Scientists, greens misleading people about forest land encroachment: Thimmappa

I am portraying the tragedy of the voiceless people before the outside world, says Kagodu Thimmappa.

Octogenarian Congress leader and Revenue Minister Kagodu Thimmappa is emerging as the messiah of farmers who have been cultivating forestland. He is on a mission to ensure that authentic land documents are given to these forest dwellers, who can then rest assured that they are not evicted from forests. He explained his views in an interview with Deccan Chronicle. Here are excerpts.

In the past, as Assembly Speaker, you had taken government and officials to task for not doing justice to people doing farming inside forests. After you became revenue minister, what have you done to achieve this?
I toured all districts after I became revenue minister. I met DCs and ACs and explained the government’s intention. Subsequently, we issued circulars asking DCs and assistant commissioners to convene weekly meetings and settle the issue (of giving letters of authorisation for tilling land inside forests) before December. I brought this to the notice of the Chief Minister, we are discussing how to solve this issue. I am intent on finding a solution.

As we have seen, the problem in Malenadu is different from that in districts dominated by tribals in Chitradurga, Raichur and Ballari. What are the hiccups you encountered?
Essentially, one has to prove that he and his family have been farming forest land for over 75 years. It is quite natural that one can’t give evidence for this. In the 2005 Act (which enables the government to give an authorisation certificate of farming), 13 types of documents are mentioned. One or two documents but not all the 13 are required. But these officials have not understood the law in that context. We know one can’t get certificates or documents to prove their domicile. To prove this, a person above 75 years from that village has to approve the claim made by the one farming in the forest.

If we closely study this process, many people residing in forests, like Gaulis and Kunubi have not got benefits because they have not applied for it. In many parts of the Western Ghat like Shivamogga, people who had encroached upon forests recently tried to get land titles claiming they have been there long before the cut-off period of 2005. How do you differentiate between genuine and fake applicants?
I am not the one who is going to do it. Every village has a Forest Rights Committee which will go through the applications and based on the bonafides of the families, they will recommend a list of families who should get an authorisation letter for tilling inside the forests. This list will go to grama sabhas and then the applicants’ list will be screened by a committee former by the assistant commissioners and deputy commissioners where the matter will be settled. If local elected representatives show keen interest, this can be resolved. The local forest committees have to do mahazar, collect evidence and ensure genuine applicants get the benefit. I agree some people have misused it. The government has issued an order to accept the applications again because nearly 95 per cent of genuine farmers have been left out. Those whose applications were rejected can also apply again. If gram panchayat members and local representatives work together, the beneficieries can be identified.

You say everything is fine. But a study conducted by Indian Institute of Science shows that between 2012 and 2016 over a lakh acres of forest land were either destroyed or encroached upon in Shivamogga alone. Has it come to your notice?
(Visibly agitated) One lakh acre encroachment? These intellectuals do not know the reality. Nothing of that sort happened. If there is any forest remaining in that region, it is because of forest dwellers who protect forests. The ordinary man does not disturb forests. They occupy one or two acres and cultivate the land to make both ends meet. What you said might have happened in Kodagu. Malenadu is untouched. These people sit and do guesswork. Have they visited these villages? If you go by what these environmentalists say, one can’t survive.

Environmentalists are not opposed to giving title deeds to genuine forest dwellers like tribals. But in the guise of forest dwellers, encroachers have occupied thousands of acres of forests and cultivated crops like ginger.
What you said might have happened in Khushki and Gomal lands. It has certainly not happened in government or forest land. I do not agree with you. What you are saying is probably Bagair Hukum Saaguvali (cultivation without proper permission). That happened because of people who lost land to the Sharavati project. These environmentalists paint a different picture before the outside world.

You are a politician. And it is quite natural that you will protect voters (who have encroached on forests).
(Agitated) Before a politician I am a human being, you have to understand that. I never did any unethical work for votes. I am a staunch follower of Ram Manohar Lohia. For me, society is more important than the vote. But as a representative of people, I am portraying the tragedy of these voiceless people before the outside world.

But the encroachers are rampantly felling trees to cultivate commercial crops like ginger.
Utter rubbish. I am from that region. I know. Perhaps, less than one per cent people who came from Kerala might have indulged in cultivation in Khuski land. Naanenu dana kaayuvavanenu (Am I a herdsman?) Do these scientists know what I know? Let them come and prove it (what they know about the ecosystem of Western Ghats). Using satellite imagery to speculate is rubbish.

Moving on, people in Raichur, Ballari and Chitradurga are facing a different problem. These districts have a lot more tribals. They do not know about your scheme (of giving letters of authorisation for tilling land inside forests)
I do not know about this.

There also seems to be a big scam. The Supreme Court has directed the government to implement and R and R plan under which mine owners have to invest funds for re-growing forests. These mine owners in collusion with local officials are getting forest land traditionally occupied by tribals who are being forced out. Do you know this?
No. The environment should not be disturbed. Since you have mentioned this, I will discuss it. I will cite an example to prove how hapless tribals are. In Hunsur taluk of Mysuru district, 1,000 families were set to be relocated. I intervened and distributed five acres of land each among 250 tribals. They are in the forests. They have not been sensitised about getting into cultivation and leading an independent life. Elected representatives have not shown much interest in this work.

( Source : Deccan Chronicle. )
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