In a recent crackdown by forest officials, about 100 Gothi Koya tribals were forced out of their habitation and forcefully evicted from Jalagalancha in Telangana’s Pasra forest.
According to one news report, “the Forest and police personnel swooped on the Gothi Koya settlement here on Saturday and razed their huts to the ground. The tribals were evicted by using force at Jalagalancha area in Pasra forests. The officials claimed that the migrant Gothi Koyas from Chhattisgarh were felling trees and were asked to move out of their settlement. The tribals were promised proper housing, but wanted to stay put in the forest area as they found the forest dwelling more suitable for their living and to raise cattle.” The incident took place in Jalagalancha forestlands, Govindraopet village of Tadwai Mandal of Jayashankar Bhupalapally district, Telangana on September 16.
Source said over 200 forest department officials swooped down on the Jalagalancha tribal hamlet with tractors and bulldozers on Saturday, and began demolishing the abodes of about 36 Gothi Koya families. “They ransacked their huts, throwing out food items, clothes, cots and utensils, before razing them to the ground. They also destroyed the standing crops in their fields. The tribals resisted the action, resulting in a clash. When the womenfolk tried to waylay the tractors, lathi-wielding female constables belonging to the forest department dragged them away,” Sarath Kumar, a witness told. While the tribal women were herded under a tree, their male counterparts were forced to dump their belongings into the tractors. “It took the fores officials two hours to shift them all to Tadwai, situated about 20 km away,” Kumar said.”
The Gothi Koya tribals migrated to the forests of Warangal, Bhoopalpalli and Khammam districts from Chhattisgarh about ten years ago. Frequent gunbattles between security forces and ultras in the Maoist-infested state had spurred their exodus.
“They settled in the woods, eking out a livelihood through podu. The district authorities even acknowledged their hamlets, giving them Aadhaar cards a couple of years ago and laying an approach road to their hamlet,” Ramana, a resident of the area, said.
Forest officials claimed that these people raised the habitation inside the Eturnagaram reserve forest illegally and have been causing severe damage to the ecosystem with indiscriminate felling of trees and hunting many endangered forest animals.
District Forest Officer T. Ravi Kiran said the eviction was inevitable as the tribals refused to move out of the forest area even after they were served notices four times. He said the district administration has allotted them land near Tadvai for rehabilitation.
“We have also constructed some huts for these people to move into but they refused to heed,” he pointed out.”
According to another news report, “the forest authorities plan to file criminal cases against the tribals, who are accused of cultivating crops in Pasra forest – which has been declared as a wildlife sanctuary – in violation of prevalent laws. However, the tribals claim podu (shifting cultivation) of millets and pulses on forest land is their sole means of sustainance, and they would not be able to survive on the plains.”
Pasra forest range officer J Shireesha, who carried out the evacuation, said the Gothi Koya tribals had to be shifted because they were cultivating crops in the wildlife sanctuary in violation of 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,” she told HT.
Shireesha alleged that some of the tribals who clashed with the officials were drunk. “We used mild force after they turned violent,” she said. “We don’t mind providing them with others means of livelihood and an alternative place to live, but the law will take its course if they attempt returning to the forest.”
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