Hundreds of tribespeople in the recent past in the Khammam district of Telangana state, have taken to the street. They demand that they be allowed to continue Podu or shifting cultivation on their village forest land, which in many cases, has been taken over by the Telangana forest department to plant trees under the state-wide plantation scheme called Haritha Haram or Green Necklace.
Tribespeople have been practicing Podu since generations, in which parts of a forest land are cleared, cultivated, harvested and then left fallow by turns. Under the Forest Rights Act of India, tribespeople have the right to decide how to manage their forest land. Tribespeople say that the forest department is forcefully planting trees on their land.
In Khammam, around 0.7 million acres of forest land is being cultivated under Podu by around 0.6 million tribal families. Of this. hardly 0.2 million acres are recognized under the Forest Rights Act so far. That means that the tribal families have the rights to govern and manage 0.2 million acres of land. They are trying to get their land rights recognised over the remaining land they have been using.
Under the Forest Rights Act, forest departments are required to recognise the land rights of the tribal communities over the land they have been using for generations by giving them land titles or pattas. Unless their rights are recognised, no activity can be done on the land they have been using, and after they get the land titles, the permission of village councils is required to carry out any activity on their land.
However, as per one estimate, the government has already done plantation on about 10,000 acres of tribal land. Media reports say that the forest department has been resorting to strong-arm tactics like the destruction of standing crops, threats, slapping false cases on several tribal people, and also used physical force such as baton (lathi) charge to plant trees on tribal land.
Defending itself, the forest department told media that podu cultivation leads to destruction of forest due to soil erosion, and also leads to global warming.
The forest department has planted tree species that include Terminalia arjuna, Bombax ceiba, Phyllanthus emblica, Albizia Procera, Bambusa bambos, Pterocarpus marsupium, Aegle Marmelos and Syzygium cumini.
Communist Part of India, which is not the ruling party in the state, has come out in support of tribespeople saying that many of the tribespeople are yet to get their land titles under the Forest Rights Act, and this plantation drive is alienating them from their land. The communist party has raised this issue in the state assembly.
'Haritha Haram' programme envisages to plant 230 crore saplings in the notified forest area in the state. The Telangana government had roped in 25 State Government departments, 25 Central Government departments and an unknown number of Private Players for implementation of Haritha Haram. As of November 2017, around 3.6 crore saplings were planted in Khammam district, without consulting village councils in many cases, which is a requirement under the Forest Rights Act of 2006.
Khammam district has around 1.48 million acres of forest cover, of which around 1.07 million acres will be covered under the Forest Rights Act according to a report prepared by Palla Trinadaha Rao, a tribal rights activist.