Daily Archives: April 6, 2012

Mahua Collectors left in lurch

Poor forest dwellers, mostly tribals, are facing a tough time with the shrinking green canopy and distress sale of Mahua flower has only hit them hard.

In non-irrigated areas, people fall back on the forest produce for about six months in a year for sustenance. They engage in collection of non-timber forest produce (NTFP) which includes Mahua and sell them in the market to add to their family income. While the menfolk go out to work, it is mostly women who collect the NTFP.

But with prices of Mahua flowers getting reduced by almost half this year, the toil they put in to collect NTFP is not being compensated. Price of Mahua flower is fixed by the panchayat and usually it will be a little higher than the previous year’s price.

While in Bamra, Kuchinda and Paikmal, the price fixed varies from Rs 12 to Rs 15, it is sold at much less in weekly haats. Here, they sell it for as little as Rs 5 a kg while the damaged flowers are priced at Rs 2 a kg. Villagers said though initially Rs 7 per kg was offered, it reduced gradually.

The economics of Mahua flower is unique. While it fetches the much-needed income for the poor tribals, the government earns a huge sum of revenue from the brewed spirit that is prepared from the flowers. While the brew is priced at Rs 50 a litre, the cost of a kg of Mahua flower is only Rs 5.

Villagers, mostly women and children, toil the whole day to collect Mahua flowers, dry them and sell it to the mahajans (middle men). Most of the villagers are ignorant of the support price and often barter Mahua flower for salt and rice.

Normally, a committee is constituted at block level to fix the price of NTFP. The rate fixed is then intimated to the panchayats for information to the poor collectors. But with the information failing to reach the collectors, it is the middlemen who end up earning the maximum leaving the poor collectors in the lurch.

To add to their woes, there are no storage facilities and huts of the collectors are too small to stock the flowers. In the absence of knowledge about the prices fixed for the NTFP, they are forced to dispose of them at whatever price the middlemen offer.

Patient dies as ambulance hits truck

A patient going to Bhubaneswar for treatment died in a road accident on Thursday when the ambulance that was carrying him collided head on with a truck. The mishap took place at Bethgarh near Redhakhol in  Sambalpur district. The ambulance driver was also killed. The truck driver and others accompanying the patient were seriously injured and admitted to a hospital. Police have seized the vehicles and registered a case.

Police sources said Radheyshyam Tidimania of Jharsuguda was under treatment in Sambalpur for quite sometime. On the advice of doctors, he was being taken to Bhubaneswar for better treatment. The patient was accompanied by his wife.

A police officer said, “While the truck driver Bachha Singh was found wounded severely, the ambulance driver was killed on the spot,” a police officer said. According to him, the truck driver had lost control over the vehicle. The patient’s wife, Puspa, the assistants of the ambulance-driver, Khirod and Ananta Sahu, and another relative of the patient, Gopal Singh, were taken to a hospital.

Sikhs protest college barring boy with kripan

Tension prevailed for hours in  Rourkela College on Thursday after college authorities debarred a Sikh student from appearing in the university examination for carrying his ‘kripan’, a traditional weapon carried by members of the Sikh community.

Three other non-Sikh community students also did not appear in the examination, protesting the decision of the college authorities, while hundreds of Sikhs assembled in front of the college, protesting against the incident.

The Sikh boy and three of his friends were finally allowed to take the examination about three hours later after several senior district administration officials rushed to the spot and intervened in the matter. A written apology was also submitted by the principal of the college to pacify the Sikh community.

According to sources, when Harwinder Singh, a third year ex-regular student of Rourkela College, was entering the examination hall, a group of college staff noticed his kripan hanging under his shirt and asked him to keep the weapon outside the hall. Harwinder tried to explain to the college authorities the Sikh tradition of carrying the article upon one’s person at all times but the college authorities were adamant on their stand and refused to allow him to enter the examination hall with the kripan.

Naveen Jain, Ashok Mohanty and Bimal Mallick — three of his classmates — also boycotted the examination, showing solidarity with Harwinder.

Sikh community members tried to reason with the college principal, informing him about a Supreme Court order that Sikhs are allowed to carry their kripan even in tight securities areas like aircrafts. “We tried our best to convince the principal and staff of the college but they were rigid on their stand and there was no sympathy for the career of Harwinder and the other three boys,” said Gurmeet Singh, president of Gurudwara Prabandhak Committee.

Finding no other alternative, members of the community staged a demonstration to draw the attention of the district administration, following which senior district officials like sub-collector S B Mishra and Rourkela additional SP Sudarsan Sethi reached the spot. The matter was also brought to the knowledge of examination controller of  Sambalpur University, who granted a special permission to the four students to appear in the examination, after about three hours of examination starting time.

Pradeep Kumar Jena, principal of the college, was forced to submit a written apology to the Sikh community for hurting their sentiments. “I had no intention of hurting the sentiments of the Sikh community but the problem occurred due to inadvertent interpretation of the examination law for which I am extremely sorry,” Jena mentioned in his apology letter.

The Sikh community thanked the district administration for their intervention and support