'Tell Them To Chop Us With Our Trees', Say Odisha Villagers After Centre, State Approve Felling Of 1.3 Lakh Trees
The central government gave its consent for the diversion of 1,038.187 hectares of forest land for an opencast coal mining project of forest land in the Talabira village of Sambalpur district in Odisha on March 28, 2019.
The project is led by central undertaking Neyveli Lignite Corporation (NLC) India. NLC has signed a contract of developing and administering Talabira II and III mines with the Adani Enterprises Ltd.
After the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change’s (MoEFCC) approval in March, the forest department of Odisha government and its vendors have decided to chop-off 1.3 lakh trees standing on the forest land in Talabira and Khinda forests of Odhisa.
According to a DownToEarth report, over 40,000 trees have been felled.
The forest has been preserved and maintained by forest dwellers in the Talabira village, along with five other villages in the region. But no titles under the Forest Rights Act, (FRA), 2006, have been filed here.
“We have protected this forest for over 50 years. About 3,000 people are dependent on this forest. Now, these trees are being cut down by the government. We thought that this is our forest and no one can take it from us. Therefore, we never applied for rights under FRA,” Hemant Kumar Raut, a resident of Khinda village told DownToEarth.
The cutting of trees started on the wee hours of December 5, The New Indian Express reported. The villagers were shocked to see the scale of deforestation being carried out in cohorts with the support of Naveen Patnaik led Odisha government, district administration, forest department.
As the coal mine development work has started, residents of the villages of Sahupada, Mundapada and Budhiapali are dreading displacement.
In August 2019, officials from Adani Enterprises Ltd came to visit the site for survey, and railway line. But were forced to return after facing opposition from the villagers. The next time they visited, they came with armed police.
On the first day of the ‘green massacre’, nearly 1200 villagers moved to the site to stop the company from chopping trees, but 10 platoons of the police force had cordoned off the area.
Last year when NLC India conducted the site’s survey, the villagers were promised compensation for which they were asked to submit copies of their voter IDs and Aadhar Cards. They complied with the officials at that time.
“They promised to pay ₹17 lakh to each household and a job to every person above the age of 18, along with giving four decimal of land to each household,” Iswari Sahu, a village youth told the media. Now, the villagers want their forest to be intact over any compensation.
“Over 80 per cent of the women in their village depend on the forest. While most of them harvest mushroom from the forest, the rest use Sal leaves to make plates and cups,” said Laxmi Sahu.
“For years, we knew the forest was given to our ancestors by ‘Raja Sai’ but recently, the forest officials came and claimed that it belongs to the government.”
The forest overflows with Sal, Mohul, Char, Harda, Amla and the rare Bija trees apart from medicinal plants.
These are the only source of livelihood for the villagers here. “We have no land but only this forest. Where will we go? What will we do at any other place? All we knew is to take care of the trees here. What will they do by cutting down the forest?” the villagers wonder.