Mangaluru: Fifty nine-year-old Shridhar Malekudiya cannot understand why the land that the British had marked for forest dwellers like him is yet to be recognised by the Indian government even 71 years after Independence!
“We have been living in the forest for generations. My father used to say that the British government had marked the boundary for our village and allowed us to live here. We were free to collect forest produce. But over the years, things have changed and we are facing restrictions as our village is within the Kudremukh National Park (KNP). Many families have not been able to get title deeds for their land,” said Shridhar of Kuthlur village.
Kuthlur, a remote village in the Western Ghats, is populated by Malekudiyas. As they are within the park, they cannot get basic amenities like electricity and roads.
When the Centre passed the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act in 2006, commonly known as the Forest Dwellers Act, villagers and activists were happy that the law could protect the interests of forest dwellers by providing them title deeds, user rights and basic amenities. But hundreds of forest dwellers now feel that the act has not helped them because of the negligence of officials. “The Act specifies that forest dwellers have to be given amenities and title deeds. We have applied for title deeds, but our applications have been rejected by officials, saying that our relatives own land in other places (outside the KNP) in the same panchayat limits. These are just reasons to deny our rightful claims,” said Shashidhar from Kuthlur.
Shekhar Laila from Adhivasi Hakkugala Samithi, Belthangady Taluk, blamed the officials for negligence. “Hundreds of applications have been sent to the government, but none of the tribals have benefited,” he said.
The only exception is Savanal village, where all the nine families have got electricity. Highlighting another major problem, Shekhar said, “As per new rules, applications to get benefits under the Act have to be sent online. But these villages are not educated. Also, none of the officials in any of the departments know the procedure to apply online. In such a situation, how can benefits reach these tribals?”
Puttur sub-division Assistant Commissioner Krishnamurthy said all applications have been sorted out based on a report submitted by the officials. He said that he will look into these applications....