MYSURU: Two years ago, Gejja climbed a mango tree and made it his home after his hut in the forest was declared illegal and allegedly pulled down by authorities. Now, the Jenu Kuruba tribal has won the battle: he will get ownership of land under the Forest Rights Act and can rebuild his home.

Alongside Gejja, some two dozen tribal families living in Malaganakere Haadi inside Nagarahole forest near Periyapatna taluk, some 90km from Mysuru, will get title deeds. Deputy commissioner D Randeep told TOI that following reports, a team of officials was sent to meet Gejja. He can stay within the forest or move out with a rehabilitation package offered by the forest department, the official said. Gejje is also eligible for land from the Valmiki Corporation. Gejja's forest rights would be conferred immediately, Randeep said.

Another man from a nearby village, Taddibokke Haadi, in the same taluk is also believed to be living in a tree and will be given land ownership, the DC said.

Sources said Gejja's protest was triggered by forest authorities razing his hut in the forest and allegedly calling him a liar when he said his ancestors had been living there. Naviluru gram panchayat officer M K Devaraj said the forest officials cited laws and said they had a directive from higher-ups to clear the area. Gejja's hut was reportedly flattened to dig trenches for solar fencing. The other families in the village faced other difficulties. They were not allowed to extend their houses or make any alteration since they were living in the forest. The fence, however, cut them off from the forest.

Gejja protested the move and built a bamboo platform on a mango tree that he claimed was planted by his father Muttaiah a few decades ago. His wife relocated to Rani Gate where she works as a maid and statys with their elder son, Kulla. Their younger son, Appi, is studying at Girijana Ashrama School. He has faced several hardships in the 'tree-house', which was once pulled down by marauding elephants, but he stood his ground.

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Photo source:  Dinesh Valke via Flickr/Creative Commons (CC By-NC-ND 2.0). Photo: © Dinesh Valke

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