Tribals in turmoil over forest officials `eviction mission'

MADURAI, AUG. 21. Tribals in Tamil Nadu have expressed a sense of insecurity caused by the ``unwarranted and disturbing action'' by Forest department officials who ``are on a mission to evict all of them from their ancestral lands,'' the State organiser of the Tamil Nadu Tribal People's Movement, G. Pandian, said on Tuesday.

He told The Hindu here that the tribals were passing through an ``emotional turmoil'' following the sudden action by the forest officials ``who had scant respect for laws or tribal rights.'' The authorities misconstrued the laws and acted hastily in destroying their habitations under the garb of providing protection to sanctuaries and reserve forests. A large number of houses in the Nilgiris, Tirunelveli, Kanyakumari and Erode districts and Kodaikanal were razed to the ground. The forest officials also destroyed the trees raised by the tribals, he said.

As per the September 18, 1990 Union Forest and Environment Ministry's order, the tribals or Adivasis who had been living in their ancestral land in forest areas before 1980 should not be resettled. Their habitations should be declared revenue villages and their rights protected. However, those who had settled in the forest areas after 1980 should be rehabilitated and relocated. He said the Supreme Court had directed the Maharashtra Government on March 7, 1995 to recognise the rights of tribals and this was applicable to all State Governments.

Mr. Pandian charged that the Centre deviated from safeguarding the interests of the tribals — part of the agenda of its Common Minimum Programme.

The Tamil Nadu Government should direct the forest officials to stop acting contrary to laws and initiate steps to hand over the land recovered from the Adivasis prior to 1950. Measures should be launched to prevent plainsmen from purchasing tribals' land.

At a meeting here on Tuesday, the leaders of tribal associations decided to launch an agitation to draw the attention of the State Government to their plight. Reclassifying the Pulaiyar tribals in Kodaikanal and Theni as tribals and including them in the Scheduled Tribe list and providing community certificates to wandering tribes such as nari koravas, were some of the demands.