Guest Post by VASUDHA NAGARAJ
Korsa Subba Rao, a man from Koya tribe, cultivates about three acres of forest land in a village in Khammam district. His family has been doing so for several generations. Subba Rao has a ration card, voter identity card, Aadhar Card and a NREGA job card. However, for the land that he tills, he has no papers whatsoever. Ironically the only evidence he has is an FIR issued by the Forest department. For committing a forest offence of encroaching into the forest – cutting down trees and putting it to podu cultivation.
Like Korsa Subba Rao, in Khammam district, there are thousands of farmers belonging to Koya, Konda Reddis and Lambadi tribal communities cultivating one to four acres in forest lands. Most of them have been cultivating since the times of their forefathers. Often this is their only income. However, factors such as scanty rain, untimely rain or pest can drastically reduce this income. The prevalence of malaria and other mosquito borne diseases also adds to the toll.
Here, it needs to be understood that forest lands do not always imply green forests. A forest land can be dense forest, moderate forest, shrub growth and also barren land. In Khammam district, thousands of acres of forest lands have been put to cultivation since several decades. But any cultivation of forest land is considered to be illegal, as it is an offence as per the AP Forest Act, 1967. In this scheme of things, the tribal farmers are seen as “encroachers”. The irony is that they are encroachers inspite of being the original inhabitants of the land. Because of this illegality and because of the power of the Forest Department to register criminal cases, the tribal farmers live in a constant fear of eviction from their lands. Continue reading Why are we always Encroachers? Tribal farmers in Khammam District, Telangana: Vasudha Nagaraj