The people of Balrampur can now breath a sigh of relief as they have come out on top in the battle they were fighting to protect the Jhinkargadi forest. According to The Hindu, Chief Minister Patnaik has ordered the cancellation of the brewery project that was supposed to take place on the forest land.
According to Down to Earth, in 2014, the government of Odisha decided to bring parts of Jhinkargadi forest under the “land bank” scheme, under which the government chooses encumbrance free land across all districts to facilitate industrial projects. A brewery project worth Rs 102 crore was to be established by the P&A Bottlers Private Limited. The groundbreaking ceremony was also done by Mr Patnaik.
More than just a forest
“The Jhinkargadi forest has always been under direct control of the villagers. Spread over an area of 243 hectares, it appeared to have more tree density as compared to any other forest under the administrative control of the powerful state forest department. The forest has been protected by the village since generations. When our forefathers started protecting forests, the land was full of shrubs with little tree coverage”, Sushanta Kumar, Secretary of the BGPP told the Down to Earth. The villagers also started traditional rotational forest patrolling to prevent timber smugglers from getting near the trees. Sushanta also claimed that the Jhinkargadi to be one of the finest protected forests in Odisha. Hence, the people of Balrampur were not happy when the Dhenkanal district administration went ahead and handed over forested land to industry.
A victorious battle
With more than just a win at stake, the people of Balrampur did not hesitate while facing the administration who were aided by armed police force felling trees in Jhinkargadi forest. They also approached the Odisha High Court objecting the acquisition of Jhinkargadi land in 2017. However, this did not budge the administration one bit who refused to be slowed down. On November 17, they reached the spot with hordes of police personnel and razzed more than 500 trees.
The villages tried to put up a resistance with women hugging the trees like the world famous Chipko moment, it did not make any difference as they were chased away by armed police. However, it did not help at that time, but the images of women hugging trees soon went viral, attracting tremendous support from activists and citizens. With the pressure mounting from the massive public revolt, Mr Patnaik had no other option but to order an immediate halt to tree felling.
Fallout after the incident
D.V Swamy, the RDC submitted a report to the government on Monday, wherein he stated that based on the factual report, the bottling plant can be provided with an alternative site and the unnecessary felling of trees may be stopped. He also recommended for immediate tree plantation to compensate the trees already cut. The Secretary of the BGPP, Sushanta hopes for the government to put the forest under protection. “Although our resistance was a small one, it never lacked determination. We welcome CM’s decision to cancel the project. Now, we want the government to declare the Jhinkargadi forest being protected by people to be a prohibited zone for all non-forests uses,” Sushanta told The Hindu.