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Monday, June 09, 2014

   

Primitive Tribals of Odisha allege violation of rights by Forest Department Officials

 

"When the tribal community of Kiri village in Odisha's Sundargarh district opted to shift from a village in the interior forests to a place that is one KM towards the bordering forests, what made the forest department people to oppose the shifting and go to the extent of torching the huts of the tribals? Are the forest department officials empowered to do so with members of a Primitive Tribal Group (PTG)? Is such an act by forest department people permitted under the laws meant for protecting the rights of the tribals and for protection of the forests?"

 

HNF Correspondent

 
 

Members of a primitive tribal group (PTG) known as ‘Paudi Bhuyan’ made allegations before media persons in Bhubaneswar on May 17, 2012, that officials and workers of the Odisha State Forest Department torched their huts in the forests under Bonai subdivision of Sundargarh district on April 15, 2012. At least 20 families of the Paudi Bhuinya tribal community from ‘Kiri’ – a village in the interior parts of Mahulpada G.P in Sundargarh made this allegation while sharing the story of their plight.

The families were living on a hilltop in the forest since last hundred years being deprived of minimum facilities like a road for communication and all kinds of government support meant for the PTGs. Due to absence of all weather commuting facilities, many of the village people died on the way while being taken to the hospital.

 

However, the tribals considered the village unsuitable and inauspicious after the death of those people and the whole community decided to shift to the old place of their ancestors at Kansaldarha in the Mahulpada reserve forest near village Derula which looked more suitable for habitation and their traditional agrarian activities. After consulting the villagers of Derula, majority of whom are also from the same tribal group and obtaining their consent, the members of community living in Kiri village constructed 18 huts by cleaning the forest and started living in the new place from last Oct-Nov 2011.

Things were going well because the villagers of Kiri lived as a part of the community living in Derula village. But things changed suddenly when the forest department people came to know about the new habitation. The officials and workers of forest department went to the spot with diesel and kerosene, threatened the community to vacate the place or face the consequence. On the particular day when the community members went into the forests out of fear, the forest department people set the huts on fire disregarding the requests by the accompanying Derula VSS (Van Suraksha Samiti) members. In this inhuman act, the tribals lost most of their belongings including their clothes, ration Card, voter cards, rice etc. The tribals who shifted to the place for a better life lost everything and became homeless.

The question comes here is, when the tribal community of Kiri village opted to shift from a village in the interior forests to a place that is one KM towards the bordering forests, what made the forest department people to oppose the shifting and go to the extent of torching houses? Are the forest department officials empowered to do so with members of a PTG? Is this act permitted under the laws meant for protecting rights of the tribals and conserving the forests?

The inhuman act of forest department people clearly says that the government of Odisha and the district administration completely failed in implementing and executing protective Acts like PESA (Panchayat Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act of 1996, SCST Atrocity Act, 1989 and FRA (Forest Rights Act), 2006. While under PESA Act, the consent of villagers of Derula makes the shifting lawful, the Forest Rights Act of 2006 not only recognises the individual and community forest rights of the Paudi Bhuinya community living in the area under Section 3 of it but the Act also protects the tribals under Section 4 (5). So, the inhuman act of the forest department officials is an open violation of the rights of the tribal community.

After the incident drew notice of outsiders and there was pressure from various organizations on the issue, the district administration provided them with plastic to stay in and food stuff as immediate relief and decided to settle them in the same place.

However, no concrete step has been taken yet to bring the life of these tribals back to normalcy. ‘Even though the Collector of Sundargarh has declared on April 25, 2012 to resettle the tribal families at the same place by providing each with one acre of land, the local Tahsildar is playing to allot the land to the tribals’, says Narendra Mohanty, a rights activist.

‘The administration has also failed to take any action against the forest department people who engineered this act of torching the huts of the tribals. The officials involved in the act must be brought under law. But, as the district administration is completely silent about taking any action in this regard, it seems to be the part of a design to oust the tribals from the forests ’, said Prafulla Samantara, Lokshakti Abhiyan President and Member of National Alliance for People’s Movement (NAPM).

The members of tribal communities and activists raising their issues demanded that the shifting of habitation by the tribal families be considered lawful and their new habitation be recognised by the government or provide with a built house and 10 acres of agricultural land to each family to shift to a new habitation, as proposed and decided by the administration.

 

 

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