By Nagaratna Harikant
Despite the Election Commission’s efforts to achieve 100% polling in the Lok Sabha elections, only two persons from 11 remote villages falling under the Uttara Kannada Parliamentary constituency exercised their vote on April 23.
The villagers belonging to Gavali, Chapoli, Chirekhani, Mudugai, Kapoli, Pastoli, Kongala, Krishnapura, Holda, Degaon and Talewadi stayed away from the elections to register their protest against the Forest Department for hindering development works in the villages. The villagers had submitted a memorandum in this regard to the Khanapur Tahsildar, upset over the lack of basic infrastructure such as schools and healthcare facilities, but to no avail.
With the 11 villages, situated on the fringe of the Bhimghad Sanctuary on the border with Goa, boycotting the elections, the polling booths set up in these villages wore a deserted look, even as the whole of north Karnataka went to polling.
Except for a gram panchayat waterman and an anganwadi worker, none of the 1,854 eligible voters from the 564 families belonging to the 11 villages cast their vote. The villagers paid no heed to the polling officials’ request to come and vote.
“There are 11 villages in the Bhimghad Sanctuary jurisdiction. Two polling booths were exclusively set up inside the forest to facilitate voting for the families in these villages, but only two votes were cast in the Chapoli booth,” confirmed Assistant Returning Officer AH Umesh.
Why are the villagers upset?
Nestled in the Western Ghats, the Bhimghad forest in Khanapur taluk is home to tigers, black panther, sloth bear, king cobra and the rare Wroughton’s free-tailed bat. The Mahadayi river takes birth in the Bhimghad forest and joins the Arabian Sea in Goa. The Bhimghad Sanctuary was declared a sanctuary in 2011. Since the 11 villages are within the jurisdiction of the sanctuary, no development works have been taken up under the Wildlife Protection Act.
Bhimgad check post centre
In fact, the state government has issued a gazetted notification to rehabilitate these forest dwellers. As per the notification, 800 acres of land was identified in Gavali village for the rehabilitation process. However, nothing much has been done because a committee to supervise the rehabilitation process is yet to be formed. The committee has to comprise an Assistant Commissioner and a Special Tahsildar.
For the past many years, the forest department and the Belagavi district administration have been requesting the state government to fill up these special posts so that the rehabilitation work can start, but in vain. As a result, the forest dwellers are deprived of basic amenities like power, education and health. The villages are located 12 to 15 km from the Bhimghad Sanctuary main check post, so during the rainy season, they remain completely cut off from the main town. Agriculture is the primary source of income for the villagers.
Besides, as per the Forest Ministry, the villagers were supposed to receive Rs 10 lakh as rehabilitation package. The package was later increased to Rs 15 lakh. Yet, due to apparent technical glitches, the rehabilitation process is in the backburner. If the forest dwellers decide to leave the forest on their own, they would not be entitled to the rehabilitation package.
The villagers now do not have any other choice but to be at the mercy of the state government. The forest dwellers are hoping that Forest Minister Satish Jarkiholi, who hails from Belagavi district, would do justice to them without any delay.
Story by www.storyinfinity.com (Subs and Scribes Media Ventures LLP).