The Forum for Good Governance (FGG) has requested the political parties in Telangana and the advocates of ‘podu’ cultivation not to make it an election issue in the larger interests of the environment and the State.
In a letter addressed to Chief Minister K. Chandrasekhar Rao on Thursday, FGG secretary M. Padmanabha Reddy said some political parties are advocating regularisation of podu lands, keeping in view the ensuing Assembly elections. He requested the Chief Minister to protect forests and not to regularise, except in genuine cases, the podu cultivation that picked up after 2005.
The forum suggested the State government take up afforestation, preferably with fruit-bearing varieties, on about 12 lakh acres of forest land in combined Adilabad, Karimnagar, Warangal and Khammam districts that is in illegal occupation, including for podu cultivation, and grant the rights to collect the produce and market it to the people evicted.
Citing the evidence of satellite (GIS) imageries of forests of 2005 and 2022, it is clearly evident that most of the 12 lakh acres of podu cultivation had taken place after 2005. The government had so far regularised podu cultivation on 6 lakh acres on three separate occasions and assigned it to tribals. “However, in the guise of tribals, non-tribals are also encroaching forests now,” Mr. Reddy said.
History of Podu
Stating that podu cultivation, illegal occupation of forest land, cutting trees and bringing it under cultivation, is rampant in Telangana, Mr. Reddy said in the early 1930s the government land having good tree growth were declared as reserve forests following the due process of law. But, there was tribal unrest against the process as their right to cultivate forest lands was restricted.
To help such cultivators, about 50,000 acres of forest land was de-reserved by the Hyderabad Government in 1940s and pattas were given to tribals. Encroachment into reserve forests and illegal cultivation continued after Independence too and a large number of migrants from Maharashtra entered Telangana areas, cut forests and started illegal cultivation.
As the governments were unable to control the illegal cultivation of forest lands, it was decided to regularise podu cultivation on an extent of 2.5 lakh acres with 1964 as cut-off date. It was hoped that it would stop encroachment of forest lands further. However, with the tacit support of naxalites, and a few political parties, podu cultivation went on and on.
To help tribals occupying reserve forest land, a legislation was made in 2006 by Parliament – Recognition of Forest Rights Act – and all encroachments up to December 13, 2005, about 3 lakh acres, were regularised by 2008 but the encroachment did not stop.
In 2019, three judges of the Supreme Court directed the State governments to evict encroachers of forest lands whose claims were rejected by the competent authority in 2008. Later, the order was suspended and the matter is still pending in the apex court. In case the 12 lakh acres are regularised, there may not be any forest land in the next 10 years, Mr. Reddy feared.
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