Sa­cred flaws

Why the Odisha gov­ern­ment's move to save sa­cred groves has en­raged tribal com­mu­ni­ties


ROdisha gov­ern­ment ECENTLY THE be­gan im­ple­ment­ing a pro­gramme to pro­tect sa­cred groves in the state. Th­ese minia­ture patches of forest­land or wa­ter­bod­ies, brim­ming with bio­di­ver­sity,are tra­di­tion­ally ded­i­cated to deities that are wor­shipped by tribal com­mu­ni­ties. Un­der the restora­tion pro­gramme,the state gov­ern­ment iden­ti­fied 2,163 groves in the tribal heart­land of the state as well as some non-tribal dis­tricts. Dur­ing the first phase in 2013, lakh was ear­marked for 500 of those sa­cred groves, where a plan­ta­tion drive was launched—100 seedlings around each grove. The state gov­ern­ment also plans to build a rest­shed and pro­vide a wa­ter source at each grove in the sec­ond phase. The project is ex­pected to be com­pleted by 2017-18.

Tribal com­mu­ni­ties across the state are op­pos­ing what the gov­ern­ment claims is a no­ble in­ten­tion. The bone of con­tention be­tween the gov­ern­ment and the state’s tribal pop­u­la­tion is pri­mar­ily on two main points. One,they say that the omis­sion of prom­i­nent sa­cred groves in min­ing-rich ar­eas such as Niyam­giri,Khan­dad­har and Baphli­mali hills have not found men­tion in the list. In all th­ese ar­eas tribal com­mu­ni­ties are protest­ing against min­ing by pri­vate com­pa­nies. In 2013,lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties re­jected con­sent for Vedanta’s min­ing project af­ter the Supreme Court recog­nised the re­li­gious rights of the tribal pop­u­la­tion over Niyam­giri,con­sid­ered sa­cred by the Paraja tribe. But the state gov­ern­ment has not iden­ti­fied even one sa­cred grove in the area. More­over, no at­tempt has been made to map the groves through­out the state.

Prab­hananda Sisa,a res­i­dent of Sidi­paka vil­lage in Malakana­giri dis­trict,who be­longs to the Paraja tribe,ex­plains the sec­ond point:

In the min­eral-rich Niyam­giri, which is con­sid­ered sa­cred by the Paraja tribe, not even one sa­cred

grove was iden­ti­fied by the state gov­ern­ment

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