Andhra Pradesh

Project Tiger may evict Chenchus

Chenchu youth at Pullaipally village. They have been asked to move out of the core forest area under Project tiger.— PHOTO: Swathi V  

Drop bombs if you wish, but we will not go out. If we go to plains, one person a day will have to be cast away,” says Nallapothula Lingaiah from Appapur hamlet inside the core area of the Amrabad Tiger Reserve.

Evident enough, by ‘casting away’, Lingaiah meant death stalking his ilk from the Chenchu tribe who are moved out into the plains.

Classified as ‘Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Group’ (PVTG), the Chenchus inhabiting the Nallamala forest in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh States have been fast dwindling in numbers over the decades. As per Census data, their population has come down from 49,232 in 2001 to 41,787 in 2011, clocking over 15 per cent drop.

Sharing an umbilical connection with the forest for livelihood, Chenchus have historically detested contact with outside world, and perished in large numbers whenever they had one. To cite one activist, they fear men more than they fear tigers.

The fresh threat to the community came from the relocation package announced under the ‘Project Tiger’ initiative by the National Tiger Conservation Authority. Under the package, forest-dwellers inside the core/critical tiger habitat willing to relocate will get either Rs.10 lakh per family in cash or resettled by the Forest department with five acres of agricultural land, house, and cash incentive.

As per the local Forest officials, ‘gram sabhas’ have been conducted in two villages, namely Sarlapally, and Kudichintalabailu and consent letters have been obtained from close to 80 families from Chenchu and Lambada tribes.

The same will be done in Vatvarlapally, which has 720 families, of which 165 belong to Lambada and Chenchu tribes.

“All villagers have given consent letters, and have to move out. No exemption is granted for Chenchus,” declares the DFO, Achampet, P. Bala Swamy, a statement which is debunked by the Chenchu Rakshana Samithi activists.

“Majority of the Chenchus are not in favour of accepting the package. We have been living in the forest for centuries, and will not move out, let heavens fall. Those few giving consent letters are settlers from plains,” says Chigurla Mallikarjun, Sarlapally resident and president of the Samithi.

The Rs. 10-lakh package will fizzle out in no time owing to rampant alcoholism in the community, whereas forest offers steady sustenance.

Husain Swamy, general secretary of the Samithi, accuses the Forest Department staff of ‘arm-twisting’ tactics by way of threats that they will anyway be shifted, but without the package, if they are adamant.

Senior officials from the forest headquarters deny the allegations.

“Relocation is completely voluntary. In fact, we are facing pressure from villagers for speedy implementation of the package. Chenchus are not our priority. They have been living in the forest for centuries, and cannot survive outside. We understand that,” assures an officer monitoring the implementation.

Majority of the Chenchus are not in favour of accepting the package. We have been living in the forest for centuries, and will not move out, let heavens fall

Chigurla Mallikarjun,

Sarlapally resident

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Printable version | Jan 18, 2022 2:02:17 PM |

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