Cases slapped against 13 farmers for trying to revive fishponds in their ‘ziraiti’ lands

The joint family of Jampana Marraju with 18 acres of ‘ziraiti’ (private) lands from this village falling in the plus-five contour of the Kolleru Wildlife Sanctuary in West Godavari district, bears the brunt of “harassment” from the Forest Department.

The attempts by the family to revive fishponds in their lands led to filing of cases against it under Section 27 of the Andhra Pradesh Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972.

“We have been charged with disturbing the habitat of wildlife when we tried to re-use our lands for fish farming. But there appears to be none to speak of destruction of our own habitat after demolition of fishponds without paying any compensation to us,” Mr. Marraju says.

According to official sources in the Wildlife Division of the Forest Department, more than 80 per cent of 1,500 acres of ziraiti lands in the plus-five contours falling under seven mandals in West Godavari and three mandals in Krishna district have been subjected to reconversion as fishponds, leading to registration of cases in the recent past.

The joint family used to receive an annual income of Rs. 3.5 lakh from the fishponds till demolition of fishponds. There is no income whatsoever from these lands for over six years since Operation Kolleru, resulting in the family ending up in debts mounting to Rs. 20 lakh.

In all, 13 farmers from the village are facing cases under the Wildlife (Protection) Act for trying to rebuild fishponds in 100 acres of their ziraiti lands. The fishponds in an extent of 830 acres, including the ziraiti lands in 300 acres, were pulled down during the Operation Kolleru as they fell under the prohibited sanctuary area. The village economy suffered a serious setback since then, leading to migration of 30 families, all belonging to the otherwise affluent Kshatriya families. Migrations have been impacting the student strength in the local upper primary school, which is facing a threat of closure due to sharp decline in the student strength from 200 to 30. The local SBI branch is also facing a similar threat in the wake of contraction in its deposit-advance portfolios.