tre state com­mu­nity'). As the Cen­tre tight­ens its con­trol over oil, coal and forests, states try to wrest con­trol from it by cit­ing spe­cial Con­sti­tu­tional pro­vi­sions and com­mu­nity rights. With in­dus­tries on board, the states are also ex­ploit­ing le­gal loop­holes to hoard ben­e­fits from th­ese re­sources. Com­mu­ni­ties now find them­selves in a quandary. While tribal com­mu­ni­ties in Na­ga­land and Megha­laya are protest­ing and ap­proach­ing courts to pro­tect their rights over oil and coal, those in Mi­zo­ram, Ma­nipur and Arunachal Pradesh are strug­gling to re­tain con­trol over their forests.

trav­els to the re­gion to un­ravel this fight for re­sources

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