32 tribals homes demolished in Kalahandi Odisha

Odisha Forest Department carries out demolitions amidst lockdown, leaving nearly 90 people shelter-less in the punishing summer


Even as the lockdown goes on throughout India to curb the spread of the coronavirus, forest dwellers seem to have no respite from authorities. On April 24, the forest department demolished the homes of 32 tribal families in the district of Kalahandi, Odisha, reported Gaon Connection. Now over 90 people living in these 32 homes are bereft food and shelter and have no respite from the harsh summer sun. They now live under the mahua tree and eat whatever they get from it.

Speaking to the publication, Sudhir Manjhi, a tribal from the Nehla village in Sagda Gram Panchayat said, “We neither have a place to stay, nor anything to eat. All of our hens and goats have gone away. When the officials came to demolish the homes, all the men had gone to a nearby village to attend a funeral. When we returned in the evening, our homes had disappeared. We are now living under the mahua tree with little children. I don’t know where we will go when it rains.”

Rich with bauxite mines, Sagda is about 15 kms from Kalahandi, the district headquarters of Nehla and the village us near the Khandul Mali forest area. 

Speaking to Sabrang India, Mr. Prafulla Samantara, President of Lokshakti Abhiyan and Green Nobel Prize Winner who has been fighting for tribal rights for decades, said, “On April 24, homes of around 30 tribal families who had settled in the forest area for the past six months were demolished. Their homes in their original villages had been demolished. They had been demanding to be rehabilitated for the past two years and there was a dialogue between them and authorities but their demands were not heeded. So, six months back they settled in another village in the forest area because they are forest dwellers after all. Talks for their resettlement were going on, but the lockdown was imposed and taking the advantage of the lockdown, the forest department they dared to go and bull dozed the homes of these tribals and left them under the sun.”

Samantara further explained, “The next day, an advocate who went there with a news crew was also humiliated by the police. After this, I got the news and I wrote a letter to the Chief Secretary, Odisha about the incident. Meanwhile, the Forest Department of Odisha and DFO wrote on Twitter that the villagers were encroaching upon forest land by felling trees and setting fire inside Sagada PRF. I wrote to them saying that they are tribals and have every right to settle every forest. This isn’t the time to raze down homes and their consent should have been taken before it was done. They had homes in villages like Makhaguda and Nehala which the forest department claims, but those homes had been destroyed two to three years ago.”

Highlighting the plight of the hapless tribals he said, “When people are asked to stay at home during the lockdown, how did you compel them to stay in the sun? Now after all this hue and cry we raised, the officials say that the tribals were helped to shift back to their native villages and were given PDS ration and Rs. 1,000. I don’t know how true this is but this they should’ve got earlier, even before this incident happened. Today, an FIR has been filed in the matter. I just have a few questions. One, this is against the lockdown guidelines, so how could the forest officials do such a thing? Second, who gave orders for this?” 








In light of the same, activists condemned the razing of these tribals homes by forest officials. In a press statement issued by Jan Jagran Abhiyan on April 26, they wrote, “It is matter of shocking incident that 32 tribal families’ thatched houses have been smashed in village Sagada, Bhabanipatna Block in Khandualmali forest area, Kalahandi district of Odisha on 24th April by the forest department. During Lockdown period and in midsummer the tribals along with their children are forced to stay under the sky without food and water.”

Jan Jagran Abhiyan also said in its statement that an activist who went to enquire about the incident was manhandled by the police. They said, “On 25th April When Sidharth Nayak,senior Advocate and social Activist who is fighting these tribal rights and rehabilitation since 3 years, reached to inquired on the way near Sagada village where tribals houses were demolished, the tribals were sitting under the open sky, women were busy in cooking food on the open sunlight, in that time forest officer came to the spot with bamboo wooden sticks in hand rushed to him started abusing with filthy languages and detained for 3hr,they took away his cell phone and Some important documents. Then he recovered his phone but his important document not yet they returned.” 

They also quoted Mr. Prafulla Samantara, as saying, “As the officials did the unlawful and inhuman act against tribal’s and forced the people to break physical distance to prevent Corona pandemic, the concerned officials should be suspended immediately and the victim’s be rehabilitated with houses and livelihood and proper compensation. We are waiting to see action to be taken with immediate inquiry.”

Narendra Mohanty, State Convener, INSAF, Odisha, said, “While the government is asking people to remain inside home, this seems it has been done due to the pressure of mining lobby in South Odisha , mostly Vedanta, and Birla with OMC behind, driving away tribal people from their ancestral land to do loot Bauxite mining from these mountains.”

Pradeep Sahu, Senior Leader of Campaign for Survival and Dignity (CSD Odisha) who had four decades of experience working with for the rights of tribals and their rehabilitation too condemned the state attack on tribals. He says that forest officials have no right to demolish the homes of tribals and according to the FRA Act 2005, their act is a violation of human rights as they demolished the houses without any prior notice.

Yash Meghwal, spokesperson of the Tribal Army too condemned the action of the forest officials. He said that displaced Adivasis were living under appalling conditions and that the government must take note and safeguard their fundamental rights.

Madhusudan Sethi, President of the Jan Jagran Abhiyan said, “It is inhuman and illegal. When it is the pandemic time and Covid regulation is in vogue, how and who ordered for forcible evictions of the 32 tribals’ family in violations of Forest Right Act.? The Forest Officers should be suspended. The victims’ houses should be rebuilt by the inhumane forest staff and Government those have demolished it.”


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