New Delhi: On 14 August 2021, the New Delhi-based Indigenous Rights Advocacy Centre (IRAC) has urged Telangana Chief Minister K. Chandrashekar Rao to immediately stop eviction, atrocities and deprivation of livelihood of the tribals in Telangana state in the name of afforestation programme called “Haritha Haram”.
This afforestation programme was launched by K. Chandrashekar Rao in July 2015 with the aim to plant 230 crore saplings to increase the state’s forest cover from present 24% to 33%. On 24 June 2020, the state government launched its sixth phase of the Haritha Haram Scheme.
“The Harita Haram Scheme despite its noble objective is being misused to evict tribals from their customary lands and criminalise them for engaging in Podu cultivation, a form of traditional shifting cultivation, in the forest land for their livelihood. Trumped-up charges have been filed by the police/forest department against the tribals who are then arrested and sent to custody”, stated Mr Dilip Chakma, Executive Director of Indigenous Rights Advocacy Centre (IRAC).
Since 2015, when the Haritha Haram was started, numerous cases of atrocities against the tribals have been reported as the forest department attempted to take away the tribals’ land for afforestation.
On 6 August 2021, the police arrested 23 tribal farmers including 18 women on false charges of attempt to murder forest officials at Yellanna Nagar village under Konijerlamandal in Khamman district. Among the 18 tribal women were three lactating mothers who were sent to jail along with their infants. On 3 August, about 20 forest officials had arrived at the village and started destroying the crops of the tribals. When the tribal farmers stopped them, the forest officials attacked the tribals and filed a police complaint leading to the arrest of the tribal farmers.
Another clash took place in the Kakardonda forest stretch in Gangaram mandal in Mahabubabad districtof Telangana on 13 July 2021. The forest officials went to the area to stop the tribal farmers from ploughing landfor Poducultivation which they havebeen cultivating for years. The forest department wanted to carry out a plantation drive on that forest land under “Harita Haram”. After the incident the local police have registered a case against several tribal farmers.
In the last week of June 2020,80 Koya tribal families were evicted from their agricultural lands at Satyanarayanapuram village in Chandrugonda Mandal inBhadradriKothagudem district. The forest department seized the Podu lands for plantation of trees under ‘Haritha Haram’ scheme.
At the heart of the conflict is the non-recognition of rights over the forest land cultivated by the tribals for generations. Attempts by the forest department to prevent Podu cultivation or to snatch away lands for afforestation under “Haritha Haram” have often resulted in clashes between the forest officials and the tribals.
The IRAC recommended to the Government of Telangana to (1) issue landownership pattas to the tribal familieswho have been cultivating the forest land for Podu cultivation as means of livelihood on or before 13 December 2005 as provided in the Forest Rights Act 2006; (2) implement the Haritha Haram afforestation programme in non-tribal areas over forest land which do not have green cover, and allow the tribal farmers to cultivate their Podu land for livelihood;(3) Ensure that no tribal is harassed, evicted or prevented from cultivating, or their land snatched away by the forest department or police under Haritha Haram or any other programme and take stringent action against any public official responsible for atrocities against the tribals; and (4) Release all the tribals who have been arrested for their alleged involvement in clashes with the forest department/police during eviction/seizure of land by the government.