Jitbahan Kandeiburu is made of steel and solid grit. He relentlessly fought for his displaced community, tried all the possible ways to get compensation for their land and houses that were submerged when Rukuna Dam was built, in 2012, at Sundargarh, Odisha, India.
His father taught him the values of community and collective power, of standing up for rights in a peaceful way, and to never give up on issues that were exploitative. After the Dam was built and they were denied any compensation, his father mobilised the villagers to speak up to the local authorities. The villagers, whenever they raise their voices, were always pushed down and shooed away, the local police started harassing them, sometimes even arresting them on flimsy issues. Seeing this gross violation of their people’s rights, his father went into a bout of depression and passed away. That incident, rather than breaking Jitbahan, gave him more fuel to stand up for his community.
The area of Sundargarh comes under the 5th schedule of the constitution. The administration and control of Scheduled Areas and Scheduled Tribes are addressed in the 5th Schedule of Indian Constitution. When the Dam was being built, the Gram Sabha (Village Council) was not consulted, though it is a mandate by the law. This is a special constitutional protection for the marginalised groups that is necessary to ensure injustices against them.
Though the local administration assured them land and housing for their lost land, they did not receive any compensation. They have violated the PESA ACT 1996, in toto. The act aids Gram Sabha to regulate primary tribal concerns like traditional resources, forest supplies, minerals, water resources, land holdings etc.
Jitbahan googled the Scheduled Tribe Commissioners phone number and he got a toll-free helpline number in his search. His intuition told him that if there is pressure from New Delhi, the capital, to the local authorities, they may get a better response for their complaints. He managed to get an appointment with the Commissioner and travelled to New Delhi - the train takes 36 hours to reach there.
They demanded land against land and house against house. Seeing the legitimacy of their demand, the Commissioner assured them that he will take this matter forward with Central and State Governments.
In 2021, the Scheduled Tribes Commissioner called Jitbahan and representatives of their community to Bhuvaneshwar, to have a meeting with all the local administrative officials. It was attended by all the top ranking officials of State Government and Central Committees.
They were assured of their demands, and promised facilities such as schools, anganwadi, health centre, roads, electricity etc, in their new location.
We salute the unflinching spirit of the Jitbahan and his friends. You inspire us.