SAHABAJIPUR (ODISHA-WB BORDER): For the last four elections Bijay Jena of Sankhamedi village has been casting his votes in both Odisha and West Bengal. It may well be considered unlawful, but since the election dates in the two States differ, Jena and others did not face any difficulty in exercising their franchise twice.
This time, however, the residents of the disputed village on Odisha-West Bengal border under Balasore district have vowed not to vote in the neighbouring state. Reason: West Bengal’s highhanded attempts to encroach on Odisha land and a portion of Talasari beach, a popular tourist attraction.The villagers claimed the district administration of Digha has attempted at least eight times to encroach vast land along the sea coast and take control of border roads besides a forest bit house despite strong protest from the locals.
Not only Jena, more than 1200 voters of Sankhamedi, Sahabajipur, Bajitpur, Dakhinasarisa, Udaypur and Mundabania villages located on Odisha and WB border have dual voter identity cards. These six villages are merged into three and mentioned as Podhima, Mundala and Duttapur in WB revenue records. While the residents speak both in Odia and Bengali, the local markets here have strong influence of Bengali, which they use as first language. They cast votes in Lok Sabha, Assembly and Panchayat elections in Bhogarai constituency of Odisha while in WB they are constituents of Kanthi Lok Sabha seat and Ramnagar Assembly segment. While the polling in Bhogarai is on April 29, Kanthi Parliamentary constituency will go to polls on May 12.
“Though the political parties from Ramnagar have been intensively campaigning here, we have decided not to participate in their elections as they are trying to encash the opportunity to lure us so that they can take control of our land. Enough is enough,” said Jena. Even as the residents get benefits from the candidates from both the States, literally they are in no-man’s land. They plead their identity crisis, as they don’t have residential certificates. Though Sankhamedi village is in the block record of Bhogarai, it has no mention in the tehsil record. The residents claim no official has come to their village to take land revenue since 1983.
Shyamasundar Ghadei of Sahabajipur said earlier his house was in Odisha part, but when the Digha administration forcibly acquired a vast patch of land to construct a bus stand, he came under the neighbouring State. “Slowly and steadily the WB revenue officials are ensuring that the border villages are made part of it. They have started collecting land revenue and constructing roads. They also have electrified parts of a few villages,” he said.
Odisha has about 38 villages, including 35 of Balasore and rest Mayurbhanj that share border with WB. The border villages depict a picture of neglect as barring a few, many are deprived of benefits under several Government schemes. “Though we have been urging the Odisha Government to consider us as residents and issue the residential certificates, no step has been initiated yet. The WB people only come during elections and lure, but thereafter they humiliate us,” said Sudhakar Mandal, another villager.
Balasore collector Ramesh Chandra Rout feigned ignorance about the dual voting. He, however, admitted that some villages have disputes with WB. “An oversight committee headed by a retired judge of Jharkhand has been formed to solve the issue. As per its instruction, officials have been nominated by both the States to go for joint demarcation of land. The process will be intensified once the election process is over,” he added.