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