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Arundhati Roy pretends to be a campaigner for tribal rights. Yet she and her husband are in the thick of a controversy over grabbing tribal land in Pachmarhi. Vivek Trivedi reports
Arundhati Roy, the maverick novelist turned activist, who recently was under a raging controversy triggered by her ‘seditious remarks’ on Kashmir and pretends to be a campaigner for tribal rights is now along with her husband in the thick of a controversy over grabbing tribal land in Pachmarhi.
Roy, who during her teenage years had embarked on a homeless lifestyle, staying in a small hut with a tin roof within the walls of Delhi’s Feroz Shah Kotla and making a living selling empty bottles, shot to prominence after inking the novel God of Small Things in 1996, which got her the prestigious Booker’s Prize 1997. Ever since then, the writer has devoted herself solely to politics, publishing two more collections of essays as well as working for social causes.
The novelist has hogged limelight in the last decade for her activities in socio-political plots like Sardar Sarovar Dam project, India’s nuclear weapons programme and corruption of power company Enron.
However, apart from these socio-political plots, the land plot purchased by Roy’s second husband in Pachmarhi, a picturesque tourist destination in Hoshangabad district of Madhya Pradesh has every now and then put the pro-environment outbursts of this writer cum activist’s into suspicion.
Roy’s personality has never been an unknown entity for the denizens of Madhya Pradesh ever since, she bagged the Booker’s Prize in the year 1997 and ensured active association with the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA), opposing the mega Sardar Sarovar Project in subsequent years.
The God of Small Things author, who has earned an image of a passionate activist, fighting tenaciously for bringing justice on social and environmental causes over the years, suddenly decided to fish in troubled waters by making some objectionable remarks on the Kashmir problem recently.
“Kashmir should get azadi from bhookhe-nange Hindustan,” said Arundhati Roy at a seminar last month, where the Maoists hosted Kashmir secessionist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani, which witnessed large-scale protests by Kashmiri Pandits. However, the controversial remarks had failed to impress many across the country and generated flak from socio-political circles.
The crusader of environment conservation and tribals’ rights also has a link in Madhya Pradesh, which puts her image under a cloud. The land plot purchased by her second husband and filmmaker Pradip Krishen has mired this writer-activist into a long drawn environmental controversy.
Krishen had purchased a plot in Bariaam village situated around 7 km from Pachmarhi from a local resident Sharif Ahmed in 1992. The filmmaker had purchased two pieces of land, out of which he sold out one later on and used the second one for constructing a house. The construction work began in 1992 and concluded four years later in 1996.
The Bariaam village is located on the main highway to Pachmarhi falls within the Special Area Development Authority’s (SADA) jurisdiction. This is also a part of the Pachmarhi wildlife sanctuary and provisions of Wildlife Act 1972 prohibit holding any land title in the area.
The Union Forest and Environment Ministry also has declared it as part of an eco-sensitive zone under the Environment Protection Act. Krishen had purchased the land with few others in the year 1992. He completed construction of the house towards the end of 1993, in time for his wedding with Roy in January 1994. In between other buildings also came up in the area from 1993 to 1996. Writer Vikram Seth’s sister Anuradha, a forest officer Nishkant Jhadav and a doctor Jagdish Chandra Sharma also owned land in the notified area.
In between, the Pachmarhi Special Area Development Authority (SADA) had served a ‘stop building’ order on Krishen and Arundhati. The couple however hit back and alleged that they were being targeted for opposing a new development plan for the Pachmarhi area in which hotel-building would be allowed at the cost of despoiling the beauty and sylvan backdrop of the gorgeous tourist destination.
The SADA notice, served on March 12, mentioned that under Section 16 of the state Town and Country Planning Act, 1973, the land use of Pachmarhi and its neighbouring areas had been frozen. It accused Krishen of building his house at Bariaam without valid permission from the Town and Country Planning Organisation (TCPO) and directed him to stop all construction activity. The notice may well be the precursor to a demolition order.
The Forest Department did not lag behind on this issue and local forest officials insisted that Bariaam village had been part of the wildlife sanctuary since 1977. So the plot of land acquired by Krishen violates a provision of the Wildlife Protection Act, amended in 1991, under which no new rights of property can be created in a protected area. However the couple had maintained that Bariaam was a revenue village and it was not in the Army cantonment or within the boundaries of the sanctuary or the national park.
A new twist came in the row, as a local Naib Tehsildar from Pachmarhi cancelled the land title change, which had taken place in March 1992, in favour of Krishen. Roy’s husband and others soon approached the Jabalpur High Court against the move and challenged the decision of the Naib Tehsildar.
The High Court however directed the petitioner to instead appear before the revenue appellate authority, which was SDM in this case. Krishen however told that court that time limit of making an appeal in the case had passed and the court had granted the relaxation in the matter. The order was pronounced in February this year. In compliance with the High Court order, the petitioner has presented an application before the SDO (civil).
There is still some room for respite to Krishen and Arundhati, if the SDM’s verdict goes against them, Roy, Krishen and the others can file an appeal with Bhopal and Hoshangabad Commissioner Manoj Shrivastva.
Roy and Krishen had got embroiled in the land controversy in 2003 when the local administration claimed their elevated bungalow overlooking twin hillocks and vast rolling greens, was in notified forestland.
Then SDM Niyaz Ahmad of Pipariya had acted upon a complaint filed by Vijay Singh, a tribal that Roy’s husband and three others, including Aradhana Seth, sister of writer Vikram Seth, had allegedly encroached on tribal land. Later, Roy’s husband and a few others had moved the Jabalpur High Court against the verdict of the local administration.
The High Court in its verdict, has rejected the appeal and has asked Arundhati’s husband to appear before a sub-divisional magistrate. The order has come four years after the Madhya Pradesh Government had served a notice on Krishen and others for encroaching on tribal land.
Pachmarhi in Biosphere Reserve Programme
The United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) has included Pachmarhi in Man and Biosphere Reserve Programme in 2009. The Man And Biosphere (MAB) Programme develops the basis within the natural and social sciences for the rational and sustainable use and conservation of the resources of the biosphere and for the improvement of the overall relationship between people and their environment. It predicts the consequences of today’s actions on tomorrow’s world and thereby increases people’s ability to efficiently manage natural resources for the well being of both human populations and the environment.
Source : The Pioneer
Bangalore, (India) November 12. 2010. “We are committed to follow the path of non-violence and peace. Standing here at the border, I can feel the wave of love and peace from across. I urge the citizens of both the countries to recognize the voice of peace within and create a violence-free world,” said spiritual leader and Art of Living founder, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar at the Wagah border in Amritsar today, addressing 5000 people from Punjab. Hundreds of followers had also gathered at the Pakistan side waving and carrying The Art of Living and Youth Leadership Training Program placards to listen to Sri Sri. Many were disappointed as he was denied the visa to cross the border.
The spiritual leader, who was a state guest, visited the Indo-Pak border during his five-day tour to the state and also witnessed the official retreat ceremony held in the evening.
As part of his peace campaign, he inaugurated ‘Saanjh’, a musical concert in Amritsar. The concert, based on the Indo-Pak peace mission, saw artists from both countries showcase their talents on a shared platform.
On Thursday, November 11, the performance of Bhangra, organised by the Art of Living in Ludhiana, was considered for the Guinness World Book of Records for an unprecedented number of Bhangra dancers on one stage. This is in continuance of Art of Living’s endeavor to promote Indian culture. Sri Sri witnessed 2,100 dancers performing the Bhangra at the event titled ‘Mehran De Rang’. Thousands took an oath to make Punjab an addiction-free state.
Also present at the event was Mr. Navjot Singh Sidhu, Member of Parliament and former cricketer. Welcoming the spiritual leader, he said, “In our culture a Guru holds the highest place. Today, if the youth are shown the right direction then they cannot only change Punjab but the face of the whole country.”
On Thurdsay morning, Sri Sri addressed more than 5000 young participants at the ‘Exam Special – Youth Empowerment Seminar’ (YES) organized by The Art of Living at Punjab Agricultural University grounds in Ludhiana. After answering questions ranging from peer pressure, parent-child issues, career conflicts and relationship woes, Sri Sri spoke on the rising drug and alcohol menace and urged the participants to shun drugs. “You cannot be enthusiastic or creative if you fall into the trap of drugs. You will lose your smile. Life is enthusiasm, love and joy. Make a friend everyday and ask yourself ‘What can I do for others?’ and see how life blossoms,” he said.
Carrying forward his mission of making Punjab an addiction-free state, he led a Drug De-addiction ‘Maha Sammelan’ in Jhakkar village on November 10. “While Kashmir is the crown of India, Punjab is the face. If the face has blemishes, it does not reflect well. That is why de-addiction is very important. We should raise our voice against this in every temple and gurudwara,” he said.
The event was attended by 25,000 beneficiaries of The Art of Living Drug De-Addiction Program. One such beneficiary Sukhvir Singh from Barnala shared, “I had been taking drugs for over 14 years and had even left my family. After practicing the Sudarshan Kriya regularly I was able to drop my addiction. The youth in Punjab have drowned themselves in this vice. I would now like to work to bring a positive difference in their lives.”
The Art of Living constructed the biggest meditation hall in Ludhiana. The three–storeyed ‘Gyan Mandir’ with a seating of 3,000 people was inaugurated by Sri Sri. This hall is a replica of the tourist-wonder Vishalakshi Mantap (meditation hall) at The Art of Living’s Bangalore headquarters.
During his eventful Punjab tour, Sri Sri visited Chandigarh, Ludhiana and Amritsar. Over a series of satsangs and public interactions he urged the people to drop all addictions, stop female foeticide, practice organic farming and preserve and protect desi cow and desi seeds.
Sri Sri’s tour of Punjab will culminate with prayers at the Golden temple and the Durgiana temple in Amritsar on November 13, 2010.
Now that the dust has settled and the stench (from the shit that hit the fan) has blown away, we can perhaps look at the Adarsh scam a little dispassionately. The media (both print and electronic) really went to town on this because there is nothing that the media loves better than to tear a person?s reputation to shreds and the truth be damned. If Armed Forces officers are involved, the ferocity of the attack is worse because they can in addition sully the uniform and the institution, since the politician and the bureaucrat are impervious. And as they say, “the bigger they are, the harder they fall!”
The ..housing for widows of the “martyrs” of Kargil? is a media creation because the scheme was never meant for them nor was the plot reserved in their name. No government, however magnanimous, would have allotted such a prohibitively expensive plot in a prime location to Kargil heroes or their widows. A more likely place would have been in the satellite town of Navi Mumbai, or in Nagpur or Nasik, where land is available aplenty. The project was never promoted as a housing project for the ..widows of Kargil?; but the Kargil conflict itself was used as a ploy to get the land transferred to the society with the active connivance of the Defence Estate Officers, one of who became a promoter. Because of its location on the boundary of defence land and was in the physical possession of the Army, it had no commercial potential for a civilian project. It was the brain child of Maj Gen AR Kumar, Area Cdr/GOC (1999-2000), when the Kargil war was in progress and his deputy Brig TK Kaul. Subsequently all Area Cdrs and Sub-area Cdrs from 2000 to 2010 have been allotted flats in the building as a quid pro quo apparently to buy their silence. The Navy had no role to play in giving clearances at that time but top naval brass were offered flats all the same as one of the promoters was a naval officer. They were probably offered the “right of first refusal” but refused to refuse the offer. The other lower ranked officers (including a Petty Officer) either got it courtesy of one or other of the promoters or they just got lucky. No one looks a gift horse in the mouth!
The Adarsh plot is not located in far away Yeotmal or Aurangabad but in tony South Bombay (So Bo, as it is called) where property prices are the highest in the world and there is little vacant land left. It is just a stone?s throw away from and in full view of the headquarters of the Maharashtra government, “Mantralaya”, the BMC Headquarters and the Headquarters of the GOC, M&G Area. The building did not come up surreptitiously but grew in stature under the benign gaze of the worthies who occupy these hallowed premises and had their blessings.
The problems really started when the Revenue Minister (now Chief Minister) Ashok Chavan demanded 40% of the flats for civilians (read politicians and bureaucrats). A modest housing project of 6 floors slowly expanded to 31 floors to accommodate the swelling demand from these big wigs who high jacked the project and colluded with the builder to break every rule in the statute book with impunity. The building is a monument to deceit to all the people of Maharashtra/Mumbai/India and not just the Kargil heroes/widows, most of whom have already got houses in New Delhi in the Dwarka project. This project never had any link to ‘war veterans and/or widows of Kargil’ who were the invisible pawns in the game. We have only been compelled by the media to think that way. In fact, membership was restricted to Maharashtrians and those who could prove domicile in Maharashtra – so much so even the two former Army Chiefs did not just walk in – they had to get exemption from the highest levels of the government, even though this is not a government project.
Let us consider the following:
This is India, the country where the Armed Forces are just ‘use and throw? commodities like “curry patha”. This is Maharashtra which is one of the few states that does not have any sympathy or respect for the Armed Forces – the only state that charges the maximum taxes on goods sold through the CSD, including liquor. This is Mumbai which is the only city that does not exempt Armed Forces veterans from paying property tax on their houses even if it is ..self-occupied?.
The Govt could have selected a location where the land is cheaper and available in abundance like Navi Mumbai or also in places to which most of such heroes and widows would have belonged. It is hard to imagine a farmer from Haryana or a villager from Bihar wanting to stay in a tony area with the Ambanis as their neighbours – the Ambani residence SEAWIND is just next door.
The plot had CRZ restrictions due to which only a six-storied building could be officially built; thus, with 3 to 4 flats per floor, maximum 20 three bedroom flats – OR – not more than 30 two bed-room flats. would have come up.
This is a self financed scheme – not free houses. Their life-time savings (even if those martyrs had been alive) could not have enabled them to dream of possessing a house at the above location. The cost of land alone is in excess of Rs 60,000/- per sq. ft.
Heroes and widows of Kargil war number more than one thousand. Most of them have already been allotted flats in Dwarka in Delhi or in their own home states – and hence have no need for a second home. Besides, it is unthinkable that the Army would think of a welfare activity which could benefit just a small fraction of deserving personnel.
The Navy did not participate in the Kargil conflict yet there are several naval personnel amongst the members. The Air Force did participate but not one AF person is a member.
Security clearance from the Navy became an issue only in 2009 after the Navy was made responsible for coastal security in the wake of the 26/11 terrorist strike on Mumbai. The spot where the terrorists landed is only a few hundred metres up the road from Adarsh on Cuffe Parade. That is how the Navy raised a flag; but by that time the building was almost complete.
This was a scandal that was waiting to happen – it is neither the first, nor is it the last in an unending series of such scams that have dotted the Maharashtra landscape. Because of its location, Adarsh is very visible but it is just the tip of the iceberg; what of the innumerable Adarshes across the country which is driven by the greed of the rapacious builder-politician- bureaucrat nexus? The armed forces personnel, serving and retired are guilty by association and of impropriety and collusion. They will definitely face justice of one kind or another but will the politician and the bureaucrat be touched? We have seen what happens to them post 26/11.
55% of Mumbai?s population of 15 million live in slums or on the streets while 13 % live in ownership flats. 70% of the rest live in one-room tenements, some of which are crumbling. In a scenario of such abject deprivation, Adarsh is a monument of shame. Let us not drag the names of Kargil heroes into this filth even by association, which the media (Arnab Goswami and Rajdeep Sardesai) insists on doing. I cannot ask retired officers to stop appearing on TV talk shows, but I wish they would because they make asses of themselves.
– Carl H. Gomes.
KOLKATA(Jul 19, 2009): More than a hundred parents came with the intention to get some ideas about transforming their errant kids. But at the end of the Art of Living workshop called Know your child’, they returned with the conviction that they had never looked at the world as a child looks at it and have been wrong in handling their child.
“The most important thing is allowing a child to be comfortable with himself or herself in a child-friendly environment so that he or she can develop into a happy adulthood with a sense of belonging,” said Muralidhar Koteshwar, one of the trustees of Sri Sri Ravi Shankar Vidyamandir (SSRSV) Trust.
The workshop helps worried parents see things from a child’s perspective and it makes all the difference. For instance, fighting between two siblings is actually good for training the child to be a warrior in life. “A child lives in the present, never in the past or the future. So give the child attention when he or she needs it, not when your time permits. It creates magic,” said Murali (as he is better known in the circle). His simple tips enthralled parents who hitherto thought parenting means a lot of disciplining and whipping. “Punishment robs a child of confidence,” he said.
The workshop actually gives a glimpse into how the Trust sensitizes the teachers of the Trust-run schools across the country on child-friendliness. “In fact, the training of teachers enables them to get a deep insight into the mind of a child. The focus is always on encouraging children to excel without compromising on human values. Children will excel when they are in a stress-free environment. Our curriculum includes daily yoga, asana and breathing exercises, which enable a calm and focused mind. This helps discover the inner potential of every child,” said Murali.
The Trust’s first school in Kolkata is coming up in Alipore. “The academy aims to provide value education in a friendly and stress-free environment. Innovative teaching-learning facilities have been provided to bring out the best in each child and give him or her wings to fly high while remaining rooted in Indian values. The admission will start from September,” said Suvina Shunglu, educational coordinator and junior school headmistress of the academy.
The philosophy of the school is to bring about development of every child in all the three aspects body, mind and spirit. It lays great emphasis on sports, performing and visual arts. Varied interests of the child will be nurtured through activities like creative writing, quizzing, debating, computer programming, out-of-the box arts, martial arts, said Shunglu.
Provision has been made in infrastructure facilities for indoor and outdoor games with a mini gym for toddlers, table tennis, a unique outdoor play station, fields for soccer, cricket and hockey, basketball and badminton courts with experienced coaches. The U-shaped building has been designed to avoid excess heat. Airy corridors and moderate temperature-controlled classrooms are being provided .The latest digital touch screen with overhead projector is being provided in each classroom, said Manish Poddar, the man behind the project.