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Headman barks up wrong tree

Nalhati, Aug. 21: Residents of a Birbhum pocket have imposed a fine of Rs 8,000 on the headman for cutting seven trees on his land, an unusual move in tribal settlements where village elders call the shots.

The villagers of Simlabagan had called a kangaroo court two weeks ago and taken the decision to slap the fine on Soniram Hansda. Hansda, a small farmer, fled the village with his son. When he returned 10 days later, the villagers insisted that he pay the fine.

The headman, or the morol, has lodged a complaint with the BDO.

“This is unusual. Villagers in tribal areas usually follow the headman and his orders. The decision to fine the morol is against the tribal way of life,” said Sunil Soren, the convenor of a tribal welfare organisation called Birbhum Adivasi Gaonta.

Nalhati-I BDO Tapas Biswas said he had called a meeting of the morol, the villagers and the panchayat pradhan tomorrow to sort out the matter.

Divisional forest officer Santosha G.R. said the forest department’s permission was required to cut trees. “The rule is that if you cut one tree, you will have to plant two saplings.”

Headman Hansda said he cut the Sonajhuri trees about 15 days ago to sell them because he needed money. “How can I give them Rs 8,000? I don’t have so much money.”

A forest official said the seven trees would cost around Rs 40,000.