Tribal families evicted, looted by mob in front of Forest officials in MP, NGO and villagers allege

Homes of nearly 40 tribal families in MP’s Khandwa district were allegedly demolished and their possessions looted by a mob during an ‘anti-encroachment drive’ by Forest Department on July 10

Photo Courtesy: Kashif Kakvi
Photo Courtesy: Kashif Kakvi
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Kashif Kakvi

The homes and standing crops of nearly 40 tribal families in Madhya Pradesh's Khandwa district were illegally destroyed and their possessions looted by a mob in the presence of Forest Department personnel during an ‘anti-encroachment drive’ on July 10, locals and a tribal rights outfit have alleged.

NGO Jagrit Adivasi Dalit Sangathan alleged that the mob brought from neighbouring villages by Forest Department officials during the ‘demolition drive’ in Khandwa's Negaon-Jamniya looted over 130 quintal of food grains, cattle, money, utensils and other household goods of the tribals whose homes were being demolished by the department.

"Our crops were sprayed with poisonous chemicals. Over 130 quintals of food grains, Rs. 63,800 in cash, a shop worth Rs 80,000, Rs.12,000 worth of jewellery, 5 bicycles, 4 mobile phones, all household items, over 300 chickens, 16 goats and 1 calf owned by these families was looted or destroyed. Over 200 Adivasis are left with nothing but the clothes on their backs," said Ramlal Dudwe (48), one of the 40 tribals whose house was allegedly demolished without notice.

Photo Courtesy: Kashif Kakvi
Photo Courtesy: Kashif Kakvi
Photo Courtesy: Kashif Kakvi

When locals and rights activists protested against the demolitions, three tribals and three rights activists were allegedly assaulted and then detained in the Forest Development Corporation office for over 10 hours. The hands of three Adivasis were allegedly bound with ropes when they were set free in the night after tribals held massive protests at Khandwa SP and District Forest Office later in the day.

The tribal families pointed out that their houses were demolished even though their application for the verification of the land was still pending before the Forest Department and Section 4(5) of the Forest Rights Act, 2005 prohibits the demolition of homes of those whose applications are pending.

"Of 40 tribal families, applications of 13 of them filed via ‘Van Mitra App’ of the MP Government in 2019-20 are under observation, while applications of other families which were submitted offline to the Forest Department in 2016 for verification are still pending," said Nitian, associated with the Jagrit Adivasi Dalit Sangathan (JADS).

He was one of those allegedly taken into custody for opposing the demolition drive.

Photo Courtesy: Kashif Kakvi
Photo Courtesy: Kashif Kakvi
Photo Courtesy: Kashif Kakvi

The demolition drive also violated MP High Court's directives prohibiting such evictions by the government till July 15, 2021 in view of the pandemic, he added.

Two villagers, Khemla Arya and Lalu Dudwe (36) alleged that no prior eviction notice was served before the demolition drive. "We received a letter from the Forest Department on January 11, 2021 which was a show cause notice for eviction and we replied to the same enclosing relevant documents by January 15. We did not receive any other notice and now we are only left with clothes on our backs," they contended.

The NGO and the affected villagers have demanded lodging of an FIR against DFO Charan Singh and other Forest Department officials for carrying out the demolitions in violation of the Forest Rights Act and contempt of court for going against MP High Court's orders.

"Evicted families must be immediately provided with relief in the form of rations and they must be compensated for the losses caused by the illegal evictions of the Forest Department," demanded JADS in a press release.

Speaking over the phone, Madhuri, who is associated with the NGO, said, “Adivasis have warned the administration that they will intensify their stir if their demands are not met. It has been over 6 days but no action has been taken to punish those responsible for this brutal violation of Adivasis’ constitutional rights. No relief has been provided so far to the 200 plus Adivasis who remain homeless and have had their food grains looted."

“We have given details of the many illegalities and atrocities committed in complaints sent to the Chief Minister, Forest Minister Vijay Shah and Tribal Affairs Minister Meena Singh along with officials of the relevant departments as well as the district administration,” she added.

Tribals are planning to meet the state Culture Minister Usha Thakur regarding their losses and to demand action against the concerned officials.

DFO Charan Singh did not respond to several calls made to him.

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