Odisha Sun Times Bureau
Keonjhar, Aug 23:
A crowbar could be a useless tool or for that matter junk to be sold off to a neighbourhood kawadiwala for those of us who dwell in cities, but it’s an object of great value for the poor Juang tribals of Odisha’s Keonjhar district. Some of these poor tribals have been running from pillar to post for the last seven years to get back their crowbars seized by Forest department officials.
While some have sold off their chicken, others have sold their maize crop. Still others have borrowed money to pay for their fares to visit Keonjhar, the district headquarters town, to get their crowbars back.
In the meanwhile, five collectors have come and gone, but the poor Juangs are yet to get justice from an apathetic administration.
Undeterred by past failures, Juang tribals landed at the district collector’s office here on Friday to get their crowbars back.
Guptaganga is a Juang village in Gonasika panchayat under Banspal block of Keonjhar district. This village is said to be the most developed Juang village in the district. Despite several welfare schemes launched by the government, the condition of the Juangs has not improved. Atrocities and exploitation by government officials continue unabated notwithstanding claims made about their development.
Crowbars belonging to Kusha Juang, Bela Juang, Ranjan Juang and Anirudha Juang of this village were taken away by Forest department by forest officials while they were engaged in construction work seven years ago.
These villagers said seven years back a canal was being dug from the Karatkata nullah near their village up to Morarjee Desai chowk. Since there was no work to do in their village, many Juang men and women worked as labourers in the canal project. While they were working in the canal construction project near Talabaitarini village, Forest department officials forcibly took away their crowbars, they said. Since these people are very poor and do not have the capacity to buy new crowbars, they are continuing with their efforts to get back their seized crowbars.
They have visited several offices of the government ranging from the Forest to the district collector’s office and have pleaded before several thick skinned, indifferent babus to get back their crowbars. But all their efforts have come to nought.
These people had come to meet the collector on Friday to air their grievance. Since they didn’t have the money to pay for their travel, they had hitched a free ride on a vehicle after requesting the driver to reach the district headquarters town. They had to walk back to their village as they could not arrange for a free ride on the return journey.
Ranjan Juang, who had come to get back his crowbar, said; “The crowbars were given to us by the Juang Development Agency. That used to feed us. A crowbar now costs around Rs 500. We don’t have the money to buy crowbars at such high prices”.
“Forest department should return us our crowbars,” demanded Ranjan.
“If at all digging of the canal was in violation of the forest laws, then Forest department officials should have taken action against the concerned contractor. By taking away our crowbars. the Forest department has deprived us poor Juangs of our livelihood,” said Kusha Juang, another tribal whose crowbar was also seized by Forest department officials.
Similar was the gripe of Bela Juanga. “For seven years, we are running around to get our crowbars back. We had placed our grievance before the then collector Sushil Lohani. We had also apprised Balwant Singh when he was the collector. But nothing was done to return out crowbars to us. We have also met Forest department officers and lodged our complaints, but it has not solved our problem.”
According to the tribals, zilla parishad chairman Banabihari Pahi, who was on a visit to Gonasika recently, had requested Forest department officials to return the seized crowbars to their rightful owners which too didn’t yield any result.
After his meeting with the Juangs on Friday, collector Bishnu Prasad Sahu has ordered for an immediate solution of the issue. They are hopeful that their seven year long wait would finally end and they would finally get their crowbars back.