About 80 Koya Tribe families of Satyanarayanapuram village in Chandrugonda Mandal of Telangana’s Bhadradri Kothagudem district were allegedly beaten up in June by the police and Forest Department officials when they resisted plantations in a 200 acres land where their families have been practicing podu cultivation (a form of shifting cultivation predominantly practiced by Adivasis on forest land) for some decades now.
The tribes argue that their families have been awaiting land titles of the disputed land under the Forest Rights Act, 2005 (FRA). Subsequently, when Left activists intervened, the officials reportedly stepped back.
In the last four weeks, tribals from 13 villages across the state have resisted Forest Department officials from conducting plantations on land being cultivated by them and claimed under Forest Rights Act, 2006, according to Left activists. On June 24, the state government launched its sixth phase of the Haritha Haram programme under which saplings were to be planted to increase the green cover in the state.
“Chief Minister K Chandrashekar Rao had numerous times promised that all eligible tribals will get land titles, but did nothing to keep up to his words. In the last six years of his regime, the government did not even constitute Forest Rights Committees which would foresee the implementation of FRA,” said former MP and CPI(M) leader Mediyam Babu Rao.
Since 2015, when the state government began the ‘Haritha Haram’ programme, numerous incidents of violence between tribal groups and forest officials have been reported. Last July, two incidents of violence have been reported between farmers, mainly from Tribal communities and Forest Department officials during Haritha Haram plantation drive in Sarasala village of Kagaznagar in the state’s newly formed Komaram Bheem Asifabad district.
Under Haritha Haram, the state government aims to plant 230 crore saplings across the state to increase its forest cover from present 24% to 33%. As per the government figures, 182 crore saplings were planted in the last five years. The plantations have been taking place during the monsoon season every year.
Opposition parties including CPI(M) and Congress have alleged that hundreds of crores of rupees of public money are being misused under the scheme.
In a press statement on July 20, Telangana Pradesh Congress Committee treasurer Gudur Narayan Reddy challenged the CM “to carry out a tree census in the state” to prove their claims about the plantations made. Citing an RTI response, the Congress leader said that Rs 3,630 crore has been spent in the name of plantations and called it a “scam”. He questioned the Rs 6.91 crore expense incurred for purchasing green khandwas (clothes) for the scheme.
Hundreds of crores of CAMPA (Compensatory Afforestation Fund Act) funds are misused and poor tribals are being harassed, says B Venkat, State CPI(M) leader and general secretary of All India Agriculture Workers’ Union. Speaking to NewsClick, Venkat said, “Left activists are resisting forceful evictions of tribals from Podu lands in Adilabad, Khammam, Warangal and Bhadradri Kothagudem districts. The state government has failed to implement FRA and is now harassing tribes.”
As of February 24, the Telangana government had rejected 5,312 claims under the FRA. While the Supreme Court is hearing a case on the eviction of tribals from forest lands, so far 14 states have stated that they have rejected 543,432 claims under the Forest Rights Act, 2006.