Landholders determined to get `tree rights'

MADIKERI April 15. The agitation launched by landholders in Kodagu seeking right over trees grown on their lands is in focus these days. Strident landholders, whose voice was not heard all along, are now firm, demanding that the Government concede their rights over trees.

In support of their demand, they prevented timber auctions at various government timber depots in March and April. A subcommittee formed to steer the case forward, headed by the former President of the Kodagu Zilla Parishat, J.A.Karumbaiah, says after the Coorg Land Revenue Regulations were repealed, the Karnataka Land Revenue Act had come into being in Kodagu. Hence, right over trees automatically vested with landholders.

The members prevented auctions at Kushalnagar, Anecad, Sampaje in the Madikeri Forest Division, and Thithimathi and Makutta in the Virajpet Forest Division so far. They were able to prevail over the bidders, most of who usually come from Kerala, as also others parts of the State, not to participate in the bids. Some bidders, who had deposited bid amounts, were made to withdraw.

They vowed not to allow any more timber auction in Kodagu till their demands were met. The crash in coffee prices had hit everyone hard here. Realising full timber value after tree rights were conferred on them would help tide over the crisis, they said.

The Forest Department is studying the matter. As frustration among landholders is growing, the reluctance of the Government to tackle the issue appears baffling. The Kodagu district in-charge Minister, M.M.Nanaiah, recently asked the Forest Department to submit a detailed report to the Government within 15 days.

Some of the landholders themselves have deposited timber in government depots for sale. If a tree is extracted from a "redeem'' tenure of land, the landholder is eligible for 90 per cent of the value realised in the auction, while 10 per cent is deducted by the Department as handling charge. If the tree belonged to a "unredeem'' tenure, the landholder is eligible for 45 per cent of the value realised in the auction with the rest going as revenue to the Government.

The landholders said that with the introduction of the Act, all land tenures in the district had been done away with. A large number of land tenures that existed during the prevalence of the Coorg Revenue Regulation Act no longer existed, they said. The Forest Department, however, refuses to accept this. It said the land tenure issue should be addressed by the Revenue Department. If the Revenue Department said land tenures did not exist in the district, then the Forest Department was not interested in tree felling on lands owned.

Outside the purview of the landholders' agitation, there is a section of lawyers which feels land tenures still exist. However, A.K.Subbaiah, (he is involved in the "tree right'' agitation) said that all land tenures had been done away with. M.C.Nanaiah, former Law Minister, suspected amendments could be required to the Act before conferring tree rights.

According to a source, there is no need for an amendment to implement the Act in the district. The rights over trees naturally belonged to the landholders, he said. However, he clarified that a notification pertaining to the issue was yet to come through.

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