Displaced by Project Similipal Tiger, 144 tribal families seek voting rights in Panchayat elections

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Even as Odisha witnessed the conduct of three out of five rounds of voting for the election to 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 a travesty of fate, as many as 144 families belonging to the Khadia tribal community now face an uncertain future after they were allegedly omitted from the voter roll for these Panchayat elections.

According to reports, these families were moved from Khejuri village inside the sanctuary and transferred to Saleibeda under Thakurmunda block of Mayurbhanj by the state government. Although the Forest Department has provided them with houses to stay in, other basic amenities like electricity, road communications, health care and education are still a distant dream for them.

As if that were not enough, they recently had their names omitted from the voters list, preventing them from exercising their right to vote.

Displaced tribals fear that if they don’t vote in Saleibeda, the next Sarpanch will never address their grievances.

Sudarshan Dehury, a displaced tribal, said: “We don’t have our names on the voters list here. The authorities told us to go to our home town of Khejuri to vote. We are deprived of basic amenities here. The forest department washed their hands after providing us with houses. But we have no school for our children, no anganwadi centre. Health is still a distant dream for us,” he said.

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

Thakurmunda Block Development Officer (BDO) Shyamsundar Tudu said, “Families were brought in from Jashipur area. According to our information, when our officials arrived in Saleibeda to modify the electoral list, the families refused to register. They will have to vote now at the stands where their names have been registered.

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