One of the greatest hurdles to overcome while working in a tribal predominant area is to secure a land for running day-to-day operations. According to Forest Rights Act 2006, forest land cannot be sold to anyone. In case there are villages that are completely occupied by tribal people within forests or the forest dwelling communities, its land will automatically belong to them. They aren’t allowed to sell it. However, if they want to rent a piece of their land, which is not of use to them for the time being, it is completely legit.
Every village in India is divided into plots, which are owned by different people. In tribal predominant districts, the plots mainly belong to tribal people but in villages where mixed population resides, some plots are owned by people from different castes.
We (Swasthya Swaraj), as an organization recently faced an issue related to land when we wanted to renovate the clinic building to provide better patient care. We only intended to repair the broken parts of the existing building and not expand it over additional land. We realized it’s a disputed piece of land and many people are interested in obtaining it. Often, our field staff would receive threats from different parties claiming the land to be theirs.
In reality, there were four parties involved in the dispute:
- An organization called Sahabhagi Vikas Abhiyan (SVA)
- A man named Haro Pujari
- Another person called Purno Majhi and,
- As our fate would have it, Sawsthya Swaraj Society (SSS), since we are running our health clinic there.
One may think why this land dispute is arising suddenly out of the blue. SSS has been running the clinic for last four years. It had never been a smooth ride for the organization. Troublemakers have always been around. To give you a bit of history, let’s go back to 2003 when SVA purchased the land from Haro Pujari who was then the Sarpanch of Kerpai Gram Panchyat and an owner of 1.8 acres of land in the village. When SVA approached him to buy the land, he agreed to sell 0.2 acres out of it.
Now, SVA built two buildings on the given land and started working. They needed local staff to manage the building and day-to-day work in Kerpai. So, they hired two relatively well-educated men from Kachilekha, a neighboring SC (scheduled caste) dominated village. Even though the constitution of India has equal rights & reservation clause for both SCs & STs (scheduled tribes), SCs have somehow always considered themselves superior to STs, especially in this area.
Going back to the two men from Kachilekha village, both were young, enthusiastic and ecstatic, since they were the first ones in the area to get employed. One of them, Trilochan Naik was hired to look after the operations of SVA in Kerpai while the other, Gajendra Naik was a care taker of the building. Both of them enjoyed their monthly salary which came on time, without having to constantly scratch their heads. There have been rumors of both of them engaging in scandalous activities, from having a separate source of income to sexually harassing tribal women in the office building, but let’s not get into all that, more so because I don’t have any evidence to validate those stories.
5 years later, in 2008, SVA could not handle the burden of their operational cost in Kerpai. They decided to leave for the time being. Trilochan and Gajendra who were peacefully enjoying their life, without having much work to do, were shocked. Suddenly, a regular source of income disappeared. But, both of them continued to use the building for their personal work .
Fast forward 5 more years to 2013, Swasthya Swaraj was now entering the field. They visited Kerpai for the first time and were interested in setting-up a small health center there. They checked out the building built by SVA and after some research, met the founder of the organization. A rental agreement between the two was carried out. SSS would pay monthly rent to SVA and could modify the building upon request. Everything looked fine except that it wasn’t.
Trilochan and Gajendra had other plans for the place, and SSS was destroying them. Both of them wanted to give the land to a corporate mining company which would fetch them a huge amount of money. They did not rightfully own the land but claimed it to be theirs with all confidence. When SSS started working there, Gajendra was constantly creating trouble. He would show up at the clinic whenever he wanted, completely under the influence of alcohol and ask the staff to leave. Sometime, he’d give death threats to others and blabber all kind of nonsense.
As the network of SSS grew, we got in touch with the district’s Superintendent of Police (SP) and told him about the situation. He immediately called in for Gajendra and I’m not sure what he told but after that, the man completely stopped visiting us.
5 more years later in 2018 (and I promise this is the last leap), Swasthya Swaraj decided to renovate the entire clinic so that they can introduce more health facilities with more equipment and increased number of patient beds. The plan and budget were ready, construction material was transported to the health center and suddenly, a stranger comes in and asks us to stop and leave immediately. It was Trilochan, accompanied by Gajendra who started harassing the staff. They began to claim that the land where we were reconstructing, does not legally belong to SVA and that we should immediately stop our work. They were seriously threatening the team.
The next thing we did was to approach SVA and ask them if there was a problem with the land. They showed us the sale deed, with the marking of land in Kerpai where they had constructed it. That’s when we found that one of the buildings that SVA had constructed was on a land owned by a tribal man, Purno Majhi, another party involved in the dispute. The land separating two buildings was actually a road originating about 15 years back, and the other building was constructed on the land sold to SVA by Haro Pujari.
We were not aware of all this. So, when we were asked to stop the construction by Trilochan, one of our doctors said something in Odiya, which is not her native language. That offended Trilochan and consequently, he came drunk one day, with all his gang members and created a ruckus in the clinic. It took almost 2-3 hours to calm it down. The only way to move forward now was to take a Revenue Inspector (RI) to the clinic building along with Haro Pujari and measure the land to settle the dispute.
After a month of hustling here and there, we finally managed to get an RI who measured the land where we could rightfully renovate, and thus the sale deed was rectified. He also confirmed that the place where we planned to construct originally, wasn’t wrong.
Despite facing such obstacles since the beginning and all other trouble, we continue our efforts to provide quality healthcare to the deprived tribal population.
NOTE: The names used in this blog are real. It is my choice to not protect anyone’s identity here.