Kawal tiger zone and displacement of Kolam tribe in Adilabad

Vivekanand Sidam

India’s experience with major development projects, especially in the post-liberalization period has been widely criticized for the heavy cost incurred on human and material resources in the country. Many of these large-scale projects are located in the forest areas and hence directly affect the forest resources and tribal communities live in the scheduled areas. There are more than 950 tribes residing in India, most of whom are settled in deep forests, living in harmony with their natural surroundings; their culture, language and lifestyle etc. are evolved in a way that do not disturb the nature and eco-system. The mega ‘development’ projects directly affect this settings and tribes’ relationship with their land, culture, language and other factors in their everyday-life. Government introduced many constitutional and legislative measures such as PESA Act 1996, The Forest Rights Act 2006, and 1/70 Act, and tried to address these issues. However, the experience reported in many part of the country question the effectiveness of these laws. In many cases, there has been continuous attempt by tribals to resist and question the allocation of land for various projects. When the local government and its mechanisms fail in to acknowledge tribals interest, it leads to conflict between the ‘people’ and the ‘developmental state’. Given this background, this article looks in to the experience of scheduled regions in Adilabad district of Telangana state and examines how far these laws have been instrumental in protecting schedule regions of Adilabad, where Kawal Tiger Zone (Reserve) is being proposed. The proposed project is expected to affect more than 25 villages, most of which have concentration of Kolam tribe (one among the PVTGs).

Displacement implies expelling from one place to another place permanently. In entire country 70% of displacement is occurring in schedule regions. It can be broadly divided into three categories:

1. Multinational water projects (Polavaram Project in Telangana, Narmada Project in Gujrat).
2. Tiger Zones and Elephant Zones (Kawal Tiger project in Adilabad and Rajeev Gandhi Zone in Mahboob Nagar).
3. Mining Projects (Bairram, Tiryani in Telangana state).

The displacement due to these multinational projects in very high. 70% of tribal land and 30% of forest land is submerged in these projects. Adivasis have gone through tremendous sufferings in past five decades due to this. In Adilabad district most of PVTGs (Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups) like Kolam, Naikpod, Thoti are resisting against Kawal tiger zone project for National Wildlife Century. Telangana state government without the consent of local tribes has issued Government Order No. 22. Kawal tiger zone is going to be 42nd tiger zone and will get funding from the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA). It spread across 892 kilometers and another 1123 kilometers that has been declared buffer zone. It was declared a tiger reserve without the presence of even a single tiger. “In fact, there is no confirmation of the presence of tigers in the sanctuary. We have been living I in the forests for several years and we are living in complete harmony with the wild animals,” Adivasi Ikya Porata Samithi district president Sidam Shimbu says.

On the other hand, a recent report of survival international reports that, the tiger population has increased rapidly, almost doubled from 35 to 68 between 2010 and 2014 in the BRT Tiger Reserve in Karnataka, where local Soliga tribe has won its right to stay. This increase is far higher than the national rate at which the tiger population is growing. The new data and the related information, which the Indian National Tiger Conservation Authority allegedly tried to suppress, discredits government policy to remove the many tribes whose lands have been turned into tiger reserves, the global organisation asserts.

(Courtesy: wikipedia)

While the state government states that the main objective for the declaration of Kawal Tiger Reserve is-”to protect, restore, manage and maintain representative biodiversity of Deccan plateau of Sahyadri Mountain Ranges along with ecological processes and conservation of wild gene pool with a focus on Tiger.” At least 42 tribal habitations in Jannaram, Kadem, Khanapur, Indravelli and Utnoor blocks would have to be evacuated for the tiger reserve.

Of more than 955 tribal groups living in India, most of them reside in the forest regions. In Telangana Khammam and Adilabad districts are one of the highest tribal dominated regions. Adivasi culture, language, lifestyle are different from other communities, the peculiarity of Adivasi lives is their love and affection for trees, animals, nature that surrounds them. That is also the reason why many tribes worship hills and rocks, like Niyamgiri hills in Odisha, Kuntalla water falls in Adilabad. Kuntella water fall is not only a ‘tourist’ place but also a sacred holy place for Adivasis in the region. They perform Jalabishakem to deities like Jangubai, Parsapen, Nagoba etc. For the past 25 years, various governments has been trying to construct Power project in the region. Since these tribes live in isolation and do not interact with outside society, in the vulnerable situations under Kawal Tiger Zone, lives and culture of Gonds, Pardhans, Thoti, Kolam tribes are going to be affected. They rely on forest for most of their life activities, even in cases of health problems also, they depend on forests for medicines.

According to census data, there has been frequent decline in the population of PVTGs. Such tribes like Kolam tribe under Kawal tiger project, and Kondareddi tribe under Polavaram project are going to get affected severly. Moreover, Polavaram is supposedly is going to submerge almost ALL the habitation of Kondareddi tribe.

Telangana government had started Haritha Haram Programme ‘to improve the environment balance’ through plantation of trees. In the name of this programme the government aims to improve the forest cover, at the same time it is allotting land for various multinational water and mining projects. Tribals have led many resistance movement against the colonization of their land from Srikakulam to Indravelly movement. In Bastar, in the name of Green Hunt, government tried to snatch the land off various tribes from their land. In most of these tribal dominated regions, there is abundance of mineral resources, the main reason why government is trying to vacate them. This is also the reason left wing extremism exists not only in Bastar, but also in parts of Jharkhand, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh and Odisha. Capitalist central and state governments have been favoring and benefiting capitalist multinational companies and the laws like PESA, FRA, 1/70 act, that are meant to protect indigenous people of the country have been ignored deliberately.

The Kadem irrigation project and Kuntala water fall are interlinked. In Rabi season more than 1 lakh cusec of water is used for agriculture purpose, and more than 3000 farmers are depending on this project. If government constructs Kuntala power project water will not flow in Kadem irrigation project and more than 3000 farmers and their families would be affected severely. While the PESA (Panchayat Raj Extension to Schedule Act), 1996 states clearly that if government wants to construct any multinational project in tribal areas, government should take consent of local tribals otherwise the project would be nullified. According to section 4 (I) of PESA, government is supposed to take Gramasabha’s approval. Local tribals consent is necessary because their lives, custom and culture are dependent on their surroundings. Moreover, Environment Ministry clearance is also necessary for permission for this. Most of these requirements have been ignored in the Kawal Tiger zone project, and the villagers are in deep fear of eviction. Does mere existence of these laws matters to them?

If there is any such project in schedule regions, government acquires tribal’s land and rehabilitates them in the government allotted non tribal areas (plain areas), so that they will be deprived of their earlier rights under 5th schedule areas, PESA, 1/70 etc. In 5th schedule areas tribals enjoy special rights such as Land Prohibition Act, under which the transfer of land between tribal to non-tribals is strictly prohibited. That was also reiterated in Supreme Court in Samatha V. State of Andhra Pradesh. The non-tribals are prohibited to settle in schedule areas. Regardless of all these, the ‘development’ projects in Telangana and other parts of the country are rampant and Adivasis are being denied of their basic rights to life.

Even the ITDA (Integrated Tribal Development Agency) that is supposed to be established for the welfare of the tribals, does not work for them and tribals who are evicted from the schedule area are at irreparable loss. By such act of the government there is a possibility of vanishing of these vulnerable tribal groups. In Kawal tiger zone in Adilabad District, Kolam tribes are being evicted by forest officials forcefully, without approval of Grama Sabhas. Their population is less than 10,000 and their language also at the verge of extinction like that of Jarwa tribes in Andaman and Nicobar Island. If the government doesn’t come to their rescue then they will be deprived of their right which are guaranteed by under several statutes and the rights guaranteed in Indian Constitution.

I visited villages of Kolam tribe that are going to be affected under Kawal Tiger Zone, Adilabad. They are living in constant fear of being evicted from their land. They fear of losing their livelihood and culture. In my conversion with them, they told me, how they can live in plains, when their lives have been dependent of these forests for generations. They are afraid their culture, language and lives are going to be affected severely once they are displaced from their homeland. I observed there was lack of even basic facilities in these villages, yet they seemed happy and content with their lives.

There have been living without any conflict between them. When I spoke to the elders of Kolamguda village, they said “we are ready to fight till last breath, and won’t let the government take away our land”. Majority of the youth in village are uneducated, because there are no teachers in their village school. Many of them still don’t have any land and they depend on forest products, they collect and sell them in local market for their livelihood. If state evacuates them for tiger zone, they will be in even more vulnerable situation and existence of Kolams would be at risk. Moreover, if the situation prevails, it won’t be a surprise if these tribal youths move towards left wing extremism. In 2012, when Kawal tiger zone was approved by Andhra Pradesh state government, the Telangana Joint Action Committee was opposing the declaration, stating it would dislocate people living in the area. Now, after formation of Telangana state, the same state is working towards eviction of tribals from the region. Andhra Pradesh and now Telangana, state changed, but plight of Kolam remains the same.

Vivekanand Sidam

Vivekanand Sidam is a lawyer based in Hyderabad. He belongs to Koitur (Gond) community from Adilabad, Telangana. His areas of interests are Displacement, Adivasis and law.

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