The proposed Comprehensive Land Survey (CLS) in Telangana appears to have stirred the hornet’s nest within the context of tribal land rights. Since Nizam ruling till date, various land policy forms introduced by the successive governments have resulted in large-scale tribal land alienation and created unrest among the tribals.
Land policy of Nizams
The open invitation offering tribal lands to outsiders during the Nizam State in 1920 marked the beginning of their colonisation and a new type of immigration that altered its economy and demography in Telangana. The allotment of land of siwa-i-jamabandhi (govt land) land by local revenue officials on payment of land revenue facilitated affluent non-tribals to gain access to tribal lands.
The tribals of Adilabad district were subjected to encroachments of non-tribals on one hand, and on the other, the forest officials expanded the boundaries of the reserved forest at the expense of traditional habitat of adivasis.
The oppressive revenue and forest polices of Nizam against tribals resulted in Komaram Bhim revolt and promulgation of The Tribal Area Regulation 1359 Fasali (1949AD) to ensure tribal land protections.
The Tribal Area Regulation (1949) was replaced by the Andhra Pradesh Scheduled Area Land Transfer Regulations 1 of 59(LTR) which came into force on December 1, 1963 in Telangana. To plug the loopholes in laws, the Land Transfer Regulation was further amended in 1970.
These Regulations prohibit the transfer of lands situated in the Scheduled Areas by a tribal or non-tribal and they shall be absolutely null and void unless made in favour of tribals only. In spite of the tribal protective land laws in force the stark reality is that the cultivable holdings of non-tribals are 52% in Khammam, 60% in Adilabad and 71% in Warangal districts as per the Report of Tribal Welfare, 1995, Government of Andhra Pradesh.
Frequently, successive governments are adopting general land policy overlooking the interests of tribals leading to abrogation of their land rights. During the survey and settlement process, non-tribals could secure settlement pattas fraudulently in connivance with revenue officials.
According to the Report of Secretary to Government (1992), “in one case, non-tribals have obtained ryotwari pattas in respect of an extent of 101 acres whereas the tribals are in continuous occupation and enjoyment of the said land” in Bhadrachalam revenue division.
After the commencement of Record of Rights Act 1989 (RoR), most of the non-tribal land occupations in the Scheduled Area without any legal title found place in the RoR. Non-tribals could create antedated unregistered sale papers to escape from the clutches of LTR 1 of 70.
Vast land under illegal occupation
In Kothaguda mandal, 21000 acres of Billa Number (Un numbered) lands are under occupation of non-yribals. In Govindraopet mandal, the lands in all the villages and, similarly in Mulugu mandal, government ceiling lands of 1200 acres are under occupation of coastal districts settlers.
In Narsingapeta mandal, there are 2400 acres of government land of which 1700 acres are assigned to tribals as well as non-tribals. In Dhammapeta and Aswaraopet mandals, non-tribals are under occupation of government lands illegally by quoting a nullified GO Ms.No. 41 (1971).
In Chandaguda mandal, out of 40,130 acres of patta land in Scheduled Villages, 26,753 acres are held by non-tribals, claiming through Muktadars, which is unknown to law. Such examples exist in Chandaguda and Yellandu mandals also.
Bhadrachalam Temple land of 970 acres is under occupation of non-tribals. In Bhadrachalam Agency alone, there are about 15,000 acres of government lands under illegal occupation of non-tribals as per the Girglani report. These are only a few among several disputed land parcels of non-tribals.
The crucial question here centres round the very basic framework of CLS in recognising the cultivation of non-tribals in the Scheduled Areas. As per the rulings of High Court in 2007 (Vuppuluri Venkatapathi Raju vs Special Deputy Tahsildar, Gangavaram), the government land occupations held by non-tribals are illegal in the Scheduled Areas.
The High Court of AP also in 1998 (P Gangamma Vs Vasudha Mistra, District Collector, West Godavari district) struck down all the earlier GOs 41, 951, 129 and 971 protecting non-tribals’ government land occupations.
As per PESA Rules 2011, all the land transfers shall be placed before the PESA notified Gram Sabha for its review in order to ensure correct land entries in record of rights. In the light of LTR and PESA Act, the authorities involved in the CLS needs to take a closer look at the cultivation by non-tribals. Whether the CLS will benefit tribals or further help legitimise occupations by non-tribals in the Scheduled Areas is to be watched.