The Telangana government on Saturday, October 23, said that it will begin the process of accepting claims from tribal people to settle the long-pending Podu land issue from November 8, and the process will end by December 8. Village committees will be formed as per the Recognition of Forest Rights (ROFR) Act to receive the claims. Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao has directed officials to appoint a nodal officer for every two or three villages, a Revenue Divisional Officer (RDO) at the sub-division level, and a Collector at the district level, to monitor the process.
Podu lands are the lands tilled by tribals in the forests and there have been clashes over this between them and the Forest Department. Following an assurance given in the state Assembly to address this issue, KCR directed his officials to launch an action plan to settle the claims.
At a meeting held by the Chief Minister with top officials on Saturday, it was revealed that 87% of Podu lands have been encroached in 12 districts â€” Bhadradri-Kothagudem, Komaram Bheem Asifabad, Adilabad, Jayashankar Bhoopalpally, Kamareddy, Khammam, Nirmal, Warangal, Nalgonda and Nizamabad.
KCR instructed the District Collectors to convene an all-party meeting in the districts on solving the Podu land issues and the protection of forestlands. "There should be a unanimous opinion from all the party leaders on providing ROFR rights to those already doing the Podu cultivation and later ensuring that not even an inch of forestland is encroached," he said.
KCR said MPs, ZP (Zilla Parishad) chairpersons, MPPs (Mandal Praja Parishads), MLAs, ZPTCs (Zilla Parishad Territorial Constituencies), and other public representatives should participate in the meeting. He also suggested that heads of the villages and other public representatives be encouraged to protect the forestland.
In a bid to revive and develop forestlands as thick forests while solving the Podu land issues and protecting the forestlands, Rao instructed the Collectors, Forest and Police department officials to take stringent action against those destroying the forests.
He also directed the officials to prepare a comprehensive action plan to identify thick forests and free them from encroachments. At the meeting he said, "Innocent tribal people have always protected the forests like their own lives. It is those coming from outside who destroy the forests. Tribal children belonging to Gond, Koya, and Kolam communities, would never harm the forest. We must invoke the Preventive Detention (PD) Act to stop people coming from outside to destroy the forests."
He also suggested that all those tribal people involved in the Podu cultivation within the forest should be provided with an alternative government land nearby for cultivation. "If there is no government land available, they should be provided with land on the outer periphery of the forest. They should also be given free water, power and residential homes. Boundaries of forestlands must be fixed and protection trench should be formed. For the formation of the trench, along with the forest funds, Employment Guarantee Scheme funds should be utilised," he said.