Tribals engaged in coffee brewing in the Nilgiri Ranges in Tamil Nadu are accusing the state government and its Forest Department of depriving them of their rightful compensation. The community has stated that collectively they have been swindled of Rs 2 crore. They have filed a case of fraud against the Forest Department officials on September 3. The case against the officials has been registered under the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989.
The land conflict is primarily rooted in the relocation process over the creation of the Mudumalai Tiger Reserve (MTR) in the region. The conflict over compensation has been ongoing from 2016. The relocation process took place in three phases. The first phase, completed in 2016-17, involved relocation of 58 tribal and 177 non-tribal families from Bennai and Nellikarai villages. This was followed by the relocation of 55 tribal and 200 non-tribal families from Mandakarai, Nagampalli and Pulliyalam villages in 2017-18. The last phase, which is currently impending involves 25 tribal and 186 non-tribal families from Mudugulli and Gundital villages.
According to the 2008 relocation plan of the National Tiger Conservation Authority, people can choose between Option I (money for land) and Option II (land for land) as compensation for their own land. The families currently awaiting relocation stated that they have not been given these options and are arbitrarily being offered unfair compensation. Over 20 tribal households are now being left in a lurch over the same.
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Speaking to NewsClick, Ishan Kukreti, a reporter with Down To Earth said, “In the compensation process, the department gives money for land instead of giving the people land for land. This is supposed to be an option, however, the tribals were not given that option in the first place. As per the Forest Rights Act, relocation should have taken place through the Critical Wildlife Habitat provisions under the Act, which has not been done.”
He added, “An MoU was signed with the community in 2009, which is post the enactment of the FRA. However, it was signed under the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) in the ambit of the tiger relocation plan, wherein the government should have handheld the community through the process which did not take place.”
Kukreti’s report shows that other communities such as Chettis, living in the core area as landowners, chose Option II, and have been rehabilitated in Aiyankolli village. However, many others did not have this option. Instead, they were promised a total of Rs 10 lakh in three instalments which they have not received yet.
Speaking to NewsClick, Badri Narayanan, former District Secretary of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), said, “The government had marked a core zone in the Mudumalai Tiger Reserve and had identified 200-250 families. The government had showed the families alternative land sites, some of the families accepted that, however, many others agitated and intensified their stir.”
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Narayanan highlighted that the process is fraudulent and rift with discrepancies as a key role is being played by the mediators. In the process they are meddling between the government and the families. The middlemen are allegedly being paid approximately Rs. 50,000 to convince the families to accept this amount. Kukreti’s report showed how the brokers would visit the village, take four to five people along and show them the land. However, the tribals were kept in the dark over the process. In addition to this, according to Down to Earth, in January this year, a letter was sent to the National Commission for Scheduled Castes stating that 93 families have been duped of Rs 6.7 lakh each.