ROFR act puts Chenchus in a dilemma
Chenchu inhabitants of Nallamala forest in Prakasam district are in a dilemma about their future. Though the Chenchu tribe is mostly dependent on forest produce they now have land for agriculture but no water source to cultivate it.
Dornala: Chenchu inhabitants of Nallamala forest in Prakasam district are in a dilemma about their future. Though the Chenchu tribe is mostly dependent on forest produce they now have land for agriculture but no water source to cultivate it. The depleting forest produce in addition to government’s ban on digging bore-wells has deprived the chenchus of water to save the crops as well as quench their thirst in hot summer.
There are 83 habitations of Chenchus in Prakasam district. They possess around 10,000 acres of land which they got either from transfer of rights over generations or distributed under Recognition of Forest Rights (ROFR) act, 2006. Though the ROFR act gave right on forest produce, it bars them to hunt wild animals and cut the wood for commercial sale.
After the ROFR act came into force, many Chenchus took up agriculture and started cultivating their land by depending on the rain. The chenchus here are cultivating cotton and chillies by bringing the seed from merchants at Dornala, Yerragondapalem and even Guntur. With the environment not being conducive, they are getting trapped in debts and losing property to the merchants as the banks do not offer loans on ROFR lands. The rules and guidelines of the government do not allow various departments to dig bore-wells in the Chenchu belt as they are marked as over-exploited and hilly areas.
HC Vannurappa, regional director of Rural Development Trust (RDT), an NGO working for the downtrodden in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana said, “The RDT wanted to see a change among at least a few Chenchu families and dug 96 bore-wells for agriculture and drinking purposes. We dug them in 28 habitations in association with the Integrated Tribal Development Agency (ITDA). The farmers are utilizing them and earning decent revenue, which is helping them to achieve self sustainability.”
Due to the severe drought conditions over the past three years in the district, a majority of the bore-wells are dried up and they are forced to dig few more pressure wells to feed the regular bore-wells by spending a large amount of money. The tanks, wells and trenches in the forest have also dried up,” Dasula Venkanna, a Chenchu and an ITDA member said, “When RDT with its limited resources is doing well in our habitations, the government can perform miracles here.
Small and marginal farmers like us are not being considered for the schemes as our lands are mostly ROFR lands and located in the upland area. If the government gives an exception to our lands and implement the Jalasiri program it will definitely help a lot and makes a change in the living conditions.” The Rural Development Trust has dug bore-wells to meet the need of drinking water in few habitations and provided solar power to run the motors.
The residents switch on the motor and fill the 5000 liters in an overhead tank regularly. Guravamma, a resident of Bandhambavi habitation said, “We have the water tank and solar motor fitted bore-well provided by the RDT. But the other habitations around us have no water facility and they are forced to bring water after walking 4 kilometers in the forest.”
Kudumula Kannaiah, a Chenchu village head said, “Though a number of chenchus forest dwellers, the produce is very limited these days and not enough for all inhabitants. So, those people who have land should cultivate and make a living. But there is not enough water for the agriculture and we should dig bore-wells to continue it. The tanks, wells and trenches in the forest were full of silt and had dried up long back. So the people in majority of the habitations are struggling a lot to get the water for agriculture and drinking needs.”
The government is not implementing the scheme to dig bore-wells under NTR Jalasiri in these habitations as the land cultivated by Chenchus are not registered but owned by them through the Recognition of Forest Rights act. The Chenchus sought the government to give an exception to them and dig bore wells in their land so that they can use flood irrigation or micro irrigation systems, depending on the crop and availability of water.
By Naresh Nandam