TIRUNELVELI: Residents of Agasthiyarnagar Kaani, one of the three Kaani tribal settlements in Kalakkad Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve (KMTR) forest, demanded the State government not to “forcefully relocate” them by classifying them as “non-tribals”.
Besides the over 160 families of the three settlements – Agasthiyarnagar Kaani, Chinna Mayilar Kaani, and Servalar Kaani, more than 100 non-tribal families reside in the forest area. They had settled down during the British rule for the construction of Papanasam Dam, said District Adi Dravidar Welfare Officer Sundaram.
One Arumugam Kaani, a resident of AgasthiyarnagarKaani and a member of Forest Rights Committee in the district, claimed that the Kaanis living in the KMTR forest are being forced to relocate and are denied of their rights under the Forest Rights Act, 2006. “Since the enactment of the law, 132 residents applied for their rights to reside in the forest, which applications were rejected as they have been termed dam workers,” he said.
Further, the residents are being restricted from renovating or repairing their concrete houses, since we are told that tribals reside in huts and not concrete houses, he said. “We are told to leave if required, due to which a few families have already moved out,” he added. Despite protecting the forest for generations, the residents said, they do not encroach upon the areas other than their settlements.
‘No one forced to relocate’
Officer Sundaram said that the non-tribals, who had been selling fish and operating boats near Papanasam Dam, were prohibited from such activities owing to forest regulations.
The Kaanis and the non-tribals do not have a livelihood in the forest, and were given an option to relocate, with houses for them built in the district, he said. “No one is forced to move out. If they request for relocation and livelihood, we take steps to arrange for their development. Similarly, if they wanted to stay, we take steps accordingly. Most of the Kaanis have knowledge of the herbs, provide medical treatment, and protect the forest. We will not force them to move out," he added. Collector Shilpa Prabhakar Satish also assured that the tribal settlements would not be relocated.