West Bengal: Illegal acquisition of forest land for Turga and Bandu Pump Storage Projects, claim tribal residents

Gram Sabha consent not taken for transferring the land, says forum for tribal communities

By DTE Staff
Published: Friday 11 August 2023
Ajodhya Hills, where the Turga and Bandu Pump Storage Projects have been planned. Photo: Mrinalini Paul__

Tribal and forest-dwelling communities in West Bengal’s Ajodhya Hills have called for cancellation of Turga and Bandu Pump Storage Projects, alleging the state government has sidestepped consultative processes while acquiring forest land for the project.

Prakriti Bachao O Adivasi Bachao Maanch (Save Nature & Save Adivasi Platform), a forum representing tribal communities, alleged in a press release that the processes required by the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006, better known as the Forest Rights Act (FRA), have not been followed. 

On June 13, 2017, the then Purulia district magistrate had released a letter stating that the inhabitants to be affected by the Turga Pump Storage Project had no opposition to land being acquired for the same. However, the signatories to the written resolutions by the DM were not inhabitants of the Panchayat, The forum said in a press release. 

Read more: Bengal forest department calls Gram Sabha ‘illegal’; files FIR against 11

They referred to written resolutions of Bagmundy and Ajodhaya Gram Panchayat and Bagmundi block development officers in this regard. The referred resolutions presented dated to March 20, 2017 and March 23, 2017 where 10 and 24 individuals were signatories in each, the statement further said. 

“Based on their signatures, the government planned to acquire agricultural land of nine villages, their traditional sites of worship (jaher than) including the revered Marang Buru (hill diety) and their sources of livelihood,” it said. 

For any project to happen in the forest land, more than 50 per cent of the concerned Gram Sabha’s members’ consent is required under the FRA, the activists said. This consent needs to be taken by the Panchayat office for all nine villages only after informing them about all the details of the project. 

“The members of Ranga-Barelhor Gram Sabha itself is 560. Baruawajara-Badhghutu-Dulgubera Gram Sabha has 150 members and Tarpania Gram Sabha 200 members. The number of adult members in the project affected area is a minimum of 2,000,” the release stated, questioning how the land transfer was approved with just 34 signatures. 

Ajodhaya inhabitants have been sharing their concerns for the last five years over the issue with state and central governments. “However, the tribal people have been punished and there have been innumerable false cases against them and many have been forcefully taken to the police stations and mentally tortured,” the activists further alleged. 

The state government has issued three tenders (June 7, 13 and 15, 2023) for felling of trees and building of the dam, disregarding the rights of the Adivasis, the release said. “Even on Bandu river, the government is trying to carry out a futile project without taking the Gram Sabha’s consent and by destroying 400 hectares of forests and uprooting 10 villages,” it added. 

The activists further pointed out there are 97,000 people whose villages in Purulia district with more than 20 per cent of their forests and livelihoods dependent on forests. “All these people are eligible to claim forest rights. In Bankura, Paschim Medinipore, Jhargram and Purulia, there are more than 700,00 people who are dependent on forests and are rightful claimants of forest rights,” they added. 

The press release in Bengali has been translated by Mrinalini Paul

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