With an eye on the Lok Sabha polls, Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath has stepped up efforts to expand his influence in the most backward communities living in the forest protected regions of the Eastern Uttar Pradesh by granting their villages the status of revenue villages, entitling them to land rights as also access to ration card, electricity, water, toilets, health centres and schools.
It is estimated that over 50,000 villagers may thus be brought into the ‘mainstream’ by the the Yogi Government. This could give the Government a leg-up in backward communities and send a political message across the state with a tough election battle only six-month away.
Twenty three ‘Vantangiya villages’ inhabitated by backward caste, mostly belonging to ‘Nishad’ community of Gorkhpur and Maharganj districts, have been accorded status of revenue villages in October 17, 2017.The process of giving similar status to the villages in Balrampur district is under process.
The decision marked the end of long struggle by these forest dwelling community for their permanent land rights. They were brought and settled here by the British around 1922 from different places for growing seasonal crops in the space lying between the trees, Post-Independent, in eighties ‘Vantangiyas’ were sought to be evicted by forest department, triggering series of conflicts.
The Forest Rights Act , 2006, enacted when BSP was in powerm, gave them land titles. It is now that ‘Vantangiyas’ look forward to a ‘permanent settlement’ of their issues, though , for many there is still a long way to go. “ Jitna kabbja tha utna nahin mila”, complains Ram Sukhdev Nishad at `Aam Bagh` village saying the entire stretch of the land he was cultivating for decades was not allotted him.
Yogi and his Gorakhnath Math’s sustained interest in the community who are a mix of OBC & Scheduled caste has now brought ‘Vantangiyas’ from neglect to seemingly limelight.
Chief Minister’s supporters say Yogi as an MP had first celebrated ‘Diwali’ with Vantangiyas’ in 2007 and since than he has been visiting them frequently.
Yogij paid visit to `Tinkonia-3’ village on November 7, to celebrate Diwali with them.
The Chief Minister has ordered speeding up the development programmes in for `Vantangiya’ villagers after having brought them under the revenue map, says Ranvijay Singh ‘Munna’, Gram Pradhan, and a Yogi confidante.
District magistrate K Vijendra Pandiyan says with Yogi’s initiative “reserve forest villages were converted to revenue villages”.
Gorakhpur Commissioner Amit Gupta also avers that ‘Vantangiya’, would have a better life after the Yogi government accorded them revenue village status last year.
As one enters the `Tinkonia-3’ village, close to Gorakhpur, a tent school is being run for class one to five (148 students) as also a junior school from class six to eight (31 students) with children vociferously repeating what ‘Sahayak’ teacher Rekha Singh is reading out to them.
“ Yogi started the first school here in 2007 under the banner of Guru Goraksha Sansthan”, says Meena Singh, Block Development Officer, Chargaon, walks you around. “ No pakki sadak or bus service though, 108 & 102 ambulance service is provided for now”, says Singh.
With Yogi himself taking interest and monitoring the development works after according revenue village status to ‘Vantangiya’ villages, central and State Government promoted development schemes are flowing in officially. The villagers are gradually having access to ration cards, AAdhar cards and drinkable water from what they call TTSP (Tap, Tap, Stardard Post) with several taps around one post.
“Their name did not figure in 2011 census and could not be beneficiary of the central schemes”, says JB Khuswaha, Additional Development Officer, who also mentions that ‘Vantagiyas’ did not have voting rights until recent years.
With the official machinery in action and moving in regularly, the villagers hope that all of them would be voting in the Lok Sabha-2019 polls .
Though in 2015, ‘Vantangiyas’ participated in Panchyat elections but only as voters attached to other gram Panchayats.
The caste certificates too which were earlier denied to them may now be delivered to them, giving ‘Vantagiyas’ life advantages in the caste-driven State.