"We will die but we won't give up our jungle." These are the words Babita Patre of Balrampur Village in Odisha's Dhenkanal District. Babita is protesting against the beer factory that is coming up adjoining Balrampur. Many women like her have joined people from 12 villages in the surrounding areas to raise their voices against the beer factory.
P&A Bottlers has been given land in Balrampur to set up a beer factory. The villagers, however, allege that forest land has been given to the company for the purpose by Odisha Industrial Infrastructure Development Corporation (IDCO). They claim that they have conserved the 96 areas of forest land since 1973.
Description Of This Forest
Villagers from the area have joined together to form an 'Aanchalik Suraksha Vikas Manch' Sushant Dhal, a member tell us, "The area of forest that we are trying to save is adjacent to Tans Hill in Jhinkargada Forest. Jhinkargada Forest spreads over 600 acres.
The people of these 12 villages have worked to conserve 96 acres of that forest. The government first changed the description of this forest land on paper to industrial land and then gave 12 acres of it to P&A Bottlers."
He goes on to say, "the land that has been allotted to the factory of physically a forest. There are over 160 species of trees in it including 1000 Sal trees and many Ayurvedic herbs. The area is also the habitat of 40 – 50 elephants. It is wrong to classify this land as industrial. Over 25,000 people in these 12 villages will be affected adversely.
They depend on it for food and every important aspect of their lives. The government should have kept that in mind." The 12 affected villages are drought prone. Low groundwater levels mean that they are able to cultivate only one rain fed crop a year.
Beer Factory Will Worsen
They mostly cultivate rice during the monsoon season. The villagers say that the setting up of the beer factory will worsen the ground water situation. Kalmant Patre tell us, "we already have a severe water problem in our area. This beer factory will only make it worse. In addition, the destruction of the forest will impact the animals as well. Grazing will be a problem for our cows and goats as well."
On being told that on paper the land is not a forest Kalmant says, "It is a forest when you look at it, papers can say whatever they like. We won't give up our land for the factory, even if it means giving up our lives.'
The project for the beer factory in question was given to P&A Bottlers in 2016. The Rs.102 crore project was granted by the state level Single Window Clearing Authority. It is to have a capacity of 2.5 hectolitres per year. Kalmant Patre tell us further, "the administration first tried to force us, but when they realised that wouldn't work, they tried to sell us the benefits of the factory saying we will get jobs. But what will we do with jobs if there is nothing left to eat or drink?"
Interestingly the women in this area have been [protesting against alcohol for years. They even formed the Balrampur Mahila Vikas Sangathan to this end. The women in this group went from village to village creating awareness about the ill effects of alcohol abuse. Voicing the irony of the situation, Sarojini says, "Alcohol can be very harmful. We don't want a factory here. Don't destroy the forest. We will do whatever we need to save it."
Protect & Develop Forest
Shankar Prasad Pani, the legal consultant of the village committee says, "The Forest Conservation Act came int effect in 1980. It was passed by the government of India to protect and develop forests.
Since 1980 no state government can change the classification of forest land without the consent of the central government. In that context this is a direct violation on Section 2 of the Act."
On being asked about the issue, Dhenknal District Magistrate, Nikhil Pawan says, "That is not forest land, it belongs to IDCO. This land does not even have enough trees on it to qualify as a forest. That's why work is starting there. The villagers should not have any problem with it. If any land is kept fallow trees will grow on it. I don't see any problem."
On the basis of a complaint filed by Vijay Kumar Majhi, on 18 October 2018, the Odisha Forest Department has ordered a field inspection. No such has inspection has taken place so far. We were unable to speak with Dhenkanal Forest Officer Sudarshan Patra despite several efforts.