31 July, 2021

The Forced Walkabout

Odisha’s Adivasis are usually peaceable folks. But angered by official apathy to human-elephant conflict, they halt an MLA’s cavalcade and force her out to see their battered world.

The Forced Walkabout

When Basanti Hembram, the BJD MLA for Karanjia in Odisha, was rushing for a meeting with Tata executives, she was completely unaware who would be the elephant in the room, or rather on the road. Villagers squatting on National Highway 220 in protest against ­inadequate and delayed compensation for damage wrought by wild elephants ­accosted the lawmaker. The protestors asked her to come and see for herself the devastation, but she tried to wade through the crowd.

Their anger, driven to desperation by the apathy of forest authorities to their ­problem, boiled over. They surrounded her vehicle, made her get out of it and forced her to walk 7 km with them to Kada Modaka village to see the havoc. Additional ­conservator of forests (ACF) Diganta Shovan Pal and forest range officer Saroj Panda walked the entire stretch too. Alleging that they were yet to ­receive the promised ­compensation for the destruction two years ago, the ­villagers said the range officer shooed them away when they pressed for the damages.

The politician sought to make a...

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