The forest authorities plan to file criminal cases against the tribals, who are accused of cultivating crops in Pasra forest – which has been declared as a wildlife sanctuary – in violation of prevalent laws.
A recent crackdown by forest officials on Gothi Koya tribals to evict them from Jalagalancha in Telangana’s Pasra forest has triggered a political controversy.
The forest authorities plan to file criminal cases against the tribals, who are accused of cultivating crops in Pasra forest – which has been declared as a wildlife sanctuary – in violation of prevalent laws. However, the tribals claim podu (shifting cultivation) of millets and pulses on forest land is their sole means of sustainance, and they would not be able to survive on the plains.
Source said over 200 forest department officials swooped down on the Jalagalancha tribal hamlet with tractors and bulldozers on Saturday, and began demolishing the abodes of about 36 Gothi Koya families. “They ransacked their huts, throwing out food items, clothes, cots and utensils, before razing them to the ground. They also destroyed the standing crops in their fields. The tribals resisted the action, resulting in a clash. When the womenfolk tried to waylay the tractors, lathi-wielding female constables belonging to the forest department dragged them away,” Sarath Kumar, a witness, told HT.
While the tribal women were herded under a tree, their male counterparts were forced to dump their belongings into the tractors. “It took the fores officials two hours to shift them all to Tadwai, situated about 20 km away,” Kumar said.
The Gothi Koya tribals migrated to the forests of Warangal, Bhoopalpalli and Khammam districts from Chhattisgarh about ten years ago. Frequent gunbattles between security forces and ultras in the Maoist-infested state had spurred their exodus.
“They settled in the woods, eking out a livelihood through podu. The district authorities even acknowledged their hamlets, giving them Aadhaar cards a couple of years ago and laying an approach road to their hamlet,” Ramana, a resident of the area, said.
The incident triggered protests by political parties as well as Adivasi groups. Agitators blocked the nearby Hyderabad-Bhupalapatnam national highway to demand justice for the victims on Sunday.
All India Adivasi Congress leader Bellaiah Naik Tejavath said tribals have the right to depend on forests for subsistence, and decried their eviction as unconstitutional. He has demanded monetary compensation for the affected tribals.
Pasra forest range officer J Shireesha, who carried out the evacuation, said the Gothi Koya tribals had to be shifted because they were cultivating crops in the wildlife sanctuary in violation of the law. “We served notices and tried to counsel them on three occasions since May. Though there was an initial agreement to leave the place, they decided against it in the eleventh hour. In the end, we had no option but to follow orders and evacuate them by force,” she told HT.
Shireesha alleged that some of the tribals who clashed with the officials were drunk. “We used mild force after they turned violent,” she said. “We don’t mind providing them with others means of livelihood and an alternative place to live, but the law will take its course if they attempt returning to the forest.”