Restoration of lost land to tribes remains a mirage, says NGO study
Despite epochal laws and Supreme Court orders, restoration of tribal land remains a mirage, a study has said.
In Attappady alone, over 10,796.19 acres had been alienated from tribespeople between 1960 and 80, reportedly the highest in the State, a study on the topic by L.K. Ananthakrishna Iyer International Centre for Anthropological Studies (AICAS), a non-governmental organisation, published recently, said.
The Supreme Court had directed the government to restore alienated land by March this year, AICAS secretary and former Director of the Kerala Institute for Research, Training and Development Studies of Scheduled Castes and Tribes P.R.G. Mathur told The Hindu here on Tuesday. So far, only 2 acres had been restored to tribespeople, he said.
Land alienation started in the 1950s. The lack of political will was evident in the meagre 2 acres being allotted to tribespeople by the Revenue Department at Mamana in Agali village. This restoration was part of six cases taken up by the department on the basis of court orders. The department had to suspend restoration at Guddiyur, near Agali, due to resistance by the present occupants of the land, Dr. Mathur said.
The Debar Commission constituted by the Union government suggested restoration of land tribal people, with effect from January 26, 1950. Two-and-a-half decades later, following many starvation deaths in the 1970s, a meeting of State Revenue Ministers called by the then Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi, on April 1, 1975, recommended passing of legislations to enable the implementation of the Commission report.
In April 1975, the Kerala Assembly, with C. Achutha Menon as Chief Minister and E.M.S. Namboodiripad as Leader of the Opposition, unanimously passed the Kerala Scheduled Tribes (Restriction on Transfer of Lands and Restoration of Alienated Lands) Bill, 1975. It assured restoration of all land lost by tribal people in Kerala from January 26, 1960. Piloting the Bill in the Assembly, the then Revenue Minister, Baby John, proclaimed on the floor of the Assembly that ‘the government treats all the alienated tribal lands as stolen property,’ Dr. Mathur said.
In July 1975, Ms. Gandhi announced a 20-point programme which included the restoration of alienated tribal land. On November 11, 1975, the Kerala Tribal Land Act got the President’s assent and included it was included in the 9th Schedule of the Constitution. But during 1975-86, nothing was done by successive governments. In 1986, rules were formulated to implement the Act with retrospective effect, Dr. Mathur said.
In 1988, activist Nalla Thampi Thera of Mananthavady, Wayanad, moved the first writ petition before the Kerala High Court pleading to instruct the State government to implement the Tribal Land Act of 1975. The Revenue Divisional Officer (RDO) of Ottappalam received 2,422 applications for restoration of land in 1996. In 13 cases, 44.77 acres were restored and in many cases proceedings were completed. But, tribespeople could not secure the possession of land, Dr. Mathur said adding that the 1982 survey report of the Integrated Tribal Development Project (ITDP) presented a shocking picture.
“Between 1960-77, in Attappady, 10160.19 acres got alienated. Between 1977 and 1982, only 536 acres got alienated. But after 1982, 100 acres got alienated,” Dr. Mathur said, quoting from the ITDP report.
Listing some cases Dr. Mathur said, Rootan, son of Karuppan, lost 1.5 acres for an amount of Rs.25 he had taken from a Cooperative Society in 1983. Muddan, son of Aandi of Kozhikkodam hamlet, lost his 5.3 acres for Rs.30 in 1970. Velammal ‘sold three acres for Rs.900 to one Ramaswamy Gaundar, Kulakkur, in 1974, and Pitta, son of Chinnan, sold 4 acres for Rs.400 in 1973.