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Karnataka: Farmers Locked in a Land Struggle Against Forest Department in Tumkur

Farmers allege that some of them were severely beaten up when they attempted to question a Forest Department survey.
Karnataka: Farmers Locked in a Land Struggle Against Forest Department in Tumkur

Landless farm workers in the Tumkur district have launched an effort to reclaim disputed land from the Forest Department. On March 30, they attempted to occupy a large parcel of land they claim they have been farming for several generations. However, they allege that some of them were severely beaten up when they attempted to question the Forest Department survey.

The area in question is a land parcel of 700 hectares. Depending on whom you speak to, the dispute affects farmers from 10-35 villages. The farmers have filed applications with the Tumkur Deputy Commissioner (DC) for land titles. They say that until the DC decides the matter, the Forest Department officials cannot work on the land.

Subramanya, 52, KPRS district vice president, says, “The Forest Department officials came to dig trenches on the land even though there was an agreement with the farmers to maintain the status quo. A joint survey was conducted by the Tahsildar and Forest Department. They barred farmers from entering the land. Some farmers demanded to see the Tahsildar’s report the following day. They were severely beaten up by the forest officials and suffered head injuries for which four people were admitted to the Tumkur General Hospital.”

The workers were unorganised until 2017, when they approached the Karnataka Prantha Raitha Sangha, affiliated with All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS). With the backing of a larger farmers’ organisation, they initiated a land struggle in 2017.

In February of this year, the forest officials allegedly began building a trench with a JCB, following which the farmers reached the spot and protested. The work was temporarily halted.

Basavaraju, 42, is the secretary at the KPRS.

Speaking to NewsClick, he says, “The land was listed on revenue records as gomala land. In 1992-93, it was illegally transferred from the Revenue Department to the Forest Department. The farmers have been here for several generations. But in 2007-08, they were all evicted from the region, which spans more than 1000 acres. The farmers subsequently began residing in nearby villages. Many of them have hakku patras (land grant certificates). Farming is their only occupation, and they have demanded access to the land for livelihood.”

On March 29, a joint survey was conducted by the Tehsildar and the Forest Department. The following day, fearing losing their land, the farmers stormed the area and demanded to see the Tehsildar’s report. It was then that they were allegedly beaten. Videos of the incident have been shared on social media.

The KPRS says all lands illegally transferred from the Revenue Department to the Forest Department should be immediately returned. After the eviction in 2007-08, the farmers moved to nearby villages like Gangayannapalya, Manchaldore and Chelur.

On March 31, KPRS launched a protest outside the Tumkur DC office, demanding action against the officials who assaulted the farmers.

Arathi, Tehsildar of Gubbi, says that she surveyed 182 acres of land, most of which belongs to the Forest Department.

Speaking to NewsClick, she says, “We were called for a mahajar at survey number 196, Talekoppa village. Of the 182 acres surveyed, 66.30 acres of land is gomala; 103.30 acres belong to the Forest Department, and the rest belongs to various claimants who have already received the land grants.”

The over 1000 acres of bagair hukum land demanded by the farmers is claimed as reserve forest by the Forest Department. The land struggle is shaping up to be a long fight.

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