Caught on the wrong foot, Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik cancelled on Monday the land allotted to a beer bottling plant at Balarampur in Dhenkanal district. Felling of trees at the site allotted for the proposed Dhenkanal beer factory had drawn ire of the locals who had been protesting against the land allotment.
The “illegal tree” felling and subsequent police action to forcibly remove the protesting women at 4 am a couple of days ago had evoked widespread outrage. Village women had gathered in large numbers at the site as they had, over generations, protected the trees.
The industrial project had been cleared and the CM had laid foundation stone for it on 3 November.
On Saturday, the police forced the agitating women even as they resisted by hugging the barks. Scores of old trees were felled.
The entire Opposition, social activists and villagers joined the protests the next day, camped in the “forest-like” area and vowed not to allow the industry to be set up.
They also furnished records and written communications by forest officers as well as the administration suggesting to the government that the area should be protected and the plant located elsewhere.
Overriding all such suggestions, the government had acquired the area and earmarked it for industrial use. The district authorities maintained that it was not forest land, and that it has been acquired by IDCO for industrial use.
On Sunday, village women performed rituals for the felled trees just as one would do in the case of a death in the family. Many women of Balarampur cried inconsolably.
Sensing trouble, Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik ordered a halt to tree felling and a probe by the revenue divisional commissioner.
On Monday, the CMO said the CM had cancelled the land allotted for the proposed industrial project on the basis of the RDC probe.
The alacrity with which the probe was conducted in less than 24 hours exposed the fact that the CM was keen on defusing the crisis, particularly with the Assembly in session.
Opposition Congress and BJP, however, refused to relent saying mere cancellation of land for the project was not enough.
“Illegality has been committed, trees felled in defiance of law and Supreme Court orders. Those responsible should be booked and action initiated against them,” said Leader of the Opposition and former law minister Narasingha Mishra.
“Who overruled the objections of the forest department?” Mishra asked, adding: “The CM has to answer in the Assembly.”