By P.T. Bopanna
Is the Kodagu (Coorg) district administration headed by deputy commissioner Richard Vincent D’Souza responsible for the mess in tackling the tribal issue at Diddalli?
What was essentially a humanitarian issue of providing dwelling places for the forest-dwellers in Kodagu, was turned into a law and order problem due to the ham-handed approach of the district administration which resulted in the unarmed people being hit with lathis and herded into far away rehabilitation centres.
Though it was known that Diddalli was part of the Devmachi reserve forest of Thithimathi range in Virajpet forest division, the police failed to tack action last June when 38 Jenu Kuruba tribals put up make-shift tents in the forest and sought benefits under the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Right) Act, 2006.
Though the encroachment was brought to the notice of the deputy commissioner and the superintendent of police following a complaint by the forest department, the administration failed to take action on the pretext that they could not spare forces in view of the Cauvery agitation and Tipu jayanthi celebration.
The failure of the police to evict the encroachers, encouraged more tribals from across the district, and by December, 577 huts had come up at Diddalli. When the police tried to evict the encroachers, tribal leader Muthamma went on a nude march, and the video clip went viral in the social media, bringing focus to the simmering tribal issue.
The plight of the tribals brought social activists who sought that the encroachers be allowed to stay at Diddalli itself, though it was known that it was a forest land and the law did not permit the setting up of tribal colony. Former MLC A.K. Subbaiah too tried to fish in the troubled waters and demanded that the tribals should not be disturbed from Diddalli.
With pressure mounting on chief minister Siddaramaiah during the Nanjangud by-election, he convened a meeting to sort out the issue. It was decided that the tribals would be accommodated elsewhere if it was found Diddalli land came under the forest department.
The Diddalli tribals who were living near the Diddalli school after they were evicted last December, sneaked back to the Diddalli forest overnight even as the police guarding the forest slept at a school nearby on May 2 and re-launched their protest. Wonder what action has been taken against police personnel responsible for the negligence.
On Saturday, when the police tried to evict the encroachers, tribal leader Muthamma climbed up a tree and threatened to commit suicide. Finally, she relented after she was assured that the tribals would be suitably rehabilitated in the three places identified by the district administration.
A defeated Muthamma remarked: “Why don’t they do the same to rich planters, who have encroached hundreds of acres of forest and waste land?”
Muthamma is only partly right because besides planters, thousands of acres have been encroached by corporate plantations and politicians holding benami lands across Kodagu.
Successive government in Kodagu have failed to address the issues involving the politically and socially neglected 58,000-strong Scheduled Tribe population of the district, who belong to Jenu Kuruba, Betta Kuruba, Yerava and Soliga tribes.