Mrunal Manmay Dash

Even as Odisha witnessed the conduct of three, out of five, phase voting for election to the Panchayati Raj institutions in the State, some tribal families who had been displaced by the Similipal Tiger Reserve project are still deprived of their basic democratic right to vote.

Call it government apathy or travesty of fate, as many as 144 families belonging to the tribal Khadia community now stare at an uncertain future after they were allegedly omitted from the voter list for this Panchayat elections.

As per reports, these families were shifted from Khejuri village inside the sanctuary and relocated to Saleibeda under Mayurbhanj’s Thakurmunda block by the State government. Though the Forest Department has provided them homes to stay, other basic amenities like electricity, road communication, healthcare and education still remain distant dream for them.

As if that was not enough, they recently found their names omitted in the electoral list, denying them to exercise their franchise.

The displaced tribals fear that if they do not cast their votes in Saleibeda, the next Sarpanch will never address their grievances.

Sudarshan Dehury, a displaced tribal said, “We do not have our names enrolled in the voters’ list here. The authorities told us to go to our native place Khejuri to cast votes. We are deprived of the basic amenities here. The Forest department washed its hands off after providing us homes. But we neither have a school for our children, nor do we have an anganwadi centre. Healthcare is still a far away dream for us,” he alleged.

Sukalal Ho, the outgoing Sarpanch of Saleibeda said, “If they cannot vote here, who will build their roads, provide electricity? It will create a major problem for them if the new Sarpanch refuses to care for their demands citing their absence from the voters’ list. The administration should understand their problem and address it as soon as possible,” he said.

The Block Development Officer (BDO) of Thakurmunda, Shyamsundar Tudu said, “The families were brought from Jashipur area. As per our information, when our officials reached Saleibeda for effecting modification to the voters’ list, the families refused to enrol themselves. They will have to cast their votes now at the booths where their names have been enrolled.”