Villagers in M.P. oppose removal of godman’s shrine

Structure was encroaching upon the point of origin of the Betwa river inside the Ratapani sanctuary

Villagers damaged an earthmover and a jeep in the Ratapani Wildlife Sanctuary in Raisen district after authorities removed a shrine of a local godman encroaching upon the point of origin of the Betwa river on Friday morning, said the district Collector.

Denying reports of firing by officials, Collector Umashankar Bhargav said while a joint team of foresters, the police and revenue officials was returning from the Jhiri Baheda village, 30 km from here, after carrying out the task, villagers skulking behind trees pelted stones on the vehicles, causing damage.

“We have removed the encroachments and freed the point of origin of the river. No injuries were reported,” he said. In the past eight years, a local godman had developed a hut, a cow shelter and a shrine on the spot.

The Kamal Nath government a month ago had launched a drive against encroachments and mafia in different regions and of varying nature.

“We were caught unawares at night,” said Hridesh Singh, sarpanch of the village, home to 4,000 families. “We awoke to loud thuds of buildings being brought down.”

At least the authorities should have informed and consulted villagers first, he said. “The centuries-old Hanuman temple, whose structure was built by the panchayat, is still intact. Only encroachments that cropped up over the years around it have been brought down,” he added.

‘Tear gas used’

As villagers gathered around the blocked roads, foresters fired tear gas shells at them, claimed Mr. Singh. “Especially on Sundays, there are people from Bhopal and elsewhere who visit the spot for picnics. And residents of 20 villages around come to pray here.”

Recently, a panel set up by the State government had finalised the contours of a proposed tiger reserve, the seventh for the State, to be carved out of the sanctuary.

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