More than 50 Gond and Korku tribals, under the aegis of the Samajwadi Jan Parishad (SJP), protested at the Betul collectorate in Madhya Pradesh on Thursday to have themselves enlisted as voters.

The tribals on Danwakheda forest in Ghodadongri assembly segment of the Betul seat, who subsist on minor forest produce such as mahua and firewood, have been requesting the local administration for voting rights since 2012. However, an enquiry by the collector has deemed them to be residents of neighbouring Chhindwara district and held their settlement to be an illegal encroachment on forest land.

Rajendra Garhwal who led the demonstration told The Hindu that these tribals migrated back from Chhindwara to their native village in Danwakheda forest in 2000 due to malnutrition deaths. “They have never voted in their lives, either in Chhindwara or Betul. Anyone who lives in any place for more than six months is eligible to vote there. The collector has not produced any electoral list that has their names on it,” he said.

Collector RP Mishra told The Hindu that the tribals were being exploited in lieu of land. SJP’s Fagram is a candidate from the seat.

“A report has been submitted to the Election Commission (EC) by its observer Sushil Kumar. No such village exists. It is a forest area, 13 km Rampur Bhatoli panchayat. I visited the area with two divisional forests officers on April 6 and we found only 10 people there. They are actually from Haldumatia in Chhindwara which is 3km from there,” Mr. Mishra told The Hindu.

He added that a separate enquiry for deforestation in the area will be conducted. Garhwal claimed that when the collector visited, tribals had gone to collect mahua. It is currently mahua harvest season, an important tradition for adivasis, in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, West Bengal, Odisha and Maharashtra.

The SJP is using the cases filed against adivasis for encroachment since 2001 to prove that they are residents here. After their huts were allegedly burnt down by foresters in 2001, an FIR was registered under directions of the EC in 2003.