The Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS)-led government has not taken a single step forward to protect tribal land rights in the Scheduled Areas of Telangana. On the other hand, it is pursuing policies diluting the letter and spirit of the tribal protective Land Transfer Regulations 1 of 70 (LTR) by offering construction of double bedroom houses to poor across the State without any restriction to Scheduled Areas.
The government policy lends stout support to the voice of non-tribals who are consolidating their strength and seeking the repeal of LTR. This move will trigger discontentment and unrest among the Adivasis in the Scheduled Area of Telangana, which is spread over Khammam, Warangal, Adilabad and Mahabubnagar districts.
The Koneru Rangarao Land Committee in 2006 identified thousands of acres in the occupation of non-tribals in violation of LTR. It may be mentioned here this committee was set up as a follow-up of tribal land issues agenda placed by Maoists before the then Congress government.
Several orders were issued by the government directing District Collectors and ITDA project officers to take up time-bound steps to evict non-tribals from their illegal land occupations and assign the lands to eligible tribals. However, the implementation of government orders has been a non-starter.
A large chunk of lands is held by non-tribals in spite of the LTR 1 of 70. The Committee identified Bill Makta lands of 21,000 acres in Kothaguda and 536 acres in Peddapalli, mostly in the occupation of non-tribals in Warangal district, and directed authorities in 2007 for eviction of non-tribals and assignment in favor of tribals. Most of the endowment lands owned by Bhdrachalam temple in Khammam district are in illegal occupation of non-tribals as per the report of Commissioner of Endowments in 2008.
There is a delay in implementing the orders issued in favour of tribals in land cases. As of March 2015, the Agency Courts in Telangana decided 31,135 cases covering an extent of 1,05,361 acres in favour of tribals. However, the enforcing machinery set up under the LTR could only restore 81,829 acres pertaining to 22,695 cases.
Another key issue is that about 21,062 ares in Utnoor Mandal in Adilabad district, 12,000 acres in Illendu Mandal in Khammam district are held by non-tribals in the name of old pattas. The government had directed identification of such lands in other parts of agency areas and take steps for eviction of non tribals. It also directed officials to identify government lands in uninhabited villages in the Scheduled Areas for assignment to tribals living in nearby such villages.
Thousands of acres of government lands are under encroachment of non-tribals by virtue of GOs 41, 951 and 129, which were issued during 1971-1979, enabling them to continue their occupation. However, all these GOs were struck down by High Court in 1998 and it directed the implementing officers to evict non-tribals from such government lands in the Scheduled Areas. In Bhadrachalam agency alone, 15,000 acres have been under the illegal occupation of non-tribals as per the report of Girglani appointed to study tribal land issues as part of Koneru Land Committee.
Similarly thousands of acres are under enjoyment of non-tribals in Mulugu and Govindharaopet mandals in Warangal district in violation of LTR. During the Nizam ruling thousands of acres were assigned in favor of military persons in the name of Jung Sipahis. However, the government could not identify such assignees. The committee identified 1,000 acres in Eturnagaram mandal in Warangal district, and 450 acres in Bayyaram mandal in Khammam district. The officers were directed by the Government in 2007 to evict the non-tribals, but in vain.
Several industries, petrol bunks, shops and establishments, and several other plantation industries have come up in the Scheduled Areas of Telangana, violating the LTR. The Ministry of Tribal Affairs, Government of Andhra Pradesh 2005 directed all the line department heads not to grant licenses or permits to non-tribals to run business or establishments as also private education institutions in violation of LTR.
The High Court of Andhra Pradesh held in several cases that allotting petrol bunk to non-tribals or permitting non-tribals to set up shops and establishments or construction of houses without having right over the land under the provisions of LTR in the government sites in the Scheduled Areas is illegal.
The implementation of two bed room housing policy in all the Assembly segments in the Telangana State without any reservation in the Scheduled Areas is adding to the magnitude of tribal land alienation problem and posing a serious threat to the survival and land rights of Adivasis.
The recent mobilisation of non-tribals and campaign for their rights in the agency areas of Adilabad district is an attempt to dilute the provisions of LTR. This is the high time to oppose such move of non-tribals and the anti-tribal policy in Telangana State and demand effective implementation of the LTR 1 of 70. (The author is a lawyer and a tribal rights activist and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
By Dr Palla Trinadha Rao