HYDERABAD: The state government's much-promised solution to the vexed Podu land rights issue in Telangana is not expected to have a significant positive impact on more than five lakh people who applied for rights over 13 lakh acres of forest land.
According to government sources, non-tribal people made up nearly half of the 5,03,469 claims for 13,18,971 acres of forest land that were submitted last year after the government's call was put into effect through Grama Sabhas. It is highly likely that nothing will come of these applications.
This is because the Recognition of Forest Rights Act, 2006 makes it clear that non-tribals claiming Podu rights will have to prove that three generations of their families – spread over 75 years — were in occupation of the forest land. The Act, which had December 13, 2005 as the cut-off date for claims over forest land, requires such evidence.
And in order for non-tribals, who were encouraged by leaders of all political parties to submit applications last year, to obtain any rights over any parcel of forest land, the possession of such land as of the deadline must be attested to by a village elder. This poses a particular challenge, a source explained, saying that for someone to be able to verify such possession as on December 13, 2005, that person must have been at least 75 years or older as on that date.
If such claims are to be verified now, then every grama sabha needs to find an elder in a sound state of mind and in his or her 90s to support such claims, which by any means, in a tall order, the source explained.
While claims filed by tribals may see some activity, for now, unless the Act is amended, anyone who filed a claim last year is unlikely to receive any rights over even a single square yard of forest land. It may be noted that state government officials, as well as minister K.T. Rama Rao, had previously made it clear that any additional giving away of land under Podu cultivation will require amendments to the Act by the Central Government.
Even among the tribals, most claims that could be considered would be those that were not resolved when the Act was first used to provide land rights more than a decade ago. There were 15,558 claims covering 53,565 acres that were still pending at that time. Despite the word ‘Podu’ appearing in the Government Orders (GOs), sources claim that even the September 11 GOs establishing District Coordination Committees to oversee “the proper disposal of claims regarding lands under Podu cultivation” are not expected to help resolve the issue other than to give the impression that district-level government officials are actively working to find a solution, explained a senior government functionary.
The GO No. 140, issued by the tribal welfare department makes it clear that other than being “apprised about the claims filed under Podu cultivation”, and help “estimate the requirement for deployment, trainings, or logistical support to resolve Podu issue at the district level itself”, the primary duties of these committees have been laid down as finding consensus on preventing further encroachments of forest land, and apprise the competent authority in case of Podu encroachments....