Tribal persons from Chatterjipuram, a small hamlet in Rolugunta mandal in Andhra Pradesh's Visakhapatnam district, are a worried lot.
For the last few days, 12 families have been on a hunger strike in front of the office of the Mandal Revenue Officer (MRO or Tahsildar) at Rolugunta, protesting against attempts to evict them from their land, which they claim to have been cultivating for about 50 years.
The protesters allege that the Tahsildar has removed the names of adivasis from the land records (Adangal), under pressure from landlords and local political leaders.
It all began in 2003 when then Congress leader (now YSRCP) Meesala Subbanna filed an injunction case against the tribals claiming the land to be his own.
The injunction case was first dismissed by a Narsipatnam court in 2011. It was once again dismissed in 2015 by a higher court after the local Tahsildar deposed that seven tribal persons were in possession of 14.53 acres of land, and were cultivating it.
The case is now pending in the High Court.
The Gadaba tribal people have their own language (without a script) and the group is recognized as PVTG (Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Group).
The habitation is named after an IAS officer, Chatterjee, who helped them get houses under the ‘Indiramma scheme’ around ten years ago, when he was Sub-Collector of Narsipatanam Division.
While everything was proceeding peacefully after the court order in 2015, tribal persons were again served a notice on August 16 this year, asking them to leave the land, as they were 'illegally occupying' it.
Last month, a fact-finding committee was constituted.
The fact-finding committee comprised of activists and civil society groups consisted of Kirankumar Vissa (Rythu Swarajya Vedika), A Balakrishna (AP Rythula Sangham), PV Ramana (AP Civil Liberties Committee), Ganta Sriram (AP Cheti Vruttidarula Sangham), Y Arjun Rao (Akhila Bharata Grameena Vyavasaaya Karmikula Sangham), Simhachalam (Girijana Sangham), and B Chakradhar (Samalochana).
"The copies of 'Adangal' record from July 23, 2016 showed the names of the Chatterjipuram tribal farmers in the cultivator column. However, the online Adangal record printed on August 4, 2017 doesn’t show any of them. Instead, it shows the names of the land owners as Meesala Bala W/o Subbanna. However, our inquiries revealed that none of these persons is a resident of the village and none of them is cultivating any land in the survey numbers mentioned," the Committee's report read.
Following the committee’s report, PS Ajay Kumar and Kiran Vissa from the Rythu Swarajya Vedika shot off a letter to Visakhapatnam District Collector Pravin Kumar.
"The online Adangal now shows the non-resident pattadars in possession and cultivation of the lands. Our fact-finding committee did not receive a convincing answer from the Tahsildar about the basis for the change. He said that he changed the possession status from the tribal people to the pattadars (Meesala Subbanna) based on the request by the pattadars," the letter states.
"However, he did not perform his duty of ascertaining who is in fact cultivating the land (as he himself did in 2015 through Mandal Surveyor). Our committee found that the tribal people are cultivating and living in those lands, in fact all evidence shows that they have been living there for the last few decades," it adds.
Stating that they found it 'baffling' that the same Tahsildar who verified that the tribal people had been cultivating the lands in 2015, with houses, trees, mango, banana and other plantations, had recently filed a complaint with the local Sub-Inspector of Police that the adivasis have “unauthorizedly occupied the above land and creating nuisance and law and order problem”.
"He subsequently wrote to the Chief Minister's peshi (secretary) that the tribals are 'trying to encroach upon the lands pertaining to private persons under the provocation of anti-social elements.' We can only conclude that the Tahsildar is acting under pressure of the pattadars, and has drastically changed his position and statements about these lands, besides changing the Adangal entry without performing his duty of verifying the actual possession and cultivation on ground," the letter alleges.
It also demands a thorough enquiry into the incident.
This is also not the first such case to crop up from the district.
In January this year, tribal farmers at Chinna Jaggampeta in Andhra's Visakhapatnam district alleged that the local MRO, along with several armed policemen and labourers arrived at the village, bundled them into the police vans, and 'stole' their paddy crop that was nearing harvest.
The farmers alleged that the move was at the behest of a local political leader, who had been eyeing the land for a long time.