VELLORE: While hundreds of youngsters from the Jawadhu Hills of Tiruvannamalai district work in Kerala and Chennai as labourers, tribals who live in the hills have no source of livelihood besides agriculture. They also allege that they get tortured and receive daily threats from the forest officials.
The issue came to light on Monday after the Thamizhaga Adivasi Amaippugalin Kootamaippu (TAAK) lodged a complaint against the forest officials for threatening the tribals to vacate the land where they cultivate crops in the hills. In a complaint given to the Jamunamarathur Police Station, the association’s State President T Venkatesan said his organisation had been campaigning to implement the Forest Rights Act 2006 in Tamil Nadu, which enables the tribals to get ‘patta’ for their land.
“Local forest officers abuse us for cultivating food - the only vocation we know - as we demanded patta for the land we have been cultivating for over 40 years. They even threaten us, saying we would face the consequences for our actions,” said Venkatesan, a tribal.
Upon visiting Jawadhu Hills, Express found that forest officials did threaten the locals, pressuring them to stop cultivating. “The officials told me to stop cultivating ragi and corn as they plan to plant trees under some forestation scheme. If I didn’t clear the land, I would have been charged with stealing guns. ‘It’s easy for us to plant our guns in your house’, one of them told me,” said A Sudhakar, whose family has lived in Eattimaruthur village, for three generations.
The situation is no different in other villages. In all, about one lakh tribals live in 273 villages, in 11 panchayats - Kovilur, Palamarathur, Melsilambadi, Tenmalai Athipattu, Puliyur, Kallathur, Oorgoundanur, Kuttkarai, Veerapanur, Nammiampattu and Kanamalai.
“We have submitted about 3,000 applications for pattas. As prescribed in the Scheduled Tribes and other Traditional Forest Dwellers Act, 2006, they were approved by the village-level Forest Rights Committee; but no action has been taken so far,” said Venkatesan.
However, forest officials denied these allegations and claimed that they would not allow tribals to encroach forest land. District Forest Officer, Tiruvannamalai (North), R Kannappan, said many tribals from Jawadhu Hills are not eligible for pattas as per the Act since they own over four acres of land.