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The Jan Samwad Yatra today reached Theni District in Tamil Nadul The Yatra group had discussions with two seperate tribal groups to understand the land entitlements processing existing in Tamil Nadu. Surprisingly it seems as the implementation of the Forest Rights Act is yet to start here (atleast for the groups, the yatra interacted with). 16334 cases for entitlement have been filed under FRA here, sadly not even a single case has been entitled to land till date.
This is the second time that such a situation has been encountered in Theni. Apart from theni there are numerous land related issues that still need to be taken into account. Here are some expressions of PV Rajagopal when he visited Theni in January (2011).
During my last visit to south India in the month of January 2011 (25-27/1/2011), in my capacity as a member of the National Land Reforms Council, I also visited Shankaran Kudi, a village in Coimbatore district of Tamil Nadu, Pollachi is on the border of Kerala. I decided to visit one or two tribal villages. I was taken to Annamali. I traveled 78 km and then walked 2 km on the hilltop to reach the village. All along those hilltops what we found were tea gardens. Thirty-six tea garden companies operate on this hillside. A large track of land has been allotted for tea gardens which would sum up to thousands of acres of forest land. When I arrived in the village, I found 19 families of Adivasis living on half an acre of land, which is barely enough for them to make a living. They can no more depend on the forest, as the Forest Department restricts them from entering into the forest. The only activity allowed is honey collection. As a result they are forced to work in tea garden as laborers. This is a clear violation of the Forest Right Act. The Adivasi is not given enough land to cultivate in spite of an strong act in their favor.
On my return to Delhi, I got to know that the forest department has demanded an explanation from the activist why did they speak against the forest department and non-implementation of the FRA in front of the villagers. This attitude reflects that the department is not interested in addressing the problem but is more interested in restricting people from speaking about it.
The next day I went to Theni and was accompanied by Mr.Raja from a voluntary organization ARUDECS. He took me to several villages and I found that tribal communities are in great distress. Around these tribal families are people with huge farms, mango groves, cashew and coconut plantations. Whereas the Adivasis are employed as laborer for a monthly wage 1500 to 2000 rupees. Since I have worked for several years as Supreme Court Commissioner on Bonded Labor, I could easily relate the conditions similar to those of bonded labor. I will urge that the state government should take immediate steps to conduct a survey and release all these bonded laborers. The villages that I visited are Chokkanalai and Chillakalam.
I also visited a village called Siraaikaad where adivasis are living on the roadside in slum-like conditions. Historically these Adivasis were brought down from the hilltop, with a promise that they will be rehabilitated properly, but they are not forced to live in vulnerable conditions. As far as I could understand from the visit, there is enough land available in this area for redistribution to the landless. In some cases I am sure even ceiling land should be available for redistribution. I earnestly urge the state government to look into this matter and see how the living condition of the Adivasis can be drastically improved.
Back to Theni headquarters I received petitions from people who were given land under the two acre land scheme of the previous government, but the land was occupied by influential people. They have repeatedly brought this issue to the notice of the district administration but no action has been taken in this connection.
During my meeting with the District Collector and SP on 27th January 2011. I brought this matter to their notice and requested for urgent action. I will request the present government to look into the two acre land distribution scheme seriously and take corrective measure so that the beneficiaries get possession of the land. Many Tamil magazines the scandal in relation to the two acres land scheme. I had also written to the former Chief Minister of Tamilnadu in this connection (copy enclosed).
I was surprised that on the 27th night, some local policemen and Tahsildar forcefully entered my room and started interrogating me on my purpose of visit for about two hours. I politely tried to make understand that I am a member of the National Land Reforms Council and the Vice-Chairman for the National Council for Rural Institutes under the Ministry of Human Resource Development, GoI. I was taken aback by the behavior of these officials as they detained me for two hours and did not even allow me to have my food. Only after an intervention from Delhi, they apologized and left. I will request the present government headed by you to investigate and bring justice at its rightful place.
A day before my visit to Theni I am told that the DGP had organized a meeting of police officials and select group of Adivasi leaders. She also distributed utensils, chairs and many other domestic utility items to those Adivasi leaders in lieu for giving information to the police department on who is visiting the villages, when and why. She also promised the police department will adopt all the tribal villages in the area and provide all necessary support for better living conditions. Though I admit, that on the face, the action cannot be criticized but consequences of action can be dangerous that:
1. She is making adivasis informers of the police department, rather than respecting the dignity as people.
2. The police department taking the responsibility, which should be one of the Tribal or Rural Development Department.
3. She is preventing any developmental initiative in tribal villages through any voluntary organizations or individuals.
I would like to request the present government to look into the entire episode and see why a DGP should behave in this fashion. It only shows lack of understanding of tribal life and culture and the protocol.
In conclusion I would like to draw you attention to the following points:
1. The Forest Rights Act needs to effectively implemented. This is a great opportunity to support the tribal people, who have otherwise lost their livelihood resources and hope for change.
2. The area of land being used for tea-garden should be minimized, or those working in tea gardens for many years, should be treated as shareholders.
3. There should be a serious effort to investigate the land allocation to these tea-companies and the actual land holding, so that the remaining land can be liberated and redistributed.
4. There are large numbers of bonded labors to be released from the mining and farming sector. A serious initiative is expected from the government in this direction. There are also larger numbers of bonded labors who have been already released but not rehabilitated.
5. The role of police in the region needs to be redefined in line with the existing rural development authorities.