The Migrating Forests of WarangalSeptember 14, 2011
A young child sleeps in the Internally Displaced Persons settlement of Mandaltove in Warangal District of Andhra Pradesh
Three year old Centi Madkam S/o Joga, died just a few weeks ago of ‘mirrgi’ in the IDP settlement of Mandaltove in Warangal District of Andhra Pradesh.
In a small settlement of 20 homes, there were another three cases of malaria and another of typhoid, and in a village of day labourers, access to healthcare did not mean access to healthcare, when it took a few days wages for travel to the clinic, along with expenditure for medicines.
Mandaltove’s residents have all escaped the Salwa Judum-Maoist conflict, hailing from Gadiras, Nakulnar, Edpal, Jarapalli, and from Pamed block in undivided Bastar district of Chhattisgarh. Deva Choddi s/o Adma had migrated from Tadmetla, the day after the police had burnt his village down on the 16th of March 2011.
And it wasn’t suprising that Muria adivasis who had first settled in the forests of Khammam district were now living in neighbouring Warangal.
‘We’ve gone through great difficulties to get here.’ Said Idma Ram, who first lived in the IDP settlement of Rayenpenta in Aswapuram mandal of Khammam. Lack of land, lack of security and constant harassment by the Forest Department of Khammam has sent a few families to Warangal where the Forest Department of Warangal continues the same.
The nearby settlement of Jangalinsa had been burnt down by the Forest Department just a year ago. It was broken down at least three times in the last four years.
Mandaltove, unlike Jangalinsa, is a colony of landless labourers, while Jangalinsa has been secretly cultivating rice, sugarcane and cotton deep within the Reserve Forest, and has constantly incurred the wrath of the Forest Department.
Kavaram, another settlement in Tadvai Panchayat has existed even before the Salwa Judum had come into being. ‘The forest department only started to harass us three years ago when we started to cultivate in the forest.’ Said Bheemaiah Karam, originally from Mopepal in Chhattisgarh.
Before that, their existence was tolerated as they were only cheap labour.
The Numbers And The Reasons
The burnt remains of the house of Hemla Jogaya of Jangalinsa in Warangal district
The number of Internally Displaced Persons in Andhra Pradesh who’ve escaped the conflict in Chhattisgarh has always been a contentious issue. Activists would say 50,000 as a speculation, the central government ignores them completely, while others who do the hard work of surveying each settlement and each family, would count 213 settlements in Khammam District alone, and that itself, has a tendency to be a floating population that comes and goes, and has to often live through near starvation, or droughts.
In Warangal, a majority of the ‘mandals’ close to the Chhattisgarh border are yet to be surveyed, yet two mandals Etunagaram and Tadvai have around 39 settlements, each of around 15 to 20 families, who’ve been living in Warangal for years, or have just recently migrated.
Migrations are all family affairs – the first family of a settlement who migrated, may have migrated over 10 years ago, and would soon be joined by another ten of fifteen families, a rate of migration that was excarcebated by the Salwa Judum-Maoist conflict.
Fear of the Salwa Judum and the Maoists isn’t the only factor that drove the Muria into Andhra Pradesh, but also lack of land, as many Murias had small holdings of land in their villages in Dantewada or Bijapur.
Land itself, that is being diverted from agricultural purposes to industrial use by the state of Chhattisgarh.
Land again, that would be submerged by the Polavaram dam – over 276 villages in Khammam, East and West Godavari districts, would be submerged along with over 10,000 acres of reserve forest land.
Land again, that for decades has been encroached upon by non-tribals. The late civil servant J.M Girglani had documented the alienation of the tribals in Telengana, and his findings can be found here. Here are a few extracts from his findings, ‘The most shocking case is that of Mangapeta Mandal. Here 23 villages were excluded from the Schedule V notification under High Court orders because of some technical error. All the efforts of the State government and the States Human Rights Commission to have the rectification notification issued by the Central Government have failed during the previous and present regimes, because the powerful non-tribal occupants have been able to prevent action in New Delhi.’
‘In Kothaguda village, there are 21,000 acres worth not less than 110 crores at the minimal value of Rs.50,000/- per acre of Billa number lands, which are occupied by non-tribals. In 1993 the land was surveyed. In 2002 the extremists are said to have blasted the MRO’s Office and destroyed the survey records. To who’s advantage? Who really blasted, God knows. ’
‘Thousands of acres of government land is not being assigned to the tribals on the pretext of lack of surveyors to sub divide the land while non-tribals merrily continue to enjoy these lands, without any sub divisions.’
Land again, in Khammam, the district with the highest rejection rate for claims for patta (deeds) as per the Forest Rights Act : out of a total of 68,470 claims for 3,92,495 acres, just more than 50 per cent of these claims – 35,643 for 1,78,717 acres were rejected. In Warangal, out of a total of 33,997 claims, the Gram Sabha itself rejected 18,340 claims for 41,428 acres.
Land again, that is being slowly encroached upon by mining in the forests of Khammam. 1.37 lakh acres in Khammam and Warangal was leased to a private mining firm Rakshana Steels, whose Executive Director is the son-in-law of the late Chief Minister YSR Reddy. The opposition parties were quick to demand a cancellation.
Yet the Forest Department has been overtly vocal of their opposition to the Muria or Gotti Koya as they are known in Andhra Pradesh, often citing the ‘extensive’ damage done to the Forests by Gotti Koya cultivation.
But what other options do the Muria have?
Morally, one can say the Muria adivasis have a right to the forest, realistically, one can ask if there is enough forest for every adivasi family, and for community rights as per the Forest Rights Act? And ambivalently, a Koya adivasi who has been working for the Muria adivasis ever since they first started to settle in Andhra Pradesh has been saying that if the ‘Muria get the chance, they’d cut the entire forest down.’ While an old Muria adivasi man, once replied to the same question, ‘if we cut the entire forest down, where will we live?’