Residents of three tribal villages in Odisha's Nabarangpur district on Sunday alleged that their farmland and huts were set on fire by members of a forest protection group engaged by the state government.
During the day, the tribal people of Kapsabhata, Sariabhata and Laktipokhona villages under the banner of 'Rashtriya Kissan Mazdoor Mahasangha' staged a protest near the district magistrate's office here.
They lodged a complaint at the Umerkote Police Station, alleging that Vana Surakshya Samiti members had on Saturday evening destroyed their crops and shelters built by them near the fields, a senior officer said.
Notably, the state government engages volunteers to protect forests and promote conservation practices.
The tribal people also claimed that the forest protection group members along with over 1,000 people, including women, from nearby villages, set their maize crops and huts on fire.
The incident took place inside the reserve forest in Burja Gram Panchayat under the Umerkote Block of the district, the officer said.
"A scuffle broke out between the people belonging to Kondh tribe and the forest protection group members who mostly hail from Kusamguda, Sirliguda, Bamandeibhata, Sirliguda, Palbeda,Kasarbhata and Chichiniguda villages. It is a long-standing dispute. Vana Surakshya Samiti alleges that the tribal people have been cultivating maize by encroaching forest land," a district official said.
The Kondh tribal people, who reside in Kapsabhata, Sariabhata and Laktipokhona villages, have been cultivating in the forest area for a long time, and they have been demanding 10 acres of forest land for each of the 147 households as per the Forest Right Act, the local revenue circle officer said.
"They have been allotted two or three acres of land for cultivation. There are 147 households in the three tribal villages.
"On the other hand, the Vana Surakshya Samiti accused the tribals of encroaching more forest land than their allotment for farming," he said.
The agitating Kondh tribal cultivators met Nabarangpur's Additional District Magistrate Bhaskar Raita during the day and held a detailed discussion with him.
"The district administration has been trying to bring about a permanent solution to the dispute. Strict action would be initiated against the people involved in damaging the crops, setting huts on fire and assaulting the Kondh cultivators of the three villages," the ADM said.
Assistant Conservator of Forest Dhanurjaya Mohapatro also said, "Proper action would be taken against those who damaged the maize crops. The dispute is continuing since 2013," he said.