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The people of a small village in Odisha battled the government and forced the authorities to scrap a project valued in crore.
We choose our government with a hope that we citizens will be benefited from every decision made for us. However, it doesn’t happen necessarily many a time and often, people are forced to oblige to things they don’t want.
In such situations, we citizens are left with just two options- either sit back and let the government be a dictator or stand against them and fight for our rights. Rightfully, there have been instances when the people have won in the battle against the government. And this is one such incident.
The people of Balarampur, a small village in central Odisha’s Dhenkanal district, have forced the Naveen Patnaik government to retreat and scrap a brewing project worth Rs 102 crore.
The project was to construct a liquor factory inside the Jhinkargadi forest, which is spread over approximately 243 hectare of land. For more than four decades, the forest is protected by the villagers of not just Balarampur, but also of another 10-odd villages in Dhenkanal.
In 2014, the state government decided to take a few parts of Jhinkargadi forest under the ‘land bank’ which is being made in all districts to facilitate industrial work. Jhinkargadi forest, which has been under protection of the villagers since so many years has more tree density than most forests in the country with powerful forest departments.
Soon, this ‘encumbrance free’ land caught the attention of the government for industrialization in 2014 and the villagers objected strongly. However, the Dhenkanal district administration decided to handover the forest land to construct the liquor factory. This project, which needed 12 acres of forested land, was to be established by P & A Bottlers Private Limited.
Objecting the acquisition of land, the villagers moved to the Orissa High Court and National Green Tribunal in 2017. The High Court, however, didn’t give any orders to deter the project. And that’s when the villagers decided to take full responsibility to put a full stop on the brewing project.
In the midst of the court battles, CM Patnaik organised a video conferencing ceremony in the first week of November; and the women of Balarampur hugged the trees- sending a message to the state government that they will not let go of the trees, they had nurtured for years, so easily.
On November 17, the Dhenkanal district administration, along with armed police forces, reached the Jhinkargadi forest at four in the morning and began cutting trees. Even before the villagers could be informed about the situation, 1000 trees were cut down.
“We villagers didn’t know anything. By the time we could understand the situation, they had cut 1000 trees,” tells a woman from the village.
The moment the news reached the women of the village, they began hugging the trees and asserted that they will come in between the machine and trees if anyone tried to cut it, and sacrifice their lives.
“We would sacrifice our lives to protect this forest but not let the administration make liquor factory on our forest. We will not encourage our men to get caught in the arms of intoxication,” said 60-year-old Chaturi Sahu.
Their determination shook everyone– from the district administration to the CM. Soon, the incident spread like wildfire across the state and people began praising these women.
“Our ancestors have planted so many trees in this forest and we have been taking care of it since the year 1972,” said 75-year-old Dushasan Parida when she saw the administration cutting trees.
“These tress were like our children. Every one person from two families would protect the forest from morning till noon,” tells 33-year-old Sakuntala Jaina, who has been living in the village since past 15 years.
Looking at the determination and objection of the villagers against the construction of liquor factory, CM Patnaik ordered the stoppage of tree cutting in the forest. On November 18, the government ordered a probe by the Revenue Divisional Commissioner.
Finally, on November 19, CM Patnaik announced the scrapping of the project, giving a breath of relief to the people of Balarampur village.
This battle between the villagers and the government shows that we, the people of this country, have as much say in the decision making of the country as the government we have chosen. We just have to stand strong on our ground, in the face of the administration and fight for our rights.
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