Kerala

Seeking their legitimate rights as forest dwellers

The whole settlement looks depressingly dilapidated. Huts in which over 75 people belonging to 19 families have been living for several decades are in shambles. The much-hyped Swachch Bharath campaign is yet to reach the Moorthikunnu tribal hamlet located at Kadappara. No household here has toilet facilities or water connection, not to speak of electricity.

“Though 14 years have passed since the Forest Rights Act was passed by the Parliament, it failed to make any difference to our pathetic living conditions. Though vast stretches of government land are available in the locality, we are forced to live in 40 cents of rocky terrain, where no cultivation is possible,” says village elder Velayudhan. The residents of the colony, which is in the close vicinity of the Mangalam dam, belong to the Malaya section of tribals.

Irked by this apathy on the part of the authorities, the residents have rallied behind the Pattika Varga Maha Sabha, a Statewide organisation of tribals, to launch a land struggle. They have been occupying six acres of forestland in the locality for five days. They have erected huts, planted banana and coconut saplings apart from uprooting over 100 trees. A strong posse of police and forest officials is camping in the area but that has not deterred the determination of the agitating tribesmen.

They demand implementation of the Forest Rights Act, which will ensure them legitimacy to collect minor forest produce from the surrounding forests besides ensuring proper housing, sanitation and drinking water. The whole colony is now camping in the occupied area round the clock to prevent forest officials from removing the huts.

“There will be no settlement of the issue until the Forest Rights Act is implemented. We are expecting the visit of the District Collector here to give an assurance in this regard in writing. The many assurances in the past still remain unimplemented. So we are engaging in a fresh round of struggle,” said Mr. Velayudhan.

Conciliatory talks initiated by Revenue Divisional Officer K. Selvaraj and Divisional Forest Officer M. Vimalkumar have failed as the agitators demanded solid assurances with proper timeframe for implementing the promises.

Mr Selvaraj on Wednesday urged the agitators not to cut any more trees as the Collector would work out a solution within two days.

Tribespeople from neighbouring areas like Olakara, Kaithakkavu, Thalikakallu, Kodumbala, Odukkinkund, Plachimada and Chittur are congregating in the village in solidarity with the agitators.


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Printable version | Oct 24, 2021 9:07:08 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/kerala/Seeking-their-legitimate-rights-as-forest-dwellers/article14015859.ece

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