Land is not less
after 48 days of struggle by the Adivasi-Dalit Samara Samithi, the Kerala government agreed to assign around two hectares of land in the estate areas of Sugandhagiri and Pookot to each tribal family on October 16, 2001. In other areas, 0.4-2 hectares of land was to be given, depending on availability.
The chief minister inaugurated the 'rehabilitation programme' on February 1, 2002, by assigning 0.6 hectare of land each to 242 families in Marayoor village, and two hectares each to 141 families in Kundalai village of Idukki district. A total of 575 families were given 526 hectares of land. A tribal resettlement and development mission was also constituted to identify cultivable land and suggest schemes to rehabilitate the tribals.
But till date, around 22,780 families are landless and some 32,131 families have less than 0.4 hectare of land. For these 54,911 families, district collectors have identified just 8,803 hectares of land for distribution. Around 101,171 hectares is needed on the whole.
There is no shortage of land. It is estimated that there are about 485,624 hectares available for the purpose. For example, 12,140 hectares of revenue/vested forestland was leased out to companies like Birla for eucalyptus plantation. Then around 186,156 hectares is with different corporations like Plantation Corporation and Farming Development Corporation. Most of these corporations are running into losses and there is no legal hurdle to earmark a certain portion of this land to rehabilitate tribals. Furthermore, a large area of 72,843 hectares comes under the 'vested' forest. As per the Vesting and Assigning of Private Forest Act of 1974, 50 per cent of this land can be used for rehabilitating tribals. Giving this land to tribals is difficult after the enactment of the Forest Conservation Act, 1980, but land already encroached by plantations can be used. Thus, it should not be difficult to allot land to the tribals.
The recent firing in the Muthanga Wildlife Sanctuary of the Wayanad district highlights the fact that the state government has not been able to fulfill the promises given in October 2001. The only course of action now is the faithful implementation of the Kerala Scheduled Tribes (restriction on transfer of lands and restoration of alienated lands) Act, 1975. In 1980, rules were formulated to implement the act from January 1982. But even after the rules were promulgated, the officers failed to restore the alienated land to the tribals except to a very small extent in some areas. Some politicians were against the eviction of non-tribals who had occupied the tribal land.
The Kerala high court was informed by the state government in May 1996 of the inability of the state to implement the act due to 'organised resistance' from powerful encroachers. The high court on August 14, 1996, rejected the plea of the state government and directed that officers give possession of the alienated land to tribals and that adequate law and order machinery should be used for the purpose. This direction of the high court was not implemented. In 1996, the state legislature passed a bill amending the Kerala Scheduled Tribes Act, 1975. The bill held all transactions of tribal land conducted between January 1, 1960 to January 24, 1986 as legal and valid. A government delegation approached the then president for giving his assent to the bill. But the request was rejected.
The state government did not rest, and passed the Kerala Scheduled Tribes (restriction of transfer and lands and restoration of alienated lands) Act, 1999. Under this act, all transactions of tribal lands (less than two hectares) to non-tribals from January 1, 1960 to January 24, 1986 were not said to be invalid.
It is therefore evident that the state government is not playing a proactive role in providing land to the tribals. If it makes an earnest effort, land can be easily allocated to the tribals. It must take control of land given to the private sector as well as excess land lying unutilised. If this is not possible, the only course left is to implement the 1975 act and give the land to its rightful owners.
S K Kaul is a retired bureaucrat, who is now a member of the Second Scheduled Areas and Scheduled Tribes Commission. The views expressed here are his own and not of the commission