By Dr Palla Trinadha Rao
The Tribal Welfare Department, Government of Andhra Pradesh has set to recognise and vest forest rights, both individual and community forest rights, over 2.03 lakh acres of forest lands and hand over title deeds in favour of tribals on the eve of World Indigenous Peoples day, the 9th August, 2020. This does not mean that the Tribal Welfare Department has completely recognized the rights of tribals over forest lands. But the efforts towards recognizing the forest rights of tribals compared with the State of Telangana are appreciable.
On the other hand the State of Telangana is trampling forest rights of tribals over forest land occupations and displacing them disregard to the Forest Rights Act. The Recognition of Forest Rights Act (ROFR) 2006 aims at primarily correcting the historic injustice done to the tribals and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (OTFDs) by recognizing their rights individual, community and community forest resources over the forest lands.
There are 857460 Scheduled Tribal families in Andhra Pradesh. Of them 571802 families are landless families. 1.18 lakh tribal households have less than 2 acres of land an average. The decision to recognize and vest forest land titles in favor of tribals is a boon to tribal families. Individual forest land title deeds of 56131 over more than one lakh acres benefitting more than 56 thousand tribal households were approved and ready to be handed over by the 9th august. The data of Tribal Welfare, Government of Andhra Pradesh further reveals that community forest rights titles of 680 over 1.03 lakh acres of forest lands were approved by the District Level Committee (DLC) headed by the District Collectors in the State. The Tribal Welfare Department expects the approval of further 13,952 individual forest land titles in favor of tribals over 23326 acres of forest land and community forest land titles numbering 72 over 36164 acres of forest land.
The Ministry of Tribal Affairs (MoTA), Government of India, held that the grant of Community Rights (CR) titles to Vana Samrakshana Samithis (VSSs) as illegal, and directed the Principal Chief Conservator of Forests, Government of AP, to immediately withdraw these titles in 2013. But successive governments have not paid attention to implement this circular in spite of strong demands from tribal organizations for withdrawal of community right titles granted in favor of VSSs.
The present ruling Government has taken a policy decision to withdraw all these titles granted earlier to various VSSs, considering them to be unlawful as per the instructions of MOTA, and directed the officials to expedite the process of recognition of forest rights of both individual and community rights afresh over forest lands covered by VSSs titles in the State. There are around 922 Community forest titles granted earlier in over 4 lakhs acres of forest land in favor of VSSs. All these titles are expected to be withdrawn as per the recent decision of the Government.
The Committees constituted under the ROFR Act had earlier rejected several claims, both individual and community forest rights, on the ground that the claimed lands are located within the VSSs areas. For instance, the Sub Divisional Level Committee(SDLC), Jangareddygudem, West Godavari District had rejected 100 claims for individual forest land of the tribals of Rajanagaram Gram Panchayat in Buttayagudem Mandal citing this reason. 83 Kondareddy households of Reddygudem village of this GP in Buttayagudem Mandal, who are eligible for forest land titles and whose claims were rejected by the Jangareddygudem SDLC in 2012, are expecting to benefit from the present decision of the Government.
The successive ruling Governments in Andhra Pradesh granted forest land titles of 95,467 infavor of tribal farmers recognising and vesting of forest rights over an extent of 2.33 lakh acres during the period of May 2008 to April 2019. The Government began implementation of RoFR Act in April 2008. The present ruling YSR party came to power in May 2019.
The Government is giving importance for recognition of individual forest land rights in Andhra Pradesh in order to provide financial assistance of Rs13,500 per annum to the tribal farmers, dovetailing the YSR Ryutubarosa Scheme to the forest land titles. In addition to the forest land titles, Assignment Pattas for over 18 thousand acres of revenue land benefitting more than 10 thousand tribal families are also getting ready for distribution on Indigenous Peoples’ Day. The efforts of Tribal Welfare Department are laudable in this regard.
Contrary to the efforts of AP Government, the Telangana Government is dispossessing tribals from their huge extent of forest land occupations with brutal force on the name of “Harita Haram” an afforestation program, causing grave concern to tribals. The recent incident in Guttagudem Village of Mulakalapalli in Bhadradri Kothagudem of Telanagana State stands as a sad testimony of the illegal acts of forest and police officials who have highhandedly interfered with the possession and enjoyment of forest lands held by Koya tribes, while making an attempt for forcible eviction from their lands under the reign of terror. The Tribals in Telangana State are strongly opposing the indifferent and hostile attitude of Telangana Government, and demanding recognition of the forest land rights of tribals under RoFR Act.