(Balapu Santa and his family :Nawaranpur district)
Balapu Santa, age 62, from village Mendra shared his struggle to get back his cultivated land .He says that the land is under cultivation for last 40 years which he has now claimed under the forest rights act 2006 like many others in the village . Though the exact area of cultivation is over 7acres, but the forest dept officials have arbitrarily reduced the claimed area to 1.74acre only in the field verification . Balapu, as like many others in the village, has been subjected to such illegal action of the forest dept causing denial of access to rights over land .
The struggle does not end here….The forest dept has now forcibly taken up commercial plantation over the remaining 1.74 acre of titled land forcing the family into distress and destitution. A complaint to the collector on this matter has only led to threats issued by the DFO and members of Vana Surakhya Samiti (formed by the forest dept)of Mendhiguda village joined hand with forest dept. for monetary benefits (the financial benefits idea has been shared by forest dept. officials to mendhiguda village)and said Balapu to withdraw the complain or else the plantation will be forced even revenue lands .
However being the only source of survival, Balapu and his wife, continued to cultivate the land till one day when VSS committee members, about 40-50, suddenly arrived and physically threatened them to stop cultivation. The repression did not stop there and the VSS members hackled wife of Balapu, seized their agricultural implements and warned the family to kill if they continue to hold the titled land . FD officials (local forest guards) have allegedly provoked the VSS members to cause physical intimidation and violence with allurement of financial benefits. The VSS in Mendhiguda, the neighboring village with a population of 200, has been consitituted by the FD . FD officials used to take help of VSS committee members to carry out plantation and other forestry intervention often without the consent of the community leading to internal conflicts within the community.
Odisha govt. has recently launched a program Banayan which is going to cover 2426 JFM and with a target to cover 7000 VSS/EDC to implement the second phase of OFSDP program . This project would be implemented in 14 forest and wildlife divisions of the State covering 10 districts with the active participation of 1,200 Vana Surakhya Samitis with an outlay of Rs 1,000 crore for a period of 10 years.( http://ofsds.in/banayana.php). Tribal and civil society organizations have opposed the program as being violative of Forest Rights Act and apprehending serious impact on rights and livelihoods of tribals and forest dwellers.
As shown in the case of Balapu, the ground reality clearly shows the blantant violation of FRA and conflict arising due to constitution of VSS .Odisha govt. with Banayan investing more than 1000 crore for plantation .Balapu Santa and many such forest dwellers have genuine fears of losing land and livelihoods
Sanghamitra Dubey is a researcher and member of national CFR-learning and advocacy group .