Illegal occupation of forest land goes on unabated

The land where the current confrontation is in the buffer area of the tiger reserve

HYDERABAD: Increasingly belligerent acts of occupying forest areas in Telangana in the guise of podu cultivation appear to be becoming the order of the day, particularly in the Kawal Tiger Reserve spread over Mancherial, Adilabad, Nirmal, and Komaram Bheem Asifabad districts. It is not just people whose applications for podu land rights are pending with the state government, but others who see an opportunity to grab land are joining in such land grab actions. Even more worrisome are the acts such as the burning of a machan on which forest protection watchers were sleeping this January resulting in an attempt to murder case being filed by the forest department in the Dandepally police station, in Mancherial district.

Though an FIR was filed with the police for an attempt to murder case against some villagers in the burning of the machan incident, things have only become more complex with no let-up in the demand for land from those who felled 25 acres of forest next to the Koya Poshaguda village in Dandepally mandal. Officials say that the occupation of forest land is being fuelled by leaders of the Congress and the BJP who see the issue as one that could result in support for them in the next elections.

There are no provisions for giving away forest land. The Integrated Tribal Development Agency has made it clear to the people that none of them have any claims over forest land under the ROFR (Record of Forest Rights) Act. There is a lot of confusion over the government promise of giving rights to occupied forest land, and also that of a promise to give three acres of land to landless Scheduled Caste women in the state, a forest department official explained.

The official said the land under dispute was never cultivated by anyone and those occupying the land had left behind women and children in the forest as they believed that once they left the land, then the department would immediately take possession and continue with its moisture conservation work and tree planting.

The land where the current confrontation is in the buffer area of the tiger reserve, and there are regular evidences of movement of tigers which use that patch of forests to move through to other parts of the reserve. “The tigers coming into Kawal are from Maharashtra and the reserve has now become a part of their extended ranges,” a senior department official said.

According to a release from the forest department, after the Kawal Tiger Reserve field director C.P. Vinod Kumar met top forest department officials to discuss the issue, the issue began with some villagers clearing 25 acres of forest of trees and shrubs, despite the fact that podu (shifting) agriculture was never practiced in the area. The release quoted Vinod Kumar as saying those seeking to occupy the forest land were placing women and children in the front to carry on the illegal occupation. He also said that some people were attempting to politicise the illegal occupation and warned that anyone breaking the rules and those supporting such activities would face action as per law.

Minister for forests and environment A. Indrakaran Reddy was also briefed about the situation by the department officials, who informed him that all actions so far by the forest department staff in the field were as per the law.

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