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Small farmers face eviction threat as Forest Department claims land

Bageshree S.

Hundreds affected in 25 villages in Magadi taluk



Farmers are being branded as ‘encroachers’

In some villages, Forest Department has already marked the areas by digging trenches



Magadi: Sixty-two-year-old Ganga Boriah feels as if the ground beneath his feet has slipped away. And literally so.

Mr. Boriah has been growing ragi in his two-acre patch of land in Chakrabhavi village in Magadi taluk for 35 years. He has documents issued to him by the Revenue Department that declare him the cultivator of the land. But he now faces threat of eviction from the only piece of land he owns because the Forest Department claims that it lies within the forest area.

Mr. Boriah’s is not an isolated case. It is the common fate of hundreds of small and marginal farmers in 25 villages lying in Kasaba, Solur, Kudur, Tippasandra and Madabal hoblis in Magadi taluk today. After cultivating their small patches of land (ranging from 40 guntas to two acres) for two to three generations in many cases, they have now been asked to leave after being branded as “encroachers”. “Why did they give me these records if the land belonged to the Forest Department? I have no other land and know no other work except farming. Where will I go now?” asked Doddiah of Kalarikaval village, whose earliest records on the land date back to 1965.

At the root of the problem is a lack of clarity between two government departments as to the jurisdiction under which these plots of land fall.

“These are gomala lands according to our revenue records, and they were granted to the farmers. The Forest Department, however, says it is forest land according to the gazette notification of 1935,” said Magadi Tahsildhar B.S. Manjunath Swamy. “The Forest Department has not updated the records since the 30s.”

Following a Supreme Court order in 2000, which said that no forest land could be used for any non-forest purpose without the Centre’s approval, the Forest Department is identifying “encroachments”.

In some villages in the taluk, the department has already marked the areas by digging trenches, in many cases right in the middle of standing crops. Shantappa S., Deputy Conservator of Forests, Ramanagaram district, is firm in his claim that the documents the farmers hold are “invalid” since they were not issued by the Forest Department, while the plots of land in question lie within their limits. “If we do not vacate them as per the Supreme Court direction, we will be punished,” he said.

Mr. Manjunath Swamy pleaded helplessness and said that the issue was “beyond the taluk administration” because it involves a Supreme Court order.

“We have held five meetings in this regard. The farmers will have to approach the courts if they want relief,” he said.

The expenses involved in a court case intimidate Narasimhiah of Chakrabhavi. “I had to struggle to raise the money to come to Magadi. How will I will raise money to fight a case?” he asked.

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