Hyderabad: For the last few days, farmers from the Adivasi community in Agency/Scheduled Areas in Telangana have been staging protests against attempts by forest department officials to establish plantations in podu land (forest land under cultivation by tribals and other forest dwellers). On Wednesday, when forest department officials were levelling podu land in Annapureddypalli and Lakshmidevi Palli mandals in Bhadradri Kothagudem district, hundreds of tribals joined by Left parties protested against the move.
On Tuesday, similar protests were held in Line Thanda at Gudur Mandal in Mahabubabad (Warangal?) district in the state. As forest department officials tried to forcefully remove the protesting Adivasis from the area, a tribal woman named Banoth Parvathi attempted suicide by consuming pesticide. She was rescued by local farmers and moved a government hospital nearby.
Bhukya Veerabhadram, CPI(M) leader from Khammam District alleged that the state Chief Minister K. Chandrashekar Rao had failed to keep his electoral promise of resolving the long pending podu land issue in the state. “Tribal organisations have been demanding the state government to constitute a committee of officials, experts and tribal organisations to resolve and distribute land titles to Adivasis under the Forest Rights Act, 2006,” said Veerabhadram, “but the officials have been attempting forceful plantations on the lands under cultivation in the name of the Telangana Ku Haritha Hāram scheme intended to increase the forest cover in the state.”
Since 2015 numerous incidents of conflict and violence between Adivasi farmers and the forest department have been reported amid Haritha Haram plantation drives. In Karepalli, Kamepalli Julurupadu, Enkoor, Konijerla and Sattupalli mandals in Khammam district, adivaisis have led numerous protests against harassment and forceful evictions by forest officials.
According to tribal organisations, when the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 or Forest Rights Act (FRA) was enacted, there were about 25 lakh acres of forest land under the cultivation by Adivasis in the erstwhile state of Andhra Pradesh.
As per the data from the Ministry of Tribal Affairs, at the end of July 2020 (last available data), while the government received 1,86,679 claims including (1,83,252 individual claims and 3,427 community claims), land titles have been distributed for only 93,639 claims in Telangana.
Between January 2017 and July 2020, only 145 new podu land claims were given land titles under FRA in the state.
“Thousands of tribes are yet to apply for land titles in the state due to a wide range of reasons such as harassment from forest authorities and their vulnerable living conditions. In many cases the authorities have not allotted land as claimed by the tribals,” said R. Sree Ram Naik, general secretary of the Telangana Girijana Sangham. He added that the tribal organisations in the state will be conducting a round-table conference on the issue and begin statewide protests to demand the distribution of land titles.
“In most cases forest officials file false cases against tribals stating that they have occupied the forest land after December 31, 2005, which is the cutoff date for granting land titles for Adivasis. However, in order to find out the rightful owner, the authorities can approach the gram sabhas. For many Adivasis families the podu land is the only property inherited from their ancestors. If their land is forcefully taken away from them it will pose a threat to their livelihood,” said Naik.
“It has been a deliberate attempt by the central and state governments to not implement the FRA or other laws in a proper manner which sanction tribal rights. For instance, the government can establish Haritha Haram plantations in empty government lands, endowment lands and so on. If they plan to evacuate the Adivasis podu land for favouring corporate interests, the vulnerable communities are left with no option other than to agitate for their rights,” said Veerabhadram.