Tribal people in Telangana and state Forest officials are on the warpath after pictures surfaced on Wednesday showing forest officials rounding up Gutti Koya tribal people against a tree, reportedly while evicting them from encroached forest land in Eturunagaram sanctuary.
While human rights activists claimed that the tribal people were flogged and thrashed, the Forest officials claimed that the locals were returning to the forest to encroach sanctuary land again.
The entire incident began last month on September 16, when Forest officials, with the help of the police, swooped down on a Gutti Koya settlement in Jalagalancha area and razed their huts to the ground.
According to reports, officials dragged the tribal people out of their huts and threw away their belongings, evicting around 100 people in total.
“We migrated years ago and we have all the mandated identity cards including Aadhar, ration cards and some of us even have voter ID cards. With no prior intimation, hundreds of officials came in tractors and brought down our homes. When the women in the village tried to stop them, they were tied up and beaten with sticks,” a 30-year-old local told The New Indian Express.
However, officials defended the action, stating that the tribal people were cultivating crops on sanctuary land, which was against the law.
"We served notices and tried to counsel them on three occasions since May. Though there was an initial agreement to leave the place, they decided against it in the eleventh hour. In the end, we had no option but to follow orders and evacuate them by force," Pasra forest range officer J Shireesha, told The Hindustan Times.
The official also said that the state government had already identified land for the tribal people to rehabilitate, and assured of granting any other help that would be needed.
Last week, Ravinder, Joint Secretary of Civil Liberties Committee, filed a PIL in the Hyderabad High Court, demanding action against the officers involved in the incident.
The Times of India quoted a source saying, “The tribal people are being misguided by some political leaders. Since they refused to leave, two cases were filed against them and the accused were arrested and produced before the judicial first class magistrate at Mulugu, and remanded in judicial custody."