Women protect trees from being axed at Jhikargadiâ forest in Dhenkanal district of Odisha. | Photo Credit: Biswaranjan Rout
The photos of women hugging the trees to thwart their felling went viral.
In what is seen as a victory for the villagers of Balarampur in Dhenkanal distict of central Odisha, Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik on Monday directed the cancellation of a brewery project.
Balarampur villagers, especially women, had been vehemently protesting against the cutting down of trees in Jhinkargadi forest that was nurtured by them over four decades.
Mr. Patnaik had himself performed groundbreaking ceremony of the ₹102 crore brewery project on November 3, which was to be established by P&A Bottlers Private Limited. The brewery project was requiring 12 acres of forestland of Jhinkargadi.
In a throwback to the Chipko movement to save trees in the seventies, Balarampur women had successfully thwarted tree-felling bid by Dhenkanal district administration by embracing trees on November 7.
After 10 days, the administration had descended on the spot with hordes of police personnel on wee hours of November 17. Although villagers put up a resistance to save their trees, they were chased away by armed police personnel. More than 500 trees were razed to ground.
The images of women clasping trees had then gone viral attracting widepread condemnation on police high-handedness. Activists and citizens had rushed to Balarampur to give moral supports to villagers.
Coming under pressure of massive public outcry, Mr. Patnaik on Sunday ordered immediate halt to tree felling and a probe by Revenue Divisional Commissioner (RDC).
The RDC, D.V. Swamy submitted his report to the government on Monday. “Based on the factual report available, the allocation of bottling plant may be cancelled and alternative site may be provided. Unnecessary felling of trees may be stopped forthwith, and immediate plantation should be taken up,” Mr. Swamy recommended to the government.
Without wasting any time, Chief Minister ordered cancellation of the bottling plant in that location.
“Although our resistance was small one, it never lacked the determination. We welcome CM’s decision to cancel the project. Now, we want government to declare the Jhinkargadi forest being protected by people to be a prohibited zone for all non-forest uses,” said Sushanta Kumar Dhala, Secretary, Balarampur Gramya Parichalana Parishad (BGPP).
Balarampur villagers, who had congregated in Jhinkargadi forest to intensify their agitation against brewery project on Monday, celebrated it as their victory.