Monday, March 30, 2009

Naxalite infestation a social problem

By Team Mangalorean, Mangalore

MANGALORE MARCH 30, 2009: "Local communities traditionally depend on natural biomass and they must, therefore have the first lien on such resources, such benefits must be subject to assumption of a basic responsibility to protect and conserve these resources by suitably modifying unsustainable activities …’ says the 2002-2016 perspective plan on forest and wildlife conservation by the task force constituted under the guidance of A.B. Vajpayee when he was the Prime Minister of India.

But with the Naxalite problem going over the top, the Udupi-Chikmagalur constituency will have a major threat from the naxal forces operating in the region. There are already hand bills and writings on the walls circulated in various assembly segments in the constituency against elections, which is worrying the administration and the police. These naxalites are misled by the Maoist ideology which is a form of extremism have started visiting villages in at least three taluks namely Chikmagalur, Karkala and Kundapur. Hebri in Udupi taluk and Shankarnarayana in Kundapur taluk are the main areas where Naxalites roam free carrying on their anti democracy campaign.

While nobody knows the fate of such an elite report, people in conservation and environmental movements do know that the highhandedness of the establishment has reached out to the tribals to oust them from their pastures in the Western Ghats on the pre-text of “protecting” the forests. The result of the tussle between the conservation of livelihood and forests has now blown into the Naxalite movement in the western ghats as tribal youngsters find it an option.

The problem of Naxalism has entered the district in 2001 and their presence had come to open following a stray incident when an old tribal woman Cheeramma sustained a bullet injury in Menasinahadya village in the Western Ghats. After that the conservation groups working in the Western Ghats area have reported from time to time activities of naxalites.

One of the glaring incident was blockading the convoy of the forest officials in 2002 that included an outpost of the forest department was destroyed. Some of the NGOs functioning from the Western Ghat areas in Udupi and Dakshina Kannada district had observed from time to time that the question of livelihood was one of the reason behind youth in the tribal areas being weaned away into naxalism.

One of the main reason was that the tribals were being prevented from collecting Minor Forest Waste (MFW) and some of the tribal farmers were also being evicted from their small agricultural or horticultural pastures in the Kudremukh National Park (KNP) area. There was a demand from many tribal organizations and NGOs to either include the tribals as a bio-diversity factor in the KNP or carve out the KNP area without disturbing the tribal settlement.

The Rs. 60 crore package announced by the state government (announced during the time of Dharam Singh) for re-settling the tribals had also not achieved its target and many of the tribal families with lots of impressionable age group are still in limbo. They have been prevented from going to their dwellings located inside the KNP and their livelihood has been snatched by preventing them from collecting MFW.

The KNP has an area of 66,000 hectares spread out in 5 districts namely Dakshina Kannada, Kodagu, Chikmagalur, Shimoga and Udupi and according to a survey made by the Nagarika Seva Trust of Guruvainakere there are about 6000 families of tribals living in this area. They belong to Malekudias, Naikas, Machars and several other tribal castes and sub castes. Many of them have small farms which they use for cultivation of grains. Others have forest land to the extent of 5 acres for which they hold pattas. Some of them are as old as 200 years says President of Nagarika Seva Trust K. Somanatha Nayak.

With the new Forest rights bill having adequate scope for recognizing ‘encroached’ land for Tribals, the conservationists and NGOs are studying the implications of the bill on the tribals in the Western Ghats. They are happy that the bill needs the ‘informed consent’ of the tribals before it becomes an act, but the clauses that express doubts on the ‘co-existence’ of tribals with the wildlife and bio-diversity worries the conservationists and NGOs working in the field of tribal welfare.

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