By J.M Girglani at Prof. B. Janardhan Rao Memorial Lecture on 27 February 2007

Late Prof. Janardhan Rao had studied problems of the tribal areas and had rendered significant service in the cause of the tribals. It is therefore appropriate that the memorial lecture should cover the subject pertaining to the cause, which was dearest to his heart. I had the opportunity of studying Tribal Land Issues in Telangana and had submitted my report on the subject on 16th August 2005 to the Land Committee appointed by the Government of Andhra Pradesh under the chairmanship of Sri Koneru Ranga Rao, Hon’ble Minister for MA & UD. I shall therefore dwell on this theme for today’s memorial lecture.

Saga of the tribals in India is a story of Nirbal se ladai balwan ki – yeh kahani hai diye ki aur tufan ki. This is a story of the struggle of the weak against the powerful, of the oil lamp and the storm. It is said that a lamb cannot lie beside the lion even with a fence between them, for long, and will ultimately land up inside the lion.

This memorial lecture comes at a time when we have before us a very significant legislation on tribal rights, The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Tribal Rights) Act, 2006, Act 2 of 2007 passed on December 29, 2006. It comes in the wake of the Draft National Tribal Policy (A policy for Schedule Tribes of India), issued by the Ministry of Tribal Affairs, Government of India, in July 2006.

I shall confine myself to the tribal land issues in the areas of Telangana, listed in Schedule V of the Constitution, viz. Eturunagaram in Warangal District, Bhadrachalam in Khammam District and Utnoor in Adilabad District.

Let us look back at the plight of the tribals in Telangana with specific reference to the Gonds in 1930s and early 40s, as described by P. Sethu Madhava Rao in 1946. This has been quoted by Haimendorf in his book, “The Gonds of Andhra Pradesh – Tradition and Change in an Indian Tribe”. This account of the Gonds by P. Sethu Madhav Rao says that in the period 1930-40 the Gonds were disadvantaged by the system of Village Officers, who kept accounts in Marathi and there was falsification of records and large scale wresting of land from the Gonds by the Patwaris themselves. There was also alienation of Gonds’ lands by new settlers. The reservation of forests was the greatest single threat to the prosperity and wellbeing of the Gonds. Lands held by Gonds on patta were brought under Reserve Forests.

The hostility between Gonds and the Forest Officers finally erupted in a violent clash, which has since become part of tribal folklore, and which indirectly led to changes in Government policy vis-à-vis the tribal population of Adilabad. This confrontation known as the Babhijheri incident was on too small a scale to be classified as a tribal rebellion, yet it contained elements which in other parts of India have led to much more serious tribal unrest. Eleven tribals died in this conflict. This mini rebellion reflects the hardships to which the tribesmen had been subjected as well as the psychological reaction of a simple and inherently peaceful people to a sequence of unrelenting pressures and extortions (Haimendorf)

Haimendorf writes that the traditional pattern of Gond life developed at the time when tribal communities lived in relative isolation in the highlands and wooded plains of Adilabad, rarely disturbed by close contact with other populations. That time is long past, and recent decades have been marked by an unrelenting struggle between the Gonds endeavoring to retain their ancestral land and economical independence and new settlers’ intent on exploiting the rich agricultural and forest resources of the region. Traditionally land belonged to the entire village community in all the tribal areas and they cultivated it individually in accordance with their system of tribal harmony.

In the early 1940s the Gonds of Adilabad district had already been ousted from many villages and from large areas of land once held by their forefathers. In the lower lying country and above all in the riverien tracts, they lost much of their land to Hindu as well as Muslim settlers. The process began in the early decades of the 20th century when the Nizam’s government pursuing the policy of opening of the district and raising its revenue encouraged the influx of new settlers from neighboring districts and granted them patta to as much land as they could make arable. The tribesmen did not realize the necessity of possessing patta as they believe the land belonged to the village community. Consequently they often failed to obtain recognition of their rights on the land which they and their forefathers had been cultivating. They resorted to shifting cultivation, but that had its limits.

Meanwhile gradual improvement of communication, for example, the construction of railway from Warangal to Nagpur and of a motorable road from Nirmal to Adilabad, as well as the influx of cultivating castes such as Kumbis, Kapus and Marars, who provided efficient labour, the country became valuable to non-cultivators, and Brahmins, Komtees and Muslims of Asifabad, Adilabad and Nirmal began acquiring whole villages on a commercial basis. A great number of villages in the open country were taken in auction by absentee landlords. The only area where Gonds remained in possession of most of their lands was the hilly tracts access to which was by cart-tracts over difficult country. In their practice of shifting cultivation the Gonds paid revenue only for the area they cultivated at any particular point of time. Such tenure was called Sawa-i-jamabandi (later called Siwaijama), without revenue settlements. Under this system their names did not appear in the village register as pattadars. The patta rights were knocked off in Siwa-i-jamabandi practice by unscrupulous persons.

The traditional authority of the Gonds was lost to the Deshmukhs and the Karanams and later to the Panchayats.

A similar process took place in a different context but similar circumstances among the Koyas of Eturunagaram Agency of Warangal district and in the Bhadrachalam Agency of East Godavari district which was later transferred to Khammam district.

Now – almost 70 years later – the National Tribal Policy Draft shows that very little had changed for the tribals of this country. Similar problems in different forms still persist. This is what it says in Para 1.11, says (quote) “Ownership of land signifies livelihood, culture and identity in a tribal economy. The STs usually possess lands which are infertile uplands. But even such as they are these lands have also been going out of tribal possession on account of appropriation by exogenous forces. Poor land record systems in tribal areas coupled with illiteracy, poverty and ignorance of tribals and the greed of others have resulted in the continuous transfer of resources from tribals to non-tribals for several decades. Diminishing access to natural resources, and dispossession have led to their exclusion and economic impoverishment often reducing them to the status of migrant labour, rickshaw pullers and head loaders, and socio-psychologically setting them adrift”. (unquote)

This is the condition on an all India canvass, not just in Andhra Pradesh or Telangana, almost 70 years after the account given by Haimendorf of the tribesmen in Adilabad district and 60 years after Independence.

The next paragraph 1.12 of the Draft Policy documents reads as under: (Quote) “To compound the problem further, displacement or forced eviction of tribals from their lands and natural habitats due to various developmental activities has for long been a serious problem. Displacement takes place on account of development projects which include large irrigation or hydro projects, coal and other mines, thermal power plants and mineral based industrial units. De jure displacement is accompanied by extensive de-facto displacement from a much wider area commonly referred to as the zone of influence. While the STs lose their land, livelihoods and community way of living, others reap the benefits of the development often financed from the public exchequer that follows in the entire zone of influence. Inadequate rehabilitation of the displaced tribals compounds their woes making them asset-less and unemployed, trapped in debt bondage”. (unquote)

Before we go on to the steps that were taken after the Babhijheri uprising of 1940, let us look at the present all India scenario of the tribals. The population of a tribal community scheduled in the constitution of India and known as scheduled tribes (STs) is 84.3 million as per 2001 census and accounts for 8.2 percent of the total population of the country, scattered over all the states/union territories, except Punjab, Haryana, Delhi and the UTs of Pondichery and Chandigarh. In Andhra Pradesh the tribal population is reckoned to be 6% of the total population of the state. If they knew how to play the chess game of vote bank politics their 8.2% population could have done wonders for them. The STs have traditionally lived in about 15% of the country’s geographical area, mainly forests, hills, undulating inaccessible terrain in Plateau areas, rich in natural resources. They have lived as isolated entities for centuries, leading to slower growth, dissimilar pattern of their socio- economic and cultural development and inability to negotiate, and cope with the consequences of their involuntary integration with the mainstream society and economy. Their greatest handicap has been and continues to be their value system, the paradigm of which is guilelessness, truth, honesty, loyalty and adherence to their word and commitments like the Raghuvamsi value of pran jaye par vachan na jaye (keeping one’s word even at the cost of one’s life). This value system has been the undoing of the tribes in the entire country and in our own State. It is said that where there are lobhis, people with extreme avarice, the thogis, cheats, thrive. It can also be said that where honesty reigns, deception thrives. Somehow in the North East widespread education including higher education imparted by the missionaries has saved the tribes from exploitation, but at the cost of their ancestral religion. Proselytizers are quite active in our tribal areas too. Where are those who profess to save their ancient religion? Jinhe naaz hai Hind per voh kahan hain… kahan hain kahan hain?

In para 1.8 of the Tribal Policy Draft, it is said that the improvements in socio economic conditions of Scheduled Tribes measured in increased literacy rates, reduction of poverty etc have not been proportionate to the investments made. As compared to other sections of the Indian society, the tribal population has the lowest Human Development Index (HDI). In addition, they suffer from geographical and cultural exclusion, which are not captured in the HDI. Similarly, lack of empowerment to make choices for themselves is also not accounted for. A large segment of the tribal population lives below the poverty line and suffers from a high infant mortality rate, severe malnutrition, various communicable diseases, lower literacy rates and an extremely slow pace of development. Under-development coupled with lack of access to proper administrative and judicial machinery in tribal areas further increases their deprivation.

Reverting to the Babhijheri uprising of 1940, we find that the Nizam’s Government appointed Prof. Haimendorf as an advisor anthropologist. The anthropological approach brought in many ameliorative measures. In order to save the interests of tribals in land, Hyderabad Tribal Areas Regulation was promulgated in 1949. This was the precursor of the later AP Land Transfer Regulation (1959), which provided substantial protection of tribal rights in their lands. Regulation 1 of 1970 and Regulations in that decade further tightened the legal protection such that no non-tribal could hold land in the Scheduled Areas.

As is the normal strategy of the exploiter against the protection provided to the exploited, the protective hurdles were overcome through ever honed system of subterfuges and unabashed non implementation. The protections through drastic laws proved to be no deterrent to the unscrupulous land sharks with the political regimes and administration turning Nelsons eye and lending a collusive helping hand to them.

The developments that took place from 1961-1971 opened up the Scheduled Areas of the state through communication facilities, which resulted in an influx of non-tribal population, which increased by 111% in Utnoor agency area. The second Gond rebellion was triggered off by the recognition of the forward tribe Lambadas as Scheduled Tribes in Telangana area against an earlier advice of Haimendorf. The final and biggest blow to Gond psyche occurred when they were denied their traditional involvement in their own ritual, the Keslapur jatra.

Haimendorf writes that when he revisited Utnoor area in 1976 and 1977, he found massive encroachment of outsiders on tribal land. In most of the roadside villages, there were large concentrations of Marathas, Hutkaas, Mahars, Lambadas and Muslims from Maharashtra as well as a sprinkling of Gujaratis. Some of them were shop keepers, merchants and money lenders, but the majority of Marathas, Mahars and Lambadas were cultivators who came to the district with the intention of acquiring land. This wave of immigration reached its peak in the years between 1968 and 1977, and it was then that many villages changed their character and Gonds became economically disadvantaged minority in localities where only a generation ago they had been the sole population. He wonders and writes, “the question arises how this calamity could occur in the face of Regulations which explicitly prohibit the transfer of tribal land to non-tribals and even the acquisition of land not in the possession of a tribal by anyone who is not a member of a notified tribal community”. AND THAT IS THE TRAGEDY OF OUR TRIBES IN TELANGANA. The answer is evident. Neither the administration nor the elected representatives could withstand the pressure of the immigrant non-tribals who have been able to gain the goodwill and cooperation of the local administration and powerful sections of the local non-tribal population who, according to him, dislike the official policy of protecting the rights of tribals and sympathize with the representatives of vested interests. In course of time, the immigrant non-tribal’s lands have passed on into the hands of the Telugu non-tribals mostly from four central coastal Andhra districts.

Thirty years after Haimendorf had asked the question, I had the same question to ask after I had recorded in my report submitted on 14th August, 2005 the atrocious grabbing of tribal lands in all the three scheduled areas of the state through ingenious subterfuges and even open and uncamouflaged devices that would make any conscientious observer scream in anguish, “Oh government, of the people, by the people, for the people, where were you? Where are you?” Oh fighters for just causes, where were you? Where are you?”

What I found and brought out in my report was as under. I am mentioning below only the gross and shocking findings.

Warangal District, Eturunagaram Agency

1. Almost entire agriculture land in Govindarao Mandal, private and government, is under the occupation by settlers. Most of the tribals have fled from the villages of this Mandal.

2. In Mulug Mandal, there is an influx of settlers on the invitation and with the support of the non-tribals, who themselves are originally not inhabitants of this Mandal. The influx is still continuing. A large extent of the land occupied by the non-tribal settlers is government land which includes 1200 acres of land ceiling surplus land.

3. Orders issued for restoration of 350 acres under LTR in 1980 are not being implemented and the reason given by the officials is “non-tribal resistance”. In other words, government is powerless before these non-tribals, thus recognizing the fundamental right of might against Constitutional protection to the weak.

4. In the same Eturunagaram Agency area “Jung Sipahi” pattas land is under non-tribal occupation.

5. Similarly 1000 acres in Kothaguda Mandal have been captured by Lambadas from outside the Agency area while Koyas go begging for it.

6. In Nursingpet village, Lambadas from in scheduled areas and non-tribals have come in large numbers and Koyas have fled from the village.

7. The Gram Panchayat has given permission for setting up 5 rice mills and 2 saw mills.

8. In Kothaguda village, there are 21,000 acres worth not less than 110 crores at the minimal value of Rs.50,000/- per acre of Billa number lands, which are occupied by non-tribals. In 1993 the land was surveyed. In 2002 the extremists are said to have blasted the MRO’s Office and destroyed the survey records. To who’s advantage? Who really blasted, God knows. (I am adopting Rs.50,000/- per acre as a minimal notional value. It could be much more).

9. The most shocking case is that of Mangapeta Mandal. Here 23 villages were excluded from the Schedule V notification under High Court orders because of some technical error. All the efforts of the State government and the States Human Rights Commission to have the rectification notification issued by the Central Government have failed during the previous and present regimes, because the powerful non-tribal occupants have been able to prevent action in New Delhi. One can imagine the value of these extents that lie in 23 villages.

10. Thousands of acres of government land is not being assigned to the tribals on the pretext of lack of surveyors to sub divide the land while non-tribals merrily continue to enjoy these lands, without any sub divisions.

11. Lands taken over under Land Transfer Regulation Act (LTR) in Tadavai Mandal, Gudur (1,300 acres) have not been restored to the tribals. (Notional value at Rs.50,000/- per acre – Rs.6.50 crores approx.)

12. In Rajivpet village of Narsampet Mandal, all the Koyas were dispossessed of their lands. Lambadas from outside the Agency area and non-tribals have taken over their lands.

13. In Kothaguda Mandal out of 101 LTR cases, land has been restored only in 70 cases.

14. There is no detection machinery to book any violation of LTRs. Thus the protective law is as good as a dead letter. This is a common feature of all the Agency areas of the State.

15. Ownership of non-tribals is assumed by MROs on the basis of unverified pattas believed to be dating back to 50 years or before 1959 (when LTR was enacted) or before 1970, when regulation 1 of 70 put teeth into the LTR. This unwarranted assumption protects the non-tribal intruders.

16. In Chelpaka village, the Forest Department is disputing the 50 years continuous cultivation by tribals. In Eturunagaram Mandal about 3,300 acres of revenue land worth at least 17 crores at a minimal rate of Rs.50,000/- is being cultivated by tribals but the forest authorities do not allow its assignments. Such demarcation disputes with Forest Department account for jeopardy to rights of tribals in thousands of acres in all the 3 Agency areas.

Khammam district, Bhadrachalam Agency

1. In spite of regulation 1 of 1970, the Registration Department continues to register documents of transfer of property in the Scheduled Villages in the name of non-tribals. Regulation 1/70 is water on duck’s back as far as they are concerned.

2. Even pattadar passbooks are issued to non-tribals for government lands in the scheduled villages. “Welcome wolves we are not watch dogs. We belong to your species”.

3. Licenses are issued for commercial and industrial enterprises to non-tribals by gram panchayats in the scheduled villages, involving the use of tribal land.

4. The most atrocious violation of the LTR and regulation 1 of 70 is that all the lands in Bhadrachalam Municipal town and the peripheral urbanized and urbanizable area is occupied by non-tribals with commercial buildings, hotels, residential buildings, colleges including an engineering college. The market value of this land on an average is Rs.4,000/- per square yard. This was confirmed to me not only by local enquiry but also by responsible District officers. This would work out to about 5,000 crores worth of land, which should have been the property of the tribals. It is now the property of the non-tribals and is commercially used by them. All the legal subterfuges adopted can easily be detected and exposed and torn apart and land proved to be illegally held in violation of LTR since finances are raised, licenses and various permissions are obtained and various detectable proofs are created, that can prick the bubble of the legal subterfuges, if the authorities so decide.

5. Thousand acres of the land endowed to Bhadrachalam Temple in Purushothamapatnam village are occupied by non-tribals, who are also selling some of the areas out of this land. The value of this land can be gauged from the fact that out of the 1,000 acres, 30 acres have been acquired by the District Collector for a housing colony. Even if we put a very low estimate of Rs.1,000/- per a square yard on an average, this Devasthanam land in the hands of the non-tribals is worth Rs.500 crores. It could as well be 1,000 crores, if we value if at Rs.2,000/- per square yard.

6. One of the legal subterfuges used by non-tribals is “panwar” pattas through which a tribal makes a will in favour of a non-tribal. So many thousands of acres have passed into the hands of non-tribals in this way. This is not quantified by the government.

7. Sada Bainamas, unregistered sale deeds, are being accepted by RDOs and MROs to issue pattas to non-tribals.

8. Maktadar pattas were given to non-tribal village officers through “Farmans”, entered in Khasras, for an extent of 6,000 acres. Some of these Farmans are fabricated and so are the Khasras entries. 6,000 acres of such lands are held by non-tribals though they were originally being cultivated by the tribals. Even at the minimal rate of 50,000/- per acre, the value of this land is 30 crores. These Farmans are illegal as Inam land could not be transferred even in the Nizam’s time by a Farman, from the original maktadar to a village officer. These lands are patently held fraudulently, illegally – with impunity.

9. Government lands and Bhudan lands have been officially assigned to non-tribals in violation of LTR. This has also happened in Eturunagaram and Utnoor agency is as far as Government land is concerned.

10. G.O.Ms.No. 41 Revenue of 1971, dated 12-10-71 prohibits the eviction of a non-tribal Scheduled Caste person holding lands in violation of LTR. This G.O. along with two other G.O.s protecting non-tribals from eviction were struck down by the High Court in three different judgments one of 1984, another of 1998 and another of 2001. The government withdrew two of the G.O.s but not G.O.Ms. 41. Under the alibi of this G.O. thousands of acres of tribal lands is allowed to be held with impunity by non-tribals. A G.O. once struck down by the High Court ceases to be valid and does not require a withdrawal. But in all the three Agency areas of the State, this G.O. has become a protective umbrella for non-tribals holding tribal lands and government lands in violation of LTR.

11. In this Agency as in Eturunagaram Agency in Bayyaram Mandal 450 acres of land stands is in the name of Jung Sipais, which could be assigned as government land after certain formalities, to the tribals. But they continue to be in the hands of non-tribal settlers. Similar is the case with some 4,500 acres of “Pote kharab” land in Tammepalli Mandal. These are now in the hands of 300 settlers with pass books and khasrapani. Gone with the wind is the LTR and regulation 1 of 70. The jung sipai land and pote kharab land together account for about 5,000 acres.

12. In Chandaguda mandal 2/3 of 40,130 acres of patta land measuring 26,753 acres is held by non-tribals claiming to be Pattadars – to hell with the LTRs and Regulation 1 of 70. The value of the land held by non-tribals is about 150 crores at the minimal price of Rs.50,000/- per acre.

13. In Tekulapalli Mandal an extent of 1,130 acres of evacuee property land has been surveyed but not assigned to tribals waiting indefinitely for some clarification from the Revenue Department till kingdom come.

14. In V R Puram mandal 8,200 non STs from Nellore, Kanigiri, Nandyal are in possession of tribal lands which they took on lease some years ago and are enjoying in violation of LTR.

15. Large areas of land are held in the name of tribal women by non-tribals who have taken them as second wives or even as concubines.

16. In V R Puram Mandal 1379 acres are held even under Protected Tenants Certificates which are not permitted to be given for lands in the Scheduled areas to non-tribals. But, sir, who cares?

17. For want of survey, large areas of government land in thousands of acres are not being assigned to tribals. Meanwhile they continue to be held by non-tribals. The tribal areas in this district and also in other two districts, suffer for want of Revenue officers and specially Deputy tahsildars. The posts lay vacant for long period.

18. Thousand of acres of Government land are not assigned to Tribals on the pretext of want of surveyors to subdivide the land. But the non-tribals occupy the land continue to do so. They need no sub-divisions for booking B-memos. They are powerful.

Adilabad District, Utnoor Agency

1. It was brought out by the District President Gond Vana Panchayat Raj center that the gram panchayats and gram sabhas in the villages with non-tribal population are protecting non-tribal interests against tribal interests. This stark reality knocks the bottom out of the Draft National Tribal Policy and Tribal Rights Act, which set great deal of reliance on gram sabhas for protection of tribal rights.

2. An appalling fact came to light in this district namely that even the lands appurtenant to Indravelli Temple and other important tribal temples is encroached upon by the non-tribals, forgetting the tragic event of the Gond rebellion and police firing in Indravelli, some 25 years ago. About 225 acres of such lands have been occupied with houses, shops and other commercial establishments. Even at the rate of Rs.200/- per square yard, this land would be worth about 23 crores. Some lands are being assigned to Lambadas from Maharashtra. These lands were intended to be used for jatras congregations.

3. Primitive tribal groups are being pushed out of their ancestral abode by the influx of non-tribals from other states and other districts.

Forests

Forest conservation Act 1980, has brought about a complete metamorphosis in the legal framework relating to lands in the forest areas.

Most of the forests before this Act were notified under section 4 of the 1927 act, declaring the intention to make them Reserve Forests. Before the final notification, Forest Settlement Officers had to complete the settlement process in these forests area and issue pattas to the tribals who have been cultivating the land within the forest limits. But over the decades neither settlement process carried forward nor were the forests finally notified as reserved forests. The simple fact is that no Forest Settlement Officers were appointed. At this stage, the 1980 Act prohibits all “non-forest activity” including agriculture in the forest area whether notified as Reserve Forest or not. In fact the Supreme Court judgment gave such a wide definition of forest that any cluster of trees that the Forest Department Officials consider to be a forest, becomes a forest. All agriculture by the tribals in these areas therefore became illegal even before the long pending settlement had taken place, regardless of decades of occupation by them. So they continue to be at the mercy of the Forest Officials, even though some of them are in enjoyment of the land for more than 50 years. The position is made worse by Forest Department disputing Revenue Department’s claim on lands occupied by tribals for want of survey. There remains a stalemate.

Imagine the situation. The tribals were pushed deep into the forests by non-tribals as we have seen from 1930 onwards upto a point where the non-tribals could not reach. The Forest department now wants them out of the forest areas. Meanwhile, the wide spread communication system of roads and location of Mandal headquarters in small towns has created a quantum jump in the influx of non-tribals who have already occupied the large areas of the cultivable land in the Scheduled areas. The strong frame work of protective laws has failed to provide any protection to the rights of the Tribals because officer who show interest are transferred and large number of posts are kept vacant. The general attitude of the State is protective of the land predators.

The radical groups, whom they host whether willingly or otherwise, say that they are not interested in specific problems of any tribals in any area as they would not like to be bogged down to local problems. They have a wider ideological agenda, which does not include the interests of the tribals in any particular local area. The tribals cynically feel that they are the protectors rather of the predators. Thus Matsya nyaya (Law of Fish), might is right, prevails in the Scheduled areas of Telangana – and perhaps of the whole State.

Detection of tribal lands occupied by non-tribals has not been taking place for years as posts for the purpose are kept vacant. Cases booked are kept pending for years due to quick turn-over of officers or vacancies not being filled. Lands ordered to be restored to tribals are not restored because of fear of non-tribal resistance.

You will be appalled to learn that the Governor’s annual reports on the tribal areas of Schedule V, which should cover all aspects of tribes and their problems have not been submitted to the President of India at least for the past five years or even more. These reports have to be naturally prepared by the Departments concerned for the Governor. The role of Tribal advisory council has been almost negligible. Verily it has been a situation of Nero playing the fidel while Rome burnt.

The paradox

As against the above pitiable plight of the tribals, the Supreme Court in its judgment popularly known as Samata judgment of 11th July, 1997 held that not only the surface soil but also the sub soil including the right to mine in the Scheduled Area belongs to tribals only. Under LTR, the Supreme Court has held in this judgment, even Government is a person and cannot transfer any land rights in the Scheduled Areas for mining or any other purpose to a non-tribal. In other words, if any mining operations are to be done, only Government or Government Corporation with tribals as share holders can undertake such operations. So while the Supreme Court gives the totality of rights only to the tribals in the Scheduled areas, in actual practice they are being ousted from their own lands, and from the forests. One is reminded of the position of the last Moghal emperor, Bahadur Shah Zafar after 1857, who lamented that he could not even get two yards of land for his burial in his own country, India, and was buried in Burma, where he spent his last days.

A silver lining has appeared in the form of Act no 2 of 2007, the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006. This Act gives some legislative framework to the Samata judgment and also mitigates the harshness of The Forests Conservation Act of 1980, to some extent, while it also dilutes the Samata judgment in favour of non-tribals for various non-agricultural community purposes.

Friends, you would see from the elaborate submissions I have made before you that the way to hell is paved with good intentions. If you have a tear to spare, shed it for the tribals of this State and particularly of the three scheduled areas of Eturunagaram, Bhadrachalam and Utnoor in Telangana districts of Warangal, Khammam and Adilabad. The lesson to be learnt from the two Gond rebellions is that one has to fight for one’s rights and not depend on the protective laws alone: God helps those who help themselves. Protective laws provide protection only if there is a protector, who has the will to use them. Let us take inspiration from the great hero, Alluri Sita Rama Raju. May his spirit guide our tribals.

May the spirit of Bhimu, the hero of the Babhijheri rebellion and the martyrs of the Babhijheri and the Indravelli rebellions guide our tribals and also kindle the conscience of the powers that be and put the fear of God in the sharks of the Scheduled areas. Strength is virtue. Weakness is the greatest sin, says Swamy Vivekananda.

At this rate the tribals of Telangana may have to lament like Bahadur Shah Zafar, the last Moghal emperor: “Itna hai badnaseeb Zafar, Dafan ke liye – Do gaz zamin bhi na mil saki kuhe yar mein”.