Tribal farmers restart agitation over Podu land titles in Telangana

The News Minute | June 29, 2022

Farmer agitations over Podu land are being reported from the erstwhile Adilabad district, Routasankepalli in Asifabad and from Mancherial district.

With the start of the monsoon, the conflicts over podu land cultivation too has returned to the state of Telangana. On Monday, around 200 tribal farmers hailing from Ramannagudem village of Ashwarraopet mandal who are on the path of agitation demanding title deeds, had a face-off with the police and forest officials. With the situation becoming tense, police detained several protesters.

Podu is a traditional form of shifting cultivation, a slash and burn method of agriculture practiced by tribal communities in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh. Tribal farmers from Ramannagudem village have launched a “Great Walkathon” to CMs official residence Pragathi Bhavan, demanding issue of pattas (title deeds) under the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 or the Forest Rights Act (FRA). The Act protects the interests of the genuine Podu farmers who followed the practice in reserve forest areas. It enables nuclear tribal families to cultivate up to 4 acres of land.

According to farmers, around 500 acres of Podu land in the limits of Ramannagudem are being “wrongfully” claimed by the Forest Department despite it being under cultivation for over the last three decades. According to reports, while the tribal farmers wanted to cultivate the lands bearing certain survey numbers, the state Forest department contested the same alleging that they are encroaching on forest land.

Around 200 farmers took out a rally aiming to reach Hyderabad and present their concern to Chief Minister K Chandrashekar Rao (KCR), however they entered into a confrontation with the police after the latter tried to stop them.

As the Ramannagudem Village Sarpanch and other elected ward members along with farmers started walking to Hyderabad, police detained several of them. Sarpanch is said to be from the ruling Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS). The protesters are said to be detained at Mulakapalli and Kinnerasani police stations.

Agitated by their “preventive detention,” farmers and ex-MLA Thati Venkateshwarlu staged a protest at Mulakapally police station demanding their immediate release as they did not violate any law.

Thati Venkateshwarlu speaking to TNM said, “The arrest of adivasi farmers is nothing but harassment. The adivasi farmers who were cultivating those lands for generations wanted to get the rights on the same lands and therefore wanted to meet the CM. Is trying to meet the CM itself a crime?.”

Venkateshwarlu said the Ramannagudem Adivasi farmers are yet to get compensation for their podu lands which were acquired for construction of irrigation canal for the Ankamma Cheruvu project.

Anudeep Durishetty , District Collector, Bhadradri Kothagudem, told TNM that steps are being taken to resolve the issue of Podu lands in Ramannagudem. “In Ramannagudem we are roping in a team of land survey officials to resolve the issue,” said Durishetty.

Bhadradri Kothagudem district Superintendent of Police (SP) Sunil Dutt said, “We have taken some of them into preventive custody in view of the law and order situation as they didn’t have any permission for the said walkathon. According to officials, the Forest Department owns the said land. The farmers’ concerns were later heard by the Additional Collector.”

Dutt said a case has been registered against several people under 341 IPC (Indian Penal Code) for wrongful restraint and other relevant sections.

Similar unrest was reported from erstwhile Adilabad district where Podu cultivation is prevalent. In Asifabad’s Routasankepalli, farmers stopped the forest officials from entering into “their” podu cultivation lands. In Mancherial district too, forest dwellers along with the Left parties staged a protest at the District Collectorate demanding title deeds and cultivation rights for Podu farmers.

Earlier, reacting to the sporadic incidents of violence that are taking place over Podu lands, the state government had stated that it would resolve the issue by granting land title deeds to the deserving claimants. However, the said “resolution” process which began in November 2021 was stopped after a month in December 2021.

There are thousands of petitions claiming cultivation rights on Podu lands that are pending at different levels.