Archive for the ‘Drought’ Category

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‘Even if they don’t let us settle here..’

May 4, 2012

This article appears in Daily News & Analysis on the 4th of May, 2012.

Conflict and displacement in Bastar leads to deprivation and forest loss in neighbouring Khammam.

Around 43 families from the villages of Millampalli, Simalpenta, Raygudem, Darba and Singaram in Dantewada District, lost their makeshift homes for the second time in three months in the Mothe Reserve Forest of Khammam district of Andhra Pradesh on the 26th of March, 2012, when the Forest Department, mandated to protect the forests, would evict them using force.

A large number of families are Internally Displaced Persons who’ve escaped the Salwa Judum-Maoist conflict of Dantewada and have lived in Khammam as informal labour.

Most originated from Millampalli, that was burnt down by the Salwa Judum in 2006 and Maoists have killed at least three people – Sodi Dola, Komaram Muthaiya and Madkam Jogaiya in the past ten years. Another resident of Millampalli, Dusaru Sodi, used to be a member of the Maoist Sangam but would eventually become a Special Police Officer who witnesses from Tadmentla and Morpalli alleged was present during the burnings of the villages or Tadmetla, Morpalli and Timmapuram in March of 2011 by security forces. His name again re-appeared in testimonies by victims of rape, submitted to the National Commission of Women and the Supreme Court by Anthropologist Nandini Sundar.

Madvi Samaiya and Madvi Muthaiya from the village of Raygudem were also killed by the Maoists.

In Simalpenta, the Sarpanch’s brother Kurra Anda was killed by the Maoists in 2006.

In Singaram, an alleged encounter that took place on the 9th of January of 2009, where 19 adivasis were killed by security forces as alleged Maoists.

In Khammam, most of the IDPs/migrants have worked as informal labour during the mircchi cutting season, earning around Rs.100 per day and live off their savings in the summer season when there is no work, and little access to water to a majority of the settlements. The Muria from Chhattisgarh, or the Gotti Koya as they are known in Andhra along with Koyas from Chhattisgarh, have been in a struggle to appropriate the Reserve Forest land of Khammam for podu cultivation, often leading the Forest Department to evict them, aware that the entire forest cover is turning into a ‘honeycomb,’ as described by the DFO Shafiullah, who pointed out to satellite imagery of a pockmarked forest in Khammam, in 2010 itself.

The influx of migrants and Displaced persons has even led to conflicts with local adivasi Koya tribes over land and resources, sometimes leading to deadly clashes, such as an incident in Mamallivaye in Aswapuram Mandal where the local Koya burned down the homes of the Gotti Koya, or in Kamantome settlement in 2009 where one man would be killed as a Maoist by the police after an erroneous tip-off from the neighbouring village of migrants who had settled before the civil war.

Recently the Forest Survey of India, Ministry of Forest and Environment, published a controversial report that almost exonerates mining and land acquisition yet claimed that over 367 square kilometres of forest has been lost since 2009, pushing Khammam district to one of the worst affected districts where 182 square kilometres of forest cover have been lost.

In a recorded conversation between an activist and Home Minister P.Chidambaram during the first months of Operation Green Hunt in late 2009, when repeated combing operations in Dantewada/Bijapur led to further influx’s of IDPs into Andhra Pradesh, the activist Himanshu Kumar had urged P.Chidambaram to look into the plight of the IDPs and the migrants yet his claims were refuted by the Home Minister as an exaggeration.

Yet there have been many recent reports of IDPs from the previously independently estimated 203 settlements who have returned back to their villages owing to a decline in the frequency of combing operations and violent actions in their villages in Chhattisgarh and further difficulty to settle in Andhra Pradesh. After the villages of Nendra, Lingagiri and Basaguda block were rehabilitated with the help of NGOs and activists using Supreme Court orders, many others have simply moved back to their villages on their own accord, including those of Kistaram, Uskowaya, Kanaiguda, Mullempanda, Gompad and Gaganpalli, to mention a few. Both Gompad, and Gaganpalli have faced a large number of killings – nine people were killed in Gompad on the 1st of October, 2009 by security forces, and in the village of Gaganpalli, from where one of the leaders of the Salwa Judum originates, ten people were killed in 2006 during the burning of the village by the Salwa Judum.

While the Forest Survey of India Report 2011 has put the blame on leftwing extremists for massive deforestation in Khammam, the villages of Millampalli repeatedly exhorted and listed all the violent actions by the Maoists in their villages in Chhattisgarh. In fact, one of the most educated villagers of the settlement, Komaram Rajesh, is the brother of a Special Police Officer and has repeatedly claimed that the Salwa Judum didn’t oppress his people, often denying that his village was burnt down by the Salwa Judum, when the rest of his neighbours said it was indeed the Salwa Judum.

Beyond conflict with the Forest Department, other tribes, the Salwa Judum and the Maoists, another conflict takes place within settlements themselves where a growing tendency to cut down a large number of the forests for podu cultivation, has brought individuals in conflict with their own villagers who feel there should be more moderate felling of trees. Certain settlments cultivate rice without cutting larger trees while others have destroyed acres of forests.

‘If we cut the entire forest down, where will we live?’ A man from Kamantome once exhorted during a summer season when there was little access to food, or water for the settlement.

Ironically, in Millampalli, one of the men killed by the Maoists, Kumaram Muthaiya, was killed in 2002 because he refused to share his 70 acres of land with other villagers.

A Shrinking Space

Land alienation for the all the adivasi tribes of Khammam isn’t a new phenomena, and was adequately studied by late civil servant J. M. Girglani, who had commented in his report that, ‘The most atrocious violation of the LTR (Land Transfer Regulation) and regulation 1 of 70 is that all the lands in Bhadrachalam Municipal town and the peripheral urbanized and urbanizable area is occupied by non-tribals with commercial buildings, hotels, residential buildings, colleges including an engineering college. The market value of this land on an average is Rs.4,000/- per square yard. This was confirmed to me not only by local enquiry but also by responsible District officers. This would work out to about 5,000 crores worth of land, which should have been the property of the tribals. It is now the property of the non-tribals and is commercially used by them.’

Just two kilometres away from land that was meant to belong to the adivasis, is the latest Koya settlement that was destroyed by the Forest Department.

‘They (the Forest Department) destroyed our homes in January, and in February, and they came in March and even took away all the wood we used to make our homes. Now, we will rebuild our homes and if they come again and destroy them, we will rebuild them again.’ Said Komaram Rajesh of the village of Millampalli.

Villagers alleged that Forest Guards held them down and beat them on the soles of their feet, asking them why they had settled in the forest, and who had pointed them out to this patch of the forest. One man embarassing recollected in humour as his neighbours laughed, that one of the Gaurds threathened him saying, ‘ghaand mein mirrchi ghussa doonga.’

Officials would arrive a day later to convince all the Koyas, to leave the Reserve Forest but the residents protested. When the tractor arrived to carry away all the timber that was being used to make their homes, the adivasis willingly piled the timber onto the seat of the tractor, threathening to burn it down but refrained.

‘Even if they don’t let us settle here, we will manage somehow.’ Continued Komaram Rajesh.

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Internally Displaced Hunger

November 14, 2010

This article appears in The New Indian Express on the 14th of November, 2010.

On the 25th of October, 8 malnurioushed children were refused treatment by the Nutrition and Rehabilitation Center in Badrachalam, Khammam District in Andhra Pradesh. All eight were children of Internally Displaced Persons from Dantewada/Bijapur District of Chhattisgarh.

Apparently, the Project Officer of the Integrated Tribal Development Authority of Badrachalam, on the behest of the visiting Schedule Tribe Committee (consisting of MLAs from Congress, Telegu Desam Party and CPI-M), had passed a written order to stop treatment to ‘non-tribes’ and ‘non-BPL’ families. Strangely enough, the Gotti Koya, or the Muria from Dantewada/Bijapur District, who’ve had to flee the burning of their villages by the Salwa Judum and the police, and the threat of Maoist violence, fall into this criteria, simply as they have no documentation to prove that they are tribals or BPL families.

Let us also put this into context.

The children of the Internally Displaced Persons at a Nutrition and Rehabilitation Centre at Khammam District, Andhra Pradesh. (Photo credit: source)

On the 23rd of September, a young couple Madvi Nanda and his wife Chukki had approached a mobile health clinic of an NGO. Their ten day-old infant stopped taking his mother’s milk, and another son Budra looked severely anaemic (see photos).

The 10 day-old son of Madvi and Chukki Mandavi before being taken to the Nutrition and Rehabilitation Centre (Photo credit: source)

They were IDPs from Chhattisgarh, village Duled in Konta block. Madvi Nanda said to have come to Khammam district of Andhra Pradesh to escape the threats and violence of the Salwa Judum. Previously, they were landowners of around twenty acres, but in Khamman, they have had to subsist doing manual labour in the ‘mirrchi’ fields, tendu patta and cotton fields, for Rs.60 a day.

When Chukki got pregnant, it had become difficult for her to work, and thus the wages that came into a house without ration cards or any form of subsistence, reduced by half. Hunger and malnutrition soon followed.

The entire family was then taken to the hospital where, after four days of treatment they were referred to the Nutrition and Rehabilitation Centre, run by the ITDA at Badrachalam.

At the NRC, it was found that the youngest son, now 15 days old, wieghed only 1.5 kilograms, and the second son Budra, around three years old, weighed only 4.8 kilograms. They were both classified as Grade four malnourished, and treatment began immediately.

All four, the mother and her three sons were given three meals a day along with medicines till the 12th of October. They were then discharged when their condition normalized (see photos). The NRC then recommended a diet of milk, mutton, vegetables, green leaves, fruits, etc, for three months to help improve their health condition.

Chukki Mandavi with her sons at the time of discharge from the NRC. (Photo credit: source)

Madvi Chukki's youngest son after treatment by the Nutrition and Rehabilitation Centre. (Photo credit: source)

Then of course, at the behest of the Tribal Welfare Ministry, the ITDA passes a note that ensures the Muria/Gotti Koya from Chhattisgarh, can’t find a single meal at the Nutrition and Rehabilitation Centre of Badrachalam.

P Balaraju, the chairman of the Scheduled Tribe Committee, whose recommendations to the ITDA ensured that the Gotti Koya’s hungriest remain hungry, is also the Minister for Tribal Welfare, Andhra Pradesh.

Cause and Effect: A background

The Internally displaced persons from Chhattisgarh are in perpetual limbo. They’re occasionally pitted against the local adivasi tribes of Andhra Pradesh over minimal resources and no state government whether Andhra Pradesh, nor Chhattisgarh is willing to take responsibility for them. At the same time, no civil government department is capable of undermining the arm-twisting policies of the Andhra Pradesh Forest Department that wishes to send them back to Chhattisgarh, who would probably dump them in mismanaged Salwa Judum camps.

Previously in the scorching summer, the 203 IDP settlements, with over 16,000 IDPs had to survive under draught-like conditions that were more man-made, specifically, Forest Department-made, as the Forest Department ensured no handpumps could be installed in the settlements whose natural sources of water had dried up in the beginning of the summer.

In 2007, the late civil rights lawyer Balagopal had filed three Writ Petitions on behalf of numerous families of the Gotti Koya, and had managed to get a stay order on the demolition of their homes by the Forest Department. Yet the Forest Department continued to break down IDP settlements in other parts of Khammam, specifically in the summer season. They even argued in the High Court against the stay order, stating that the Gotti Koya should claim their rights to livelihood and to life in Chhattisgarh and not Andhra Pradesh; that they are a threat to the local population and that they do extensive damage to the forests.

Recently, Justice CV Ramulu dismissed the vacate stay petitions filed by the Forest Department and upheld the rights of the tribals to live in the reserved forests.

Yet let us take the Forest Department’s motive to protect the forests. They claim they need to protect the forests from slash-and-burn cultivation of the Gotti Koya, which has even been contested as an exaggerated claim. And yes, there is very little doubt that the Gotti Koya/Muria have done some damage to the forests in Khammam. And there is even lesser doubt that they’re not managing higher yields from the amount of land they ‘secretly’ cultivate.

The land they cultivate lacks irrigation facilities, and they don’t manage too much produce, in comparison to the irrigated land cultivated by the Reddys or the Koyas.

‘One acre and the Muria will have just about 2-3 bags, and I’ve seen Reddys manage 30 bags of rice out of one acre.’ says a local social worker in Khammam.

One wonders how the Muria would be, if he was allowed just a few acres of irrigated land, to support and feed his own family. Yet if he can’t even do that, why is the ‘Intergrated Tribal Development Authority’ ensuring that his malnutritioned children starve?

Yet there is no right to the Reserve Forest given to the Gotti Koya/Muria at all. Not even one acre. And even local Koya tribals and older Muria tribals, living on non-reserve forest are preyed on by ‘promises’ of the legal deed – the patta.In the village of Amdalpeta in Chintur Mandal of Khammam, two non-tribals had taken Rs.300 from every family and promised them pattas. And the exploited of Amdalpeta themselves spoke of another case, where a lawyer managed to take Rs.2,00,00 from the tribals for a patta.

There are countless cases of exploitation over legality, and right to land. How many times villagers are exploited with promises of pattas (deeds), one will never know.

‘You have to either save the tribal, or save the forest.’  I was told by a DFO dealing with extensive deforestation by the Gotti Koya in Khammam district.

‘But can I ask you, who are the first beneficiaries of a forest? Who are you protecting the forests for?’

The answer is obvious. The Adivasi – the Santhals, the Kondhs, the Murias, the Koyas, the Baiga themselves weren’t ever consulted when the British laid the foundations of a law that would divorce them from their forests. It is difficult to believe that the forests ‘need to being protected’ from the tribals whose livelihoods, cultures and homes depend upon, when mining companies and corporations run amok in the jungle.

Since 1980, the Ministry of Environment and Forests granted 34,527 hectares of the forest in 317 mining leases till 1997, and 60,476 hectares of the forest in 881 mining leases during 1997-2005.

Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh may try his best to protect the forests and the odds are against him, yet who is protecting the tribal from exploiters and the Forest Department? The Naxalites? The Home minister? Or the Tribal Welfare Minister’s team whose recommendations ensure that the Muria from Chhattigarh aren’t tribals nor poor because they can’t prove it?

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The Summer Of Our Discontent

June 5, 2010

Madvi Hidme of the IDP settlement of Kamantome in Khammam district can only manage to feed his three daughters Laxmi, Anita and Parmila a little rice with some imli.

This article appears in The New Indian Express on the 6th of June,2010.

Summer 2010, and it is becoming evidently clear that the adivasi refugees from the Maoist-Salwa Judum conflict in Dantewada, residing in Khammam district have either no access to water nor food. There are an estimated 16,024 IDPs identified in 203 settlements in Khammam district alone with a 110 settlements in the Reserve Forest. At the same time, the Forest Department is struggling to prevent the clearing of forests by the IDPs for podu cultivation.

Kamantome

There was a dead scorpion in their only source of drinking water – a miasmic well dug into the dry riverbed adjacent to their IDP village of Kamantome in Khammam District of Andhra Pradesh. Four Adivasis in their village were already sick, everyone suffers from rashes, no one has any work, barely any food – all they eat is a little rice with imli.

Kovasi Santo (6 years) has been lying in bed all week, barely eats and barely talks and his mother Maasa doesn’t know what to do. No doctor has visited them yet.

Shamala Idma can’t work, can’t get out of bed, complains of pain in his stomach and vomiting. Two other men complain of similar symptoms. One man has malaria. They all say they started to fall sick when they started to drink that water.

In November 2009, the Child Rights Commission had recommended that handpumps be built in the village of Kamantome but there are still no handpumps as of the 31st of May, 2010, as the temperature regularly crosses the 47 degree Celsius mark, and is slowly and infamously being recognized as one of the cruellest summers in recent time.

Kamantome started as a settlement for Gotti Koyas or Murias when they migrated from Chhattisgarh for land, and to escape the Salwa Judum-Maoist conflict. Their homes were broken down by the Forest Department in 2005 yet they returned a few years later.

Eventually, an encounter would take place in 2009, one tribal would be killed as an alleged Maoist, two would be arrested and booked under Andhra Pradesh Public Security Act. Both would be eventually released. One of them, Madvi Hidme, now with his three infant daughters in Kamantome recollects how his hands were tied behind his back, hung by the ceiling and then beaten and interrogated in Badrachalam police station for information on the Maoists.

Truth is, the police had acted on an evidently erroneous tip-off received from the neighbouring village of Ramchandrapurum that is also native to Gotti Koyas, with whom the villagers of Kamantome are in constant conflict over, owing to the limited resources available in the jungle. In Ramchandrapurum, Maoists had killed two people earlier. It has a handpump (built by missionaries) and is over a kilometre away from the village of Kamantome. It may be the closest handpump to Kamantome but the villagers will never go to it.

They spend all their days trying to beat the heat, as no work is available to them. They received NREGS cards and all the villagers last received their payments in April. Kunjam Deva worked to receive a payment of Rs. 1038 on the 22nd of April. All the money he received was used to repay loans he took last year to buy rice for his family. Of the 20 families in Kamantome, this pattern is repeated. And now they have very little rice left for this year and no money and no work.

‘Even if we have work, what’s the point as there is no water?’ Said Madkam Mulaiya s/o Ganga. ‘There is no food either, the rains failed last year.’

There isn’t a single child in Kamantome that doesn’t suffer from malnutrition. Kovasi Santo’s sunken stomach isn’t just indicative of hunger in one family – almost all the children have thinning hair and the symptoms of Grade 2-Grade 3 malnutrition – bloated bellies.

‘We sent an application to build a handpump in Kamantome three months ago,’ Says Srinivas Rao, the Mandal Parishad Development Officer. A year ago, a similar application to build a handpump in Kamantome was rejected by the Forest Department. In fact, no handpump can be built on Reserve Forest Land or in any of the 110 IDP settlements in the Reserve Forest – the IDPs are legally encroachers. There are even allegations made by members of the administration that the Forest Officials routinely hamper their efforts to help the Muria or the Gotti Koya. And it’s no secret that the Forest Department wants to send the IDPs back to Chhattisgarh.

‘At times, we’ve broken their homes down some 7-8 times,’ Says DFO Shafiullah, Badrachalam North Division, ‘And yet they come back.’

A few days ago, on the 25th of May, 2010, another IDP settlement of Chalampalam in Murmuru Panchayat was  broken down by the Forest Department.

‘The entire jungle is a honeycomb,’ Said DFO Shafiullah, ‘In three compartments of the Reserve Forest, 141, 142, 143, right in Murmuru, there has been at least 60-70 acres of forest land cleared by the Gotti Koya.’

‘They have done a lot of damage to the forest.’

DFO Shafiullah’s North Division is directly connected to the state of Chhattisgarh and sees a regular influx of migrants and IDPS. Satellite imagery confirms that there’s been regular felling of trees in the entire division.

Chalampalam

Kovasi Seema with his son Nagesh stand before the remnants of their home.

In the village of Chalampalam, the Muria claim that it were the ‘Dorlawalla’ who had called the Forest Department to break their homes. While the Dorla from the neighbouring village of Simalpad support the Muria in Chalampalam, the Dorla from Murmuru village do not. Historically it has been the adivasis who protect the forests, and now they are protecting it from the adivasis who’re starving.

In the 22 homes in Chalampalam, almost all the villagers take money from the Dorla to feed their families in the months where they have no work. They will take money from the Dorla or the non-tribal landlords, and during the ‘mirchi’ cutting season, they will work for lower wages to repay the debt. For instance, the regular price for wage labour would be Rs.60 or Rs.70, yet they’d work only for Rs.50. This is a widespread practice in Khamman district.

‘We’ve offered some Gotti Koya Rs.100 to work under the NREGS,’ Said MPDO, Srinivas Rao, ‘But they are very sincere people, they’d still work for Rs.50 for the locals to repay debts.’

In Chalampalam, Madkam Ganga’s house was broken by the Forest officials and Rs.500 was allegedly stolen. He is unmarried and has no children and lives alone. He points out to the small tuck box where he kept his money, and then locks the box. He only started to lock the box after he lost his money.

Kovasi Seema s/o Devaiya also claims that the Forest Department stole around Rs.1000 from his home. He has a one year old child, Nagesh.

Madkam Hidma s/o Dima is a cripple. The forest officials dragged him out of his house before tearing off the roof of palmera leaves. His two daughters, one 18 years old and another 12 years old, and his wife Laxmi, are the only ones in his family who can work.

Laxmi Madkam’s husband Hidma is a cripple. He was dragged out of his house at Chalampalam by Forest officials who then vandalized their home.

‘We all have problems with food,’ said Kovasi Hoonga, who said that even three cows have died in his village from lack of feed.

Then there is another aspect of Muria life – they refuse to drink cow’s milk.

‘Why don’t you drink cow’s milk?’

‘If we did, there’d be nothing for the calf.’

In fact, the Muria would rather starve than drink cow’s milk, at the same time, they secretly cut down trees in the hope of cultivating enough land to feed themselves but are hampered by the Forest Department. Back in Kamantome I had asked the Muria about the allegations of the Forest Department –  ‘The forest department thinks that if given the chance, the Muria will cut down all the trees.’ I said.

‘If we did, then where would we live?’ They replied.

‘We need a policy change,’ Says DFO Shafiullah, ‘These people need to be rehabilitated.’

The Invisible Drought

One of the two sources of water for the villagers of Kamantome.

The only source of water for the IDP settlement of Chukalpar had dried up this year. There was slight reprieve for the IDPs due to rains caused by cyclone Laila.

In the village of Chukalpaar in Chintur Mandal of Khammam, there are over 28 families who have no voter cards, no handpump, no electricity, no NREGs and they survive by getting ration from Chhattisgarh. Their only source of water for the last five years has been a small rivulet that dries up in summer. They then dig a well into the riverbed for water. But this year, their wells dried up and they started to walk two kilometres in the 46 degree sun to get water from the village of Edugurrallapalli. Then it rained for three days thanks to cyclone Laila. It filled up the little wells in the riverbed but the villagers know it will all dry up in another week.  The monsoons, they think, shall only come to them in a month.

In the revenue villages of Pungutta and Amdalpeta in Paiga Panchayat of Chintur, their only hand pumps ceased to work. The villagers had complained to the Mandal Development Officer but their handpumps haven’t been repaired yet.  Now they are all dependent on water dug out from the riverbed, or handpumps in the next village that are over 2-3 kilometres away.

Boringudem isn’t named so because there is a handpump or a boring in their village, it is named so as a majority of the villagers in the village work in Vijayawada as labour for a company that specializes in digging borewells. While they receive a decent amount of money – around Rs.5000 that covers their food expenses, their village has no handpump and no boring.

In Kotthur village that is directly adjacent to the main Chintur road, the villagers get water from a small ‘nalla’ or stream nearby. They complain the water tastes terribly foul and that they have no handpump either.

In Dehiyalaware in Paiga Panchayat in Chintur there are over 26 homes that have existed for the last 12 years. There are no IDPs in this village who have escaped the Salwa Judum-Maoist conflict, but mostly migrants hoping for land even though all their ‘patta’ (title) applications have been rejected. ‘We don’t let them come live with us, we know there’d be problems if they came here.’ Said one villager who refused to be named.

Their village has no handpump either and the villagers walk a kilometre to get water from a well dug into the dry riverbed.

‘Is it difficult to sleep at night in this heat?’ I asked.

‘Very difficult, it’s almost impossible to sleep in this heat.’ He replied, ‘We go to the river and take a bath and try to sleep as our bodies feel cooler. But by the time we walk back home, it’s hot again.’

‘Why don’t you just sleep next to the river then?’

He laughed.

‘There are lots of police in this area and if they find us near the river they might think we are Naxalites and take us away or kill us.’

Photography Post-Script

Laxmi, Parmila and Anita. The three infant daughters of Madvi Hidme of Kamantome village.

Rawa Devi (6) of Chukalpaar village suffers from Pyoderma, a bacterial infection.

Widow Padan Hoongama, of the IDP village of Challampalam that was torn down by the Forest Department.