The State government's offer to provide one acre of land each to all landless tribal families at Attappady has evoked little enthusiasm among the tribes of these hamlets. The reason: successive governments have given hundreds of acres of land for tribal rehabilitation in many parts of Attappady such as Sholayur, Kottathara, Adwanapetti, Mulagangal, etc, but not a single tribal family has occupied the land as it is unsuitable for human habitation and is far away from their traditional settlements.
Chief Minister Oommen Chandy, after a tour of some of the hamlets of Attappady along with a few of his Cabinet colleagues on June 6, has come out with the latest one-acre promise.
Following the official announcement, a team including this correspondent, a photographer, and an anthropolist has visited some of the hamlets and found that the reaction of the tribes to the latest offer has been outright disbelief.
Koyan Mooppan, who was the president of the Pudur grama panchayat for more than two decades, said that “the history of alternative land to tribal people in Attappady has proved time and again that the land given is far away from their settlements and it is found uncultivable and uninhabitable. The same land is allotted to other tribal people, the Chengara land agitators, etc., again and again,” he said.
Thothi Mooppan of the Gulikadavu tribal hamlet, near Agali, said that “the governments have been issuing pattayams (title deeds) for the same land again and again and the land is not suitable for cultivation or living. This is just to tell the outside world that the government has given land to the tribal people of Attappady. There should be an end to such all-out cheating of tribal people. The government knows very well that there is no cultivable land with it in Attappady to distribute to landless tribal people as announced by Chief Minister Oommen Chandy at a meeting in Agali on June 6, 2013,” the Mooppan said.
There are several tribesmen who got pattayam but never saw the land even a couple of years after the allotment by the government.
Kandaswamy, son of Kaliyamma of the Kongra hamlet at Vattalakki, got the title deed (F-3-955) in Survey No.185 at Thengara village, more than 50 km from Vattalakki, near Mannarkkad. He got it on September 9, 2011 at a ‘pattaya mela’ held at Palakkad “But we are not shown the land yet. When we asked the revenue authorities in Attappady, they said that the land is at Thenkara village and you have to contact the revenue officials there. But we do not want land in Thenkara…. We cannot leave our hamlet in Attappady and go to an alien place to get just one acre of land. We cannot go to Thenkara leaving our relatives and friends. We are living here for generations,” he said.
Chellan, son of Nanjan, who was allotted one acre at Thenkara (VFS 2nd site – S.M-185) on the same day along with seven others from the hamlet, said no official has told them where the land is or to occupy it. “They just issued us pattayams at the mela,” he said.
Mr. Chinnan, another title deed holder, said: “The government is cheating us. Instead of cheating us with the non-existent alternative land, we should be given back our encroached and alienated land. Since we cannot leave our ancestral land, which is now occupied by non-tribal people, we should be given back that land. You should resettle them. We believe that our forefathers still live here and also our forest gods whom we worship. Our life is linked with the forestland, the land we had owned. Once we are forced out of it, our tradition and livelihood are destroyed. When we are removed from our original habitat we are like fish out of water.”
Murugan, a tribal activist, whose father, Danda Mooppan, was the tribal head Vattalakki, said, “We had 15 acres of land. But it got alienated years ago. Though a court ordered restoration of 12 acres, nothing has been done till now despite our running from pillar to post for the last one decade.”