Bhubaneswar: At least four people attempted to kill themselves here after being denied an appointment with Orissa Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik. They were among hundreds of protesters from Koraput district who have been displaced from their lands by a tribal outfit.
Although police managed to foil their suicide bids Monday evening, the protesters said they would do it again if they were not allowed to put forth their grievances before the chief minister.
"Three-four people poured kerosene on themselves. We intervened," Deputy Commissioner of Police HK Lal said.
Hundreds of men and women from Narayanpatna and Bandhugaon area of Koraput have been protesting here since Saturday to draw the attention of the government to their problems.
The residents say they have been living in immense hardship for more than a year after a local tribal outfit took away their lands and destroyed their homes.
"The local administration assured us of rehabilitation in our villages, but it did nothing. The chief minister visited our area last year and promised to help but it yielded no results," said AK Mallik, a protest leader.
"We wanted an appointment with the chief minister to remind him what he had promised to us but officials refused to do so," Mallik said, adding the villagers were left with no choice but to kill themselves.
Koraput District Collector RP Patil said some 500 families were displaced in the region, but 300 had already returned home.
"The administration has sanctioned money for them to build houses, and provided other assistance. Besides police patrolling has been intensified in the region to protect their life and property," he said.
But the protesters refute these claims and say all measures have only been on paper. They say more than 2,000 people are still homeless and living in fear in various parts of the district, some even in the forests.
Trouble began after tribals under the banner of Chasi Mulia Adivasi Sangha (Peasants, Labourers and Tribals Association) forcibly occupied hundreds of acres of farmland and homes in the region by hoisting red flags on the lands.
The tribals claim they were the owners of the lands which others had been cultivating for decades.
Police said the Chasi Mulia Adivasi Sangha (CMAS) is backed by Maoists who have a strong presence in the region. CMAS members forcibly displaced the villagers, including some local people`s representatives, mainly for not supporting the activities of the Sangha in the region, police said.
The Sangha, however, denies any links with the rebels. Police are on the lookout for top CMAS leader Nachika Linga, who remains underground. Police claimed Linga was involved in more than 50 crimes, including four murders.