Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Kamal Nath on Saturday announced that he has ordered an investigation after forest officials allegedly used pellet guns against Adivasis in Burhanpur district. The chief minister said the guilty will not be spared.
Four Adivasis were injured in the incident on July 9. The forest officials alleged that the Adivasis pelted stones at them. The violence was sparked by an eviction drive by the forest department, which activists called illegal. On February 13, the Supreme Court had ordered the eviction of more than 10 lakh forest-dwelling families whose claims over traditional forestlands under the Forest Rights Act had been rejected. The Centre filed an affidavit, expressing doubts over whether state governments had followed due process while passing rejection orders. The Supreme Court stayed its order on February 28.
On May 1, the Madhya Pradesh government began re-examining the cases of several Adivasis whose land claims had been rejected, and notified all district collectors not to carry out any evictions till those cases had been examined again. Despite that, on the morning of July 9, around 50 forest department officials and police went to Siwal village in Nepanagar block with excavators and began razing local farms.
Senior Congress leaders Digvijaya Singh and Jyotiraditya Scindia raised the matter on Friday, after party MLA Hiralal Alawa wrote to Nath, seeking action against the officials. “The development of tribals and protection of their rights are priority of the Congress government under Kamal Nath’s leadership,” Digvijaya Singh tweeted. “The incident is against the declared policy of the current government.”
“Progress and welfare of the tribal population is the priority of the MP Government,” Scindia tweeted. “The unfortunate incident in Burhanpur is condemnable. I request the chief minister to investigate the case in a transparent and unbiased manner and take strict action against the guilty officers.”
In response, Kamal Nath said: “Magisterial inquiry has been ordered on the next day of the incident of firing during the clashes between forest team and villagers in Badnapur forest area of Nepanagar. There will be a fair investigation of the incident, no guilty will be spared.”
Superintendent of Police Ajay Singh told PTI that the forest officials and Adivasis have filed complaints against each other, with the filing of cross-first information reports. “Inquiry will be conducted by the Additional District Magistrate,” he said.