Adilabad: A distinction should be made between non-tribals who are cultivating forest land illegally and Adivasis, who have customary rights to these lands and are to be issued pattas or titles to these lands.
Historically, podu cultivation is the living style of Adivasis but non-tribals, who have migrated from the border of Maharashtra, have started felling trees and cultivation of forest lands at various places in the old Adilabad district.
Most of these non-tribals have caused deforestation and are eyeing the forest lands in agency areas. They have affected the interests of genuine Adivasis. The recent Kotta Sarasala incident is the best example of this.
Many non-tribals are notorious wood smugglers and some of them have become political leaders over time.
Adivasis depend on the forests for bamboo and other produce which earns them a livelihood and they have been cultivating small plots of land for generations.
Unfortunately, thousands of them have not been given titles to these lands as they should be under the Forest Rights Act, 2006. Many others, who have no right to the titles, have managed to get them.
Teak wood smuggling has become a lucrative business for many political leaders who have amassed huge wealth over a period of time and have started setting the terms for the forest department. Corrupt forest officials have colluded with them and this has led to destruction of the forests for which the Adivasis have been blamed.
Adivasis say that forests have remained intact only where Adivasis live and that it has been proved that Adivasis are the real protectors of the forests.
Adivasis live simple lives in huts without doors and covered in bamboo mats. It is not they who have exploited the forests and grown rich on the proceeds.