Bengaluru: According to information received, 22 Adivasi residents of Bondamunda area in Sundergarh district, Odisha, were arrested by police on March 28. The arrested include activist Deme Oram of the Anchalik Surakshya Committee of Bondamunda, leading a struggle by 700 Adivasis who were displaced from their land by the South-Eastern Railways' Bondamunda marshalling yard project.
Since March 16, the displaced persons, led by Oram, were sitting on an indefinite dharna protesting further displacement and demanding the implementation of recommendations made by the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes. On March 28, 200 demonstrators were detained by police. While most were released after a few hours, 22 persons, including Oram were placed under arrest.
Deme Oram. Source: Oram’s Facebook profile
Over the phone, Bikram Keshari Bhoi, additional superintendent of Police, Rourkela, confirmed their arrest and stated that after producing them before a judicial magistrate, the police were granted custody for 15 days. FIR No. 44 has been filed at the Bisra police station in Rourkeladistrict, Bhoi said, under Sections 147 (punishment for rioting), 148 (rioting, armed with a deadly weapon), 149 (unlawful assembly committed in prosecution of common object), 186 (punishment for obstructing a public servant in discharge of his public functions), 294 (obscene acts or songs in a public place), 307 (attempt to murder), 323 (punishment for voluntarily causing hurt), 353 (assault or criminal force to deter public servant from discharge of his duty), 506 (punishment for criminal intimidation) of the Indian Penal Code, and Section 7 of the Criminal Law Amendment Act, 1932 (molesting a person to the prejudice of employment or business). According to Bhoi, the arrests were made as the group illegally obstructed the construction work of a road overbridge at Kukuda gate, Bisra.
As per the FIR, a copy of which is with NewsClick, along with Deme Oram, the list of persons named in the FIR include, Edwin Marshal Hembram, Jagannath Oram, Rohit Oram, Ajay Oram, Bandhana Lakra, Ajay Oram, Sunil Tirkey, Deba Kerketta, Bijay Naik, Samara Ekka, Mahadev Barla, Sukra Oram, Fagu Ekka, Budhua Lakra, Bikram Keshari Oram, Joseph Oram, Sukru Ekka, Gilani Barua, Bhutu Oram, Manoj Kujur, Mahadev Tanty, and 200 other unnamed persons.
According to a statement released by Oram regarding the agitation, more than 700 displaced Adivasis in and around Bondamunda and members of Anchalika Surakshya Committee, Bondamunda have been sitting on an indefinite dharna since March 16, 2022, protesting any further displacement and demanding justice and implementation of the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes (NCST) recommendations. Oram's statement adds that there has been a deployment of the heavy police force in the area since the agitation has started.
According to the statement, about 4,000 acres of land in and around Bondamunda was purportedly acquired by the government in the years 1956-64 to set up the Bondamunda Marshalling yard. However, the Odisha government does not have any details of the land that was not in its possession since then. The Adivasis who were displaced are demanding extended compensation and no further displacement.
In 2018, after making a field visit to the area, the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes (NCST) had issued an order stating that “in many villages, the LDPs (Land Displaced People) are living in pathetic conditions where no facilities have been provided to them. The NCST had recommended allocating five acres of unirrigated land and two acres of irrigated land to each of the displaced Adivasi families. Adivasi persons settled on acquired land must not be evicted until they receive adequate resettlement and rehabilitation as required under the law.
Following the non-implementation of these recommendations, the Commission had issued another order in November 2019 calling for the allocation of land to be completed in two months and barring construction activities from being conducted in the acquired land without the consent of the displaced Adivasi families. A detailed account of the issue of displacement of Adivasis in Bondamunda from September 2020 can be found in this NewsClick report by this reporter.
Oram’s statement added that “the local administration, earlier having given false assurances to the local communities, have been violating the NCST's orders and is now harassing, intimidating and creating an environment of fear for the local communities."
The author is an independent journalist. His views are personal.