“We don’t know how the villagers can consent to diversion of forest land five days after denouncing it”

It all started with great excitement — organising groups, motivating young women to lead from the front, guarding the village borders to prevent vote buying through gifts — for it seemed important to make their voices of dissent heard against the international mining giant Vedanta.

Much like their neighbours in south Odisha’s Niyamgiri, Kanwar tribesmen, well-off Sahus (oil traders) and migrant Bengalis came together to obstruct diversion of 355 hectares (ha) of forest land to the Bharat Aluminum Company Limited (Balco), a Vedanta affiliate, in Baysi and Taraimarh in north Chhattisgarh. Like the Dongria Konds of Niyamgiri, they succeeded.

However, despite their unanimous decision to disallow diversion of forest land, the administration in Baysi ordered fresh gram sabhas in both places on October 2, and claimed to have registered the company’s ‘victory’.


“The sabha has passed the [land diversion] resolution,” said C.L. Cider, a senior block-level officer of Baysi. According to him, the villagers of Baysi have “agreed” to divert 308ha of forest land for industrial purposes in the GS that was convened hastily on Mahatma Gandhi’s birthday.

“We don’t know how the villagers can consent to diversion of forest land five days after denouncing it,” said the husband of the Baysi Sarpanch, Ratiram Rathia. Middle-aged Mr. Rathia, who runs the village council on behalf of his wife, was agitated when asked why he did not inform this correspondent about the new gram sabha.

“How could I? I was under severe pressure … yeh ek tamasha hai [this gram sabha is a mockery],” he said.

While it is mandatory for the administration to disclose the status of land three days after the gram sabha, Baysi is completely in the dark about the status of the 308ha of land surrounding the panchayat.

“We don’t know if the forest land is with us or them [the company]. We only know that 173 of us signed the register of the gram sabha to mark our presence,” said Sadhram Rathia of Baysi. According to the list of voters, even 173 votes does not complete the quorum of a gram sabha in a panchayat comprising 1,347 voters.

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