Forest area rests precariously on communal tinderbox

NABARANGPUR: Umerkote Assembly constituency continues to be on a communal cauldron with no signs of let-up in the continuing tension involving Bengali settlers, local tribals and Kondhs.

The clashes between the groups have claimed six lives in the month so far. In the latest incident, four persons died in an armed conflict between the tribals and Kondhs at Sunabeda village.

Locals blame the flare up of July 22 on police intelligence failure and poor guidance to Vana Suraksha Samitis (VSS) by forest staff at the lower rungs.

They informed that tension was building up in the area prior to the incident. There were a number of meetings, particularly after the June 24 clash in Raighar where two tribals were killed. The meetings discussed land disputes openly and violent was implicit in the tenor of the gatherings. The police should have been on high alert after these, they maintained.

The VSSs, constituted by the Forest department, often stretch their activities beyond legal limits, they alleged. The recent attack on poor tribals living inside the forest by the activists of the VSS, Sunabeda village, was not the first such incident.

On the morning of July 22, the VSS members held a meeting attended by thousands of people besides the forest guard and the forester of the area. The officials present should have anticipated trouble and informed the police, sources said, adding, the members of the VSSs, at a meeting at Umerkote last year, were clearly asked by the administration not to initiate action against people on their own and inform the authorities instead.

The crux of the problem, however, lies deeper. It is, locals believe, the direct fallout of the defective resettlement and rehabilitation polices of the State Government. After the settlement of Bangladeshi refugees in the beginning of 60s in the area and displacement of people due to Indravati project, a large number of poor tribals moved deep into the forests.

They depend solely on their surrounding for livelihood. This often involves destruction of local forests and frequent brushes with forest authorities. Lack of government welfare measures also has not helped their cause. All this combine to make the forest region potentially explosive.

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Referred by: Mukundan CM
Published on: July 28, 2001
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