The decision by the K. Chandrasekhar Rao government to move non-tribal farmers to forest fringes, has been taken amid complaints of farmers encroaching on forest lands and practicing ‘podu’ agriculture (where they burn a part of the forest to raise crops and then move on to another spot the next season). The government has provided land pattas or titles of over 3 lakh acres to tribals whose forefathers have been living in the forest for years and aims to save these lands from being encroached by the landless non-tribals.
In a recently-held review meeting, Chief Minister KCR asked officials to prepare guidelines to appoint Forest Protection Committees to ensure the eviction of non-tribals from the middle of forests to the edge.
Chief Secretary Somesh Kumar has been entrusted with directly handling the grievances and applications on podu lands from October third week onwards, while officials have been asked to conduct survey of the said lands and take necessary steps.
Officials will begin a survey of the state from November and delineate the boundaries of the forest with coordinates.
The chief minister has also instructed officials to conduct meetings with all district collectors and issue required orders. He also asked them to take the suggestions and advice of MLAs.
According to government data (as of October 2015), Telangana has a recorded forest cover of 26,904 sq km, 24 per cent of its total geographical area. Of this, reserved, protected and unclassed forest constitute 75.65 per cent, 22.07 per cent and 2.28 per cent respectively.
In terms of forest canopy density, the state has 1,596 sq km of very dense forests, 8,738 sq km of moderately dense forests and 10,085 sq km of open forest.
The Telangana government recently said that the forest cover in the state has increased by 3.67 per cent due to the implementation of the Haritha Haram programme under which 179 crore saplings have been planted while 38 crore seedlings have been rejuvenated.
Tribals, divided into 32 communities, form 9.08 per cent (31.78 lakh) of the state’s entire population.
The government’s decision comes in response to red flags raised by several MLAs on rampant nature of shifting agriculture in forest areas. The leaders had alleged that several farmers clear a patch of forest land for cultivation and then move on to another area the next season. Raising the issue in the assembly, Kumarum Bheem-Asifabad MLA Athram Sakku had said that such a practice not only causes massive deforestation, but is dangerous for the environment and wildlife. KCR reportedly had given his assurance in the assembly to resolve the issue at the earliest and initiate an action plan from the third week of October.
According to state Forest Minister Indrakaran Reddy, the non-tribal farmers who will be rehabilitated at the peripheries of the forests will be given lands, land deeds, power supply, water and also included under welfare schemes like the Rythu Bandhu programme.
At the same time all measures will be taken to ensure that the lands of tribals is not encroached upon and their livelihood is not hit, the chief minister said at a recent review meeting on Podu land.
“Their living culture is intermingled with the forests. They treat the forests as dear as their own lives. They will not cause any harm to the forests. They utilize forests to collect forest produce like honey, firewood and natural adhesive. The government will protect their livelihood and birth right. The problem is all about those who come from outside, encroach the forestlands, destroy the forest wealth and misuse the resources. We will not allow such elements to plunder the forest wealth and destroy the forests,” Indian Express quoted him as saying.
“Once the podu land issue is settled, the government will launch stringent measures to protect the forest lands. It is the responsibility of forest officials to prevent any illegal intrusions in the forest areas,” Rao said.