Nine days later,55 tribals from Bhilpur village in Chhota Udepur finally gave up their indefinite hunger strike Wednesday evening,after the officials of the state forest department promised to stop plantation activity on the disputed 37 hectare of land for the time being and look into their claim to own the land under the Forest Rights Act.
The officials visited the site where the tribal villagers had camped to protest against the decision of the forest department to carry out plantation which they claimed to be owned collectively by them. They were accompanied by Chhota Udepur MP Ramsinh Rathwa and ex-MLA Gulsinhbhai Rathwa.
The tribals had gone on indefinite hunger strike from March 26,after forest department officials started plantation work on the patch of land situated at the centre of their village. They claimed to having secured collective ownership of the land under the Forest Rights Act,2006,in November 2008,which they said the forest department officials were not ready to acknowledge.
Plantation work will not be carried out until we become clear about their claims of ownership of land,though we believe a large part of the land that they claim to own falls in the area where they live. The plantation was being carried out in an isolated piece of land, a forest official said.
Villagers said the officials of the forest department and district administration had not visited them even once at the site of their strike,though forest department officials called their representatives once on Sunday to a meeting that remained inconclusive.
Eleven of our fellow protesters had to be taken to a local hospital at Tejgadh for treatment after they fainted for want of food. We were surviving on only water and no food,but as if even this was not enough to have our voice heard, Dinesh Rathwa,a villager,said.
On Tuesday night,four protesting villagers were taken to a local hospital after they developed health complications caused by prolonged hunger strike. Earlier,on Friday last week,six persons had to be checked up by doctors.
Villagers said the 37-hectare land was used by them collectively since ages and was secured by them under the Act,after it came into effect in January 2008. They said the disputed piece of land contained two temples,a school,and a pond,and was used as a grazing ground for their cattle. Forest department officials said the villagers only owned around 10 hectare land.