On the face of it, nothing seems wrong in political parties making promises to tribals on recognising their rights to till the forest land, as was the case during 2004 general elections in the undivided Adilabad district. But their failure in specifying the conditionalities that are involved in the process has invariably resulted in more felling of trees even by the non-tribals.
This election is no different from those in the past as is evident from the fact that Telangana Forest Minister A. Indrakaran Reddy assured voters during meetings a few days ago in Adilabad and Kagaznagar that Chief Minister K. Chandrasekhar Rao would evolve a strategy to give them rights on podu land. Mr. Rao himself and former Forest Minister Jogu Ramanna had also given similar assurances to the tribals during the December 11 Assembly elections.
Under the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dweller (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act (FRA)-2006, the Adilabad district accounted for 1,473 community forest right (CRF) claims involving an extent of 2,74,928 acres of land and 56,358 individual forest right (IRF) claims involving 2,23,789 acres until July 2016.
According to Promise and Performance of Forest Rights Recognition Act-2006, the Tenth Anniversary Report submitted by Palla Trinadha Rao in 2016, as many as 408 CRFs were recognised involving 2,70,232 acres and 37,181 IFRs were recognised involving 1,35,311 acres of land.
Claims to the rest of the land – 4,696 acres under CRF and 88,478 acres under IFR – were rejected. The cut off date for claiming the rights was December 2015, but the illegal felling of trees in the forest has never really ceased since the advent of the Act as farmers, even non-tribals, expect the political parties to regularise the extents cleared by them.
In the absence of concrete data with regard to the extent of encroachment of the forest land, it can be said that the government is depending on the claim petitions to quantify the encroachments before and after the FRA deadline. “Such complacence does not help the cause of forest protection,” observed a conservationist not wanting to be quoted.
The issue of the rights on podu land or clearings made in forests by the tribals, has come to the fore during Lok Sabha elections in the backdrop of the Supreme Court order of February 13 to evict all the forest encroachers. “No political leader is leaving an opportunity to assure the tribals and non-tribals of recognising their rights, which is resulting in fresh felling of trees,” the conservationist said.