BHUBANESWAR: Hundreds of tribals, including Dongoria Kandhas of Niyamgiri hills in Kalahandi district, on Saturday lodged a strong protest against the Centre’s decision to amend the Forest Rights Act (FRA).
More than 500 tribals from Kalahandi, Koraput, Ganjam and Rayagada districts staged a demonstration in the city.
They said the changes, if implemented, would rob the gram sabhas of their right to give consent before the forest land is handed over for industrial projects. It would also facilitate expansion plans of Vedanta Aluminium Limited, the agitators said.
The tribals were apprehensive that it would be easier for Vedanta to acquire forest land if the role of gram sabha is curtailed. The company has been denied bauxite mining at Niyamgiri hills for its aluminium refinery after a series of gram sabhas shot down the proposal.
“The Ministry of Tribal Affairs is opposed to the changes in FRA proposed by Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF) which, ironically, is pro-corporate,” said activist Prafulla Samantara. He also alleged that tribals are being branded as Maoists for raising their voice against the alumina refinery project.
National committee member of All India Kisan Mazdoor Sabha Bhalchandra Sarangi said, the Odisha Land Grabbing (Prevention) Ordinance, 2014, proposed by the State Government is another threat for the landless tribals as the law stipulates that anyone encroaching Government land can be fined and imprisoned. This will give a free hand to the authorities to put anyone encroaching Government behind the bars. After the protests, a memorandum demanding protection of the rights of tribals and their land was submitted at the Chief Minister’s Office.