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Whom the State prefers – Gandhians or Maoists  !!!

"Even though there has been louder slogans on tribal development echoing across the power and political corridors of Orissa and India as well, it's a known fact that the innocent tribals are often being victimised by corrupt and manipulative officials in the administration and the greedy exploitative contractors and businessmen. But still there is a hope alive under teh surface, finds Social Activist Vidya Das."

Vidya Das : October 24, 2009

It had all started on 26th January, 2008, when the Mandibisi Gram Panchayat passed a unanimous resolution against the continuation of the liquor Bhati in their Panchayat.  It was the Naveen led Biju Janata Dal government, which had in its very first year, reformulated the Non-Timber Forest Produce (NTFT) policy and given the rights to panchayats in tribal areas.

Now, this very government had formulated a liquor policy which resulted in opening of licensed liquor shops in all the tribal areas. This was counter to the past policies on liquor followed in the tribal areas, where household liquor brewing which is a traditional part of the lifestyle of the tribal communities was allowed, this provision is actually part of the Bihar and Orissa Excise Act of 1915 and is still adhered to in the Excise Policy of the Orissa Govt.

In fact, there are two Acts, The Bihar and Orissa Excise Act, 1915, Secction 26 – A and The Provisions of the Panchayats, Extension to The Tribal Areas Act, (PESA) 1996, Section 4.m.i,  which specifically emphasise the rights of the Gram Sabha in the 5th Schedule areas to control liquor trade.

So when Mandibisi Gram Panchayat passed a Gram Sabha resolution on January 26th, they were taking a perfectly legal step in keeping with the Constitutional Sanctions for self-rule in tribal areas. But, their hopes were soon destroyed, as an indifferent administration refused to acknowledge the rights of the Gram Sabha and on the contrary encouraged the liquor bhatti to continue its nefarious activities.

Then in November, 2008, the district administration issued a routine notice to all panchayats seeking objections if any to the liquor breweries in the different panchayats. Failure of registration of complaints within 30 days of issuance of the letter, would lead to the breweries continuing as before. The Secretary, Mandibisi Panchayat suppressed the letter initially, then panicking at what might happen if his perfidy was discovered, disclosed the contents to Nandu Majhi, Sarpanch of Mandibisi.

>>> Scroll down to read rest of the Story


In a short time, a Gram Sabha was organised, and women and men came together to once again passed a resolution for closure of the liquor Bhati. Leaders of the Panchayat, then went to meet the District Collector, handed him the resolution, and requested him to once again close the bhatti.

The District Collector assured them that the 'Licence expires in a few months time and that from Orissa Foundation Day this year (1st of April, 2009) the bhati will be closed'. 1st April (Utkal Divas or Orissa day) passed, May Day (1st May) passed, but the Bhatti continued, full steam.

In the meanwhile, following complaints from the Bhatti Manager, cases were registered against several leaders in the Panchayat, as well as against Nandu Majhi. The people appealed to Sumani Jhodia, who was seen as a natural leader in Kashipur Block, and she led a delegation to meet the SP and complained about police harassment. The SP was extremely sympathetic and assured them that he would look into the issue and do his best to close the bhatti  and that he would ensure that no arrests were made. The status quo continued for somedays, till Phulsingh Nayak from Mandibisi was arrested. Infuriated, the people broke the OS Shop completel  and more cases were registered. However, the liquor shop owner quickly re-built the whole thing and resumed business as usual.

Nandu, however, was not to be subdued. On 6th July, another representation under his leadership went to Rayagada and demanded to know why the bhatti has not been closed. The Collector first tried to evade the issue by saying that the Gram Sabha had not been conducted with due procedure and that the bhatti could not be closed as it was providing revenue which ran their schools  and provided roads. He advised the women to go back, and stop the men from drinking, instead of fighting against the licensed bhatti.

The women and Nandu told the District Collector that they would not leave till the Bhatti was closed and demanded a written order to the effect. The stand-off continued late into the evening. Then, the delegations was asked to come the next day and they were given a copy of an order for temporary closure of the Bhatti, ‘in view of the Dharna outside the Collector’s Office’ and to maintain the peace in Mandibisi panchayat. The people had to be satisfied with this.

The people are still eagerly waiting for the permanent order for the closure of bhatti. In the meanwhile, the bhati owner is bribing high and low to mobilise the lumpen elements in Mandibisi to sign for the re-opening of the liquor shop. However, the women's group have been vigilant and strong enough to control all such efforts.

Here, a very important question arises, how does one counter the misdeeds of a wilful and self-centred administration? Can the anti-people postures and actions of the administration only be countered by violent  and aggressive Maoist Dalams or will there be a time when people like Sumani and Nandu, who only seek to take the mandate of the constitution forward through Gandhian methods are allowed legitimate space to function ?

(The author is a known Social Activist and works for the Tribal development in Orissa. This piece of article has been distributed by Janata Vikash Manch as a part of its campaign for people's empowerment and development of Orissa)



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