Discredited politicians like former MLC A.K. Subbaiah are fishing in troubled waters to drum up support for squatters who have overnight occupied forest land inside the Diddalli Devamacchi Reserve Forest in Virajpet taluk.
As many as 577 families occupied the land situated adjacent to the Nagarahole National Park which falls under the buffer zone.
A forest official was quoted as saying: “The huts came up at Diddalli all of a sudden. Keeping in mind the impact of the huts on the movement of wild animals, it was decided to clear it.”
The official said majority of these tribals are labourers working in coffee estates at Virajpet, Siddapura, Gonikoppa and surrounding areas. They had submitted an appeal to the Forest department demanding sites on June 20. Initially, 8 huts were constructed at Diddalli. The number increased to 40. By the time, officials visited to conduct a survey on siteless, the number of huts had increased to 577.
It is said a tribal leader on the promise of providing them the sites had brought the tribal families and asked them to put up huts.
Well-known environmentalist, Praveen Bhargav noted: “To justify the encroachment, it was stated that the people were eligible to get titles under the Forest Rights Act. The truth is that this is not a land grant act as is being made out. It only provides for vesting titles to those tribal people who were in possession of forest land as on 13th December, 2005 and other forest dwellers who have been in continuous possession of forest land for 75 years. This legal position notwithstanding, some activists attempted to confuse the media and political leaders but failed.”
Former MLC Subbaiah who has been fomenting trouble in Kodagu in the recent months, warned that if the government did not sanction land for tribals, the activists would know how to grab it.
It is a known fact that the area under forest has dwindled following encroachment in Kodagu district which has heightened the man-animal conflict.
It is the duty of the government to provide suitable rehabilitation package for tribals who have been re-located from reserved forests. The Kodagu district administration and forest officials have shown lot of patience in dealing with the tribals. But a humanitarian problem should not be allowed to be hijacked by discredited politicians and Naxal sympathisers.