Hyderabad: The battle for rights over ‘podu’ farmlands has moved deep into the heart of tiger territory in the reserve forest in Komaram Bheem-Asifabad district where Phalguna, a tigress who migrated from Maharashtra, led to revival of the fortune of its species in Telangana state.
A protest by villagers led by BJP leader Dr Palvai Harish Babu on April 8, demanding that people who occupied forest land illegally in the Kadamba reserve forest block of the Penchikalpet forest range, epitomises the conflict between people demanding pattas over illegally occupied forest land and wildlife in the state.
It was in the Kadamba area that Phalguna, the tigress, gave birth to four cubs in 2016, the first to be born in the unified Adilabad district in many years. Phalguna gave birth to another litter of three cubs, making her the poster-girl among tiger conservationists for revival of her species’ fortunes in Telangana state.
In fact, such was the enthusiasm that Phalguna’s first litter evoked that then forests minister Jogu Ramanna, along with Sirpur-Kagaznagar MLA from the TRS, Koneru Konappa, Mudhole MLA G. Vittal Reddy, and D.S. Redya Naik from Dornakal, on August 31, 2016, presenting Chief Minister K Chandrashekhar Rao with a framed picture of Phalguna with her cubs near her den.
Even more significantly, India Post in 2018 issued a postage stamp with a picture of Phalguna with her first litter to mark her significant contribution to Telangana’s and India’s tiger population. The department also issued a picture postcard of Phalguna.
Before Phalguna’s arrival in 2015 from the Tadoba-Andhari tiger range in Maharashtra and her settling down in the forest corridor connecting the Kawal tiger reserve in Adilabad and Maharashtra, there were barely any tigers in the district, save for the odd or occasional migrant from Maharashtra. While some presumably made their way back into Maharashtra, some were killed in the unified Adilabad district by local poachers.
According to wildlife experts, all the tigers in northern Telangana, over the years, were picked off one by one by poachers who left Kawal tiger reserve without a single tiger for some years. It was only last year that presence of tigers, who moved in from Maharashtra, were found in the Eturunagaram Wildlife Sanctuary in the former Warangal district. This sanctuary too was once home to tigers but over the years, they were wiped out by poachers.
It is into this tiger heartland of Telangana state, in what is now the Asifabad district, that the latest battle over Podu land rights has moved into with the BJP leaders leading people from Kondapally and a few others, moved into grab forest land into the reserve forest areas in Kondapally North, Kondapally West, Kondapally South and Bombaiguda beats on April 8. The attempt to forcibly occupy forest land ended with the police removing the protesters from the forest areas and the BJP accusing the police of beating up the occupiers and its leaders.
At least two women police officials suffered bleeding injuries in the attacks by the villagers on the security detail that sought to evict the encroachers from the forest land in this episode. It may be recalled that the state government has been repeatedly promising those practicing ‘Podu’ or shifting cultivation will be given pattas and this is believed to have emboldened people, as well as leaders of political parties, including the ruling TRS, to force the issue and keep the state forest department out of the forest areas that have been illegally occupied.