Thousands of adivasi farmers are up in arms, demanding title deeds for the forest land they had cleared for ‘ Podu ’ cultivation (a form of shifting cultivation).

The issue, which has been pending for over 15 years, has resurfaced after the Telangana Government pushed the the Haritha Haaram (greenery programme) into the forest lands, including those that the adivasis are claiming under the Forest Rights Act 2006.

Forests Rights Act

This triggered fears among the adivasi farmers as they were hoping that the new government would take a relook at their pending claims. “The united Andhra Pradesh Government introduced a law in 2006 that give the gram sabhas the right to ascertain the extent of the land in question and allot the title deeds to them,” Arun Kumar, a leader of adivasi association Tudum Debba, told BusinessLine .

A joint survey was conducted by the Forest and Revenue Departments and the Integrated Tribal Development Agency , based on the recommendations of the gram sabhas. Proposals were sent to the district administration.

Applications were submitted for an aggregate 3.20 lakh acres but only one-third of it had been settled, while the claims pertaining to remaining 2.20 lakh acres were rejected.

“The Act has clearly mentioned that the officials should explain why a claim was rejected. Strict implementation of the Act would have solved the problem. It still can. It is the only solution to put an end to the problem,” M Kodandaram, President of Telangana Jana Samithi, who played a key role in the Telangana movement, said.

The issue turned knottier after the formation of Telangana in 2014. The TRS Government, which launched Haritha Haaram , had decided to grow forests in the lands, which the adivasi farmers claimed as theirs. “The earlier Government had rejected our claims without ascertaining any reason. The TRS Government has decided to take over the lands,” another adivasi leader said.

Opposition support

The adivasi farmers have found support in parties like the Congress and the Left, the farmers unions and non-governmental organisations.

With the Opposition parties rallying behind the adivasi farmers, Chief Minister K Chandrashekar Rao has swung into action and asked the officials to prepare an action plan to settle the issue once for all.

“Once the Podu land issue comes to a logical end, the officials should take protective measures to safeguard the forest land. Only adivasis will be allowed to live there,” he said, at a recent review meeting, indicating that outsiders who encroached into the forests would be evicted.

The Government also plans to conduct a comprehensive survey of forest land and assign coordinates to the land surveyed.

The adivasi farmers are also demanding that the Government stop migration of people from the plains to safeguard their rights. “We demand strict implementation of the Forest Rights Act of 2006. It should be a cut-off for ascertaining the rights. We are not seeking to include the lands that are cleared after 2006,” Arun Kumar said.