Bokkapuram tribals fear they may lose their farm lands

Residents of the villages in Bokkapuram fear being evicted from their lands by the forest department.

Residents of the villages in Bokkapuram fear being evicted from their lands by the forest department.

Irular and Kurumbar tribals in Bokkapuram near Masinagudi, bordering Kalamalai, where more than 1,000 acres of revenue land were recently notified as forest land, fear that the Forest Department may confiscate some of their agricultural lands.

Recently, the State Government had issued a notification that more than 1,000 acres of revenue land would be converted to reserve forests.

The Forest Department said that the land lies between Kalamalai and Singara, and that with the notification, they could now take punitive action against illegal resorts and private parties encroaching on the ecologically sensitive area. The land is reportedly an important elephant corridor connecting Sathyamangalam and Mudumalai Tiger Reserves.

However, tribals in five hamlets in Bokkapuram fear that the notification will be used to evict them from their current land holdings.

C. B. Marie from Thakkal in Bokkapuram said that the department had not clarified with them as to where the re-notified land lies in relation to their villages.

“They say that our villages lies within the elephant corridor. We fear that our lands, where we are growing crops may be deemed to be revenue land or encroachments and be appropriated,” he said.

B. Kunmasi, a resident of Thottlingi, and secretary of the Mudumalai Hill Tribes Welfare Association, said that they would be happy if the Forest Department were to use their powers to evict the more than 20 tourist resorts near Bokkapuram. But they say that they were not consulted about the notification.

“They could have approached the local gram sabha and consulted with us about their plans. Now, we fear that the resorts will be left, as they are on patta lands,” Mr. Kunmasi said.

CRW Corfield, retired forest ranger in Mudumalai, said, “There was no effective forest settlement officer for a long period of time. The 1,000 acres lies fragmented in different areas. Naturally, the hill tribals would have expanded their settlements over a period of time and could have even begun practising agriculture.”

“There should have been a public hearing. The claims of people under the Forest Rights Act of 2006 have not been fully settled. That should have been completed first before the department undertook this exercise,” said P. T. Varghese, a Masinagudi resident who works closely with tribals in the area.

When asked about the concerns raised by the tribals, S. Kalanidhi, District Forest Officer (Nilgiris North Division), said that the lands were still being surveyed. He said that the tribals could still file claims with the district level committee or through the gram sabha. “The Forest Rights Act is clear in that the tribals can lay claim to land they occupied prior to December 13, 2005. But let them file claims, we can still consider them on a case-by-case basis,” Mr. Kalanidhi said.

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Printable version | Aug 18, 2022 10:31:40 am |