Tamil Nadu

Nilgiris tribals told to stop encroaching forest land

S.Kalanidhi, District Forest Officer, Nilgiris North Division, speaking at a meeting on forest encroachments on Saturday in Udhagamandalam.- Photo:M.SathyamoorthyM.Sathyamoorthy;M.Sathyamoorthy -

S.Kalanidhi, District Forest Officer, Nilgiris North Division, speaking at a meeting on forest encroachments on Saturday in Udhagamandalam.- Photo:M.SathyamoorthyM.Sathyamoorthy;M.Sathyamoorthy -  

After the arrest of a few non-tribal people, who were cultivating crops and encroaching on a reserve forest near Wenlock Downs in Glenmorgan recently, the Nilgiris district administration held a meeting with tribal people to put an end to encroachments.

The meeting called by District Forest Officer (Nilgiris North Division) S. Kalanidhi and the District Revenue Officer and Revenue Divisional Officer was held on Saturday to stop “encroachment” by Kotas on 300 acres of land belonging to the forest and revenue department in Glenmorgan and Sholur beats by the tribe.

The Kotas and Toda tribes claim to have the rights to graze on 1,400 acres in the area and the representatives of both the tribes participated in the meeting.

K. Saravanakumar, Forest Range Officer (Nilgiris North), said around 100 Kota families at Kokkal had built solar fences, were cultivating crops, and encroached on a stream. They had leased out the land to non-tribal people.

Forest and revenue officials reminded the Kotas and Todas that the encroachments were illegal. They told them that Paniyas and Irulas, who were also Scheduled Tribes, were living in even more impoverished conditions, but that they were not encroaching on forestland.

K. Chandrabellan from Kokkal, a temple priest, said the department had done very little to stop resort owners and big businessmen from encroaching on the forestland. “They are putting up houses and lodges. But we are the sons of the soil. We are not encroachers, you are,” he said to thunderous applause from the tribal people assembled at the HADP hall.

The forest officials and a few residents from Sholur and Samiyarmattam said the activities of the Kotas had been causing denudation of pristine grasslands, on which a variety of herbivores depended for food. Moreover, the encroachment on the river had affected the flow of water downstream, which once again drew loud protests from the Kotas.

Ramesh Belli, a resident of Sholur and Director of the Nilgiris Farmer Producer Company, said grasslands were crucial for wildlife and continued destruction of the areas would cause drought in the long run.

K. Shanmugham from Samiyarmattam said five villages further downstream from Kokkal were without water. As Mr. Shanmugham was walking back to his seat, he was confronted by a few tribal people. Police had to intervene to pacify them.

T. Kumaresh, a Toda tribesman from Harper Mund, blamed the afforestation practices of the Forest Department for water scarcity. “You introduced non-native species that suck water out of the ground, and now you blame the tribal people for practising agriculture. The whole of Ooty is on our land, you give that back to us,” he said, once again to rapturous applause.

As more allegations came up that the Kotas were setting up solar fences around their land, preventing movement of animals, the argument got more heated. A few Kotas confirmed that the fences were operational but said that they would remove them.

Finally, Mr. Kalanidhi, District Forest Officer, said new encroachments should be stopped till the issue was sorted out. He reminded the tribal people that the Forest Rights Act of 2006 only assured them of right to land they had occupied prior to December 13, 2005.

Land rights

“All the lands occupied afterwards will be treated as illegal. You will have to follow proper procedures and obtain the sanction of the government before you can take possession of the land,” he said and urged the tribal people to use lawful means to get both personal and community land rights to their villages.

Members of Kota and Toda communities have heated arguments with officials at meeting

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Printable version | May 31, 2020 12:56:44 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/tamil-nadu/Nilgiris-tribals-told-to-stop-encroaching-forest-land/article16668517.ece

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