Sambalpur villagers lose a 150 year old battle to the Cesars of mining, classic case of connivance

Samikhsya Bureau

In his late 70s now, Achyutanand Budhia starts his day after dawn break. Lifts his old by-cycle and after minutes of half-pedalling and hops,  manages to ride on and roll towards the routine destination, Talabira forest, abour 20 kms from Sambalpur city. Rain or shine, the man, who appears more than his age,  never stops from a tryst with the forest spread over almost 972 acres.

It has been a 25 years of routine and now Achyutanand has finally decided to give up the schedule, not out of fatigue but exasperation, that the vast forest is rapidly disappearing to be replaced by a coal project.

A mission  that lasted over more than one hundred fifty years in the shape of a forest, is  vanishing,  leaving a  trail of despair among a huge population .

Suru Munda,86, recalls the days when the ‘raja’(king) of Sambalpur had given the forest to a cluster of villages fondly known as ‘Pallis’ and number of villagers were assigned to protect the forest from outside  pillage.

It was not vigil but an intimacy

It was a routine process borne out of pure commitment driven by  voluntarism but, the efforts encountered hurdles those were more menacing than any natural ravage. A man-made design to usher in a mining project. ‘  Government has the power, that we could not match’ rues Munda.

It was not merely the remuneration of five kg of rice and some cash that kept the people on guard to keep the vigil but, over a century old bond with the forest which had remained the emotive element behind the dedication to protect such a magnanimous heritage.

Banners of protest against the felling of the forest were raised and villagers, cutting across boundaries and contours of thoughts, rallied behind the movement. But the forest could not be saved and now wear a moron look with hundreds of bleeds.

Neroes at large !

The forest is no forest but a precious reservoir of eco-diversity, immensely contributing to the climatic regime in the area. A mining project would only pave the way for a vicious disorder. When the entire world foresees a nightmare in the build up  in the shape of climate change, the act  in Talabira remind  the parable ‘when Rome was burning…Nero was…

But, as usual, the movement which, perhaps, was ridden off an elite tag, failed to match the might of the power-that-be.

How the movement was seared by the mighty

Bhagirathi Munda, a local, remembers the days when the forest  was rich in its virginity villagers from all across were being benefited by the forest products and each elking nothing less than Rs.300 to 400 a day as wage.

Even, the routine ethic, that any such forest clearance can only be mandated by a ‘palli sabha’ could not help as the decision of the Palli Sabha, in 2012, which had vehemently opposed the cutting of the forest was ignored and it were all consigned to the flames of corporate craze of the government.

Voices in favour of protection of the forest were muzzled by the usual refrain that, the forest area belongs to the government so that, the latter can only take the calls whatsoever.

Reportedly, demands for compensation for the loss of forest are being made and the authorities have had some hackneyed response .

But, can monetary compensations replenish a heritage.

(The article originally was written in Odia by Ms.Gargy Satapathy, journalist in Sambalpur, and reproduced in English with due permission)