HYDERABAD: The deadlock over the decades-long contentious 'podu lands' (lands on which tribals undertake cultivation in forest areas) in Telangana is finally coming to an end.
Chief Minister K. Chandrashekar Rao announced in the Assembly on Tuesday that the state government would start accepting claims from all those persons who were in possession of podu lands in all districts from the third week of this month after Dasara.
The Chief Minister said the state government, after receiving these claims, would resolve this issue once and for all with a strict condition that no more forest land encroachments would be accepted in future.
Rao asked all MLAs of respective constituencies to receive claims from persons and submit to the government adding that he would announce the timeframe for resolution of these claims in two three days.
"We should also think about forests and environment when thinking of podu lands. If we allow encroachment of forest lands in the future in the name of podu lands, no forest area will be left. I am not talking about tribals. In fact, tribals don't harm forests. They safeguard forests with a belief that if forests survive, they will survive. But there is a danger of vested interests encroaching forest lands in the name of tribals. This should be curbed strictly," the Chief Minister stated.
However, Chandrashekar Rao clarified that the ownership of podu lands could not be changed as per existing Centre's laws and Supreme Court directions but tribals would be allowed to do agriculture on those lands. He said the state government would request the Centre to extend the cut-off date for providing forest land rights to tribals by amending the Recognition of Forest Rights (ROFR) Act and resolve forest land disputes permanently.
Rao reminded that the UPA government had brought the ROFR Act and ordered a survey of podu lands with 2015 as the cut-off date.
“A survey was conducted to an extent in the Telangana region of erstwhile Andhra Pradesh and ROFR pattas were given to 96,676 tribals for 3.08 lakh acres of forest lands. However, there are more podu lands being cultivated in the state which need to be identified. The preliminary estimates indicated that an additional six to seven lakh acres of forest land was being cultivated by tribals which takes the total extent of podu lands in Telangana to nearly 10 lakh acres," Rao stated....