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Updated: August 03, 1995 05:00 PM GMT
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A pro-Hindu political party has accused Christian missioners of blocking tribal development by instigating them to oppose a hydroelectric project in Bihar state, eastern India.

Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) south Bihar general secretary Divakar Minj claimed missioners engineered opposition to the 710-kilowatt Koel Karo project because they "feel it will hamper Christianity´s growth in tribal areas."

Accusing missioners of being instrumental in destroying indigenous religious and cultural traditions, the BJP officer announced their plan to step up a campaign for compensation to evacuees starting Aug. 9.

Minj, a tribal, told reporters that missioners fear the project will make tribals "economically stronger" and courageous to "resist allurements to become Christians."

On July 1, tribals in Chotanagpur region in Bihar imposed an indefinite people´s curfew in opposition to the 17.5 billion rupee (US$565 million) project, saying it threatens their cultural heritage and ancestral lands.

The project comprises two earth dams across the Koel and Karo rivers, the region´s major waterways, and a 34.7-kilometer transbasin channel linking them. It is expected to meet power-starved Bihar´s energy needs.

However, tribal activists and environmentalists said the dams will displace 150,000 people in 16,350 families, 90 percent of them tribals.

BJP spokesperson Saryu Rai told UCA News at Patna, the Bihar state capital, that there is no harm in the government going ahead with the eviction, provided "satisfactory alternative arrangements could be made."

Suraj Mandal, a tribal member of parliament, dismissed BJP allegations as baseless, noting that political and non-political organizations not connected with missioners also questioned resettlement objectives.

At a political meeting in July, he stressed that a foundation stone-laying at Torpa village, the main site of the project some 1,175 kilometers southeast of New Delhi, should be done with "the peoples´ consent."

Member of parliament Krishna Mardi, leader of the predominantly tribal Jharkhand Mukti Morcha, said successive Indian governments failed to implement a Supreme Court order on displaced peoples.

A spokesperson for Chatra Yuva Vahini (CYV, young students vehicle), a Bihar activist group, said tribals opposed the project since its inception in 1954.

CYV asserts that the peaceful protest is irrelevant in the Koel Karo struggle because of "foul play" by project officers.

"While the project cost escalated from 1.4 billion rupees to 17.5 billion rupees, the cost for rehabilitation does not show a proportional increase," the CYV spokesperson said.

In the 1970s, the National Hydel Power Corporation (NHPC) set 120 million rupees to rehabilitate 800 families. It later removed 165 families, triggering protests. It now lists 440 families and 100 million rupees for rehabilitation.

State Chief Minister Lallu Prasad Yadav, prior to his July trip to Singapore to woo foreign investment in Bihar, expressed his determination to see the project completed and called protesters "anti-development."

Observers said that despite BJP anti-Christian propaganda and Yadav´s development strategy, ongoing tribal unrest has forced politicians of all parties to study the project´s social cost.

The BJP is backed by upper-caste Hindus and money lenders who resent tribals asserting their rights, they said, and before Christianity came to the region in 1834, money lenders and upper castes took tribal land on flimsy grounds.

Catholic missioners who came in the 1870s followed an integrated approach, teaching tribals to assert their rights and fight poverty and oppression.

They opened schools even in remote areas, credit societies, saving schemes, seed banks and agricultural training to develop self-reliance.

Catholics now have some 300 parishes and missions, 200 hostels, 400 schools, 20 colleges, 26 technical and vocational centers, and welfare and social action centers, hospitals and dispensaries. Few now go to money lenders.


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