Kerala: LDF Govt. Issues Land Rights to Muthanga Protestors After two Decades of Struggle
A beneficiary from Muthanga receiving the land title from minister for revenue K Rajan in Suthan Bathery on March 7. (Image courtesy: K Rajan/facebook)
After two decades of the historic struggle for land rights which ended in a police firing on the protestors on February 19, 2003, the tribals in Muthanga of Wayanad district finally received their title deeds. The Left Democratic Front (LDF) government announced that all 283 families who participated in the struggle would get land to live and cultivate.
The pattas (title deeds) were handed over to the 37 families, the last batch of beneficiaries from the Muthanga village, on March 7. The pattas were distributed as part of the 100 days program to commemorate the second anniversary of the LDF government.
A total of 1,203 beneficiaries were handed over pattas during the 'Pattaya Mela', the largest such program ever held in Sulthan Bathery. The distribution of pattas was delayed for several reasons, including the land allocation falling under the wildlife sanctuaries.
The LDF government, after assuming power in May 2021, has issued 54,535 title deeds to the beneficiaries, of which 1,978 are from the Wayanad district, which has a large tribal population of 18.5% as per the 2011 census.
The government has constituted a 'Pattayam Mission' to achieve its promise of 'Land to All, Title Deeds to All' since several people in the state do not possess deeds even after 50 years of implementing the historic land reforms.
HISTORIC STRUGGLE FOR LAND RIGHTS
Hundreds of tribal families from Muthanga village entered the forest areas in January 2003 in the region to stake a claim for the land they had possessed for several years. The protest was led by the Adivasi Gothra Maha Sabha (AGMS) after the then United Democratic Front (UDF) government failed to fulfil the promises made during the protest in October 2001.
The UDF government had identified 54,000 landless tribal families and promised 1-5 acres of land, but nothing materialised, forcing the tribals to intensify their protest.
The tribals constructed huts in the forest land and prevented the police and forest department from entering the area. The sole demand was the immediate allocation of lands and title deeds to all families.
On the fatal day of February 19, 2003, the police fired at the protesting tribals and alleged them of taking a forest official hostage. The incident led to the death of Joji, a tribal and a policeman.
The UDF government, led by AK Antony, was accused of brutal victimisation of the tribals despite making promises to address their long pending demands. The LDF government provided a job for Jogi's daughter in the revenue department besides providing the family ex-gratia of Rs 10 lakh.
PV Sahadevan, a district secretariat member of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) [CPI(M)] Wayanad district, told NewsClick, "The difference between the UDF and LDF governments is that the UDF targeted the tribals with bullets, while the LDF government ensured their land rights".
'ALL MUTHANGA PROTESTORS ISSUED DEEDS'
The issue of land and title deeds did not materialise for several reasons, but the LDF government headed by CPI(M) veteran VS Achuthanandan initiated steps to identify lands for distribution to the landless people.
Speaking to Newsclick, CK Saseendran, former CPI(M) MLA and convenor of Adivasi Bhoo Samrakshana Samiti, said, "The LDF governments have given ample focus on the rights of the tribals, particularly in the Wayanad district. The Forest Rights Act (FRA) passed by the united progressive alliance (UPA) government due to the pressure of left parties also played an important role."
Adivasi Bhoo Samrakshana Samiti and the Adivasi Kshema Samithi continue to lead the land rights struggles of the tribals in Wayanad and other districts. During the Muthanga protest, 283 tribals submitted demands for land rights, though more than 800 families participated in the historic struggle.
K Rajan, the Minister for Revenue, said, "A long pending dream of the people became a reality due to the efforts of the LDF government. With land titles handed over to 37 families of the Muthanga protest, all those who participated were in possession of the land. Other beneficiaries include settlers in the forest areas and plantation workers."
A beneficiary sharing her joy after receiving the land title from the minister
However, the AGMS refutes the claims of all the protestors being handed rights to land.
M Geethanandan, leader of the organisation, told NewsClick, “The first order of the UDF government after the protest in 2003 listed 445 preliminary beneficiaries. But there are more people who do not have title deeds or lands among many tribals. The number 283 announced by the government is not sufficient.”
But Saseendran claimed that no such issues had been raised by the people of Muthanga and other nearby villages.
“No such disputes have come to our knowledge. If there are any discrepancies, we will take it forward with the revenue and tribal welfare department,” he added.
The beneficiaries are selected after scrutiny of applications and verifications on whether the applicants own other lands or title deeds.
The claims of the AGSM that the land allocated to the Muthanga protestors was unfit for agriculture were also rejected by the leaders of the CPI(M) and AKS.
“The AGMS is attempting to mislead the people benefitted by the LDF government”, Sahadevan accused.
Despite the allegations of the AGMS, the LDF government has succeeded in ensuring the land rights of the tribals as per the FRA.
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