“We came to know of it from Google—these days, you can find out everything on Google,” Prabhu Dayal Oraon, a 54-year-old resident of Basiya, a village in Jharkhand’s Latehar district, told me, in February, about the recent coal-block auctions. “If we sit and decide, nobody can do anything in our villages,” he said. “The governance of the parha raja is even recognised by the state. No bada babu can do anything. Article 244 gives us rights to manage our forests.”
Oraon is the parha raja of his community. A parha is a local politico-sacral institution that comprises a cluster of up to two dozen villages. Each parha is presided over by a chief, whose responsibilities include protecting his people and resolving conflicts over land. Article 244 of the Indian Constitution says that the provisions of the Fifth Schedule are to be applied for the administration and control of Scheduled Areas, identified by the government as having a sizeable tribal population and facing relative deprivation. These provisions include the establishment of Tribes Advisory Councils—such as parhas—which are to be consulted before making any regulations that pertain to Scheduled Areas, and allow for restrictions on the transfer of land in such areas.
Basiya abuts the Chakla coal block. In the commercial coal-block auctions that began in November 2020, the Chakla block was auctioned to the aluminium manufacturer Hindalco. More than eight hundred hectares of land will be diverted for mining. Residents of four villages—Chakla, Hariyatoli, Nawatoli and Ambuatanr—are likely to be displaced.