The endless saga of travails
Before departing from Veerankudi, we dropped in at the hut of the oldest member of the colony. The scene was heart-wrenching. Kamalamma, clad in a tattered sari, struggles to afford basic necessities like tea powder. She has all the identification documents, including an Aadhaar card. Yet, she has not received any of the welfare pensions that the authorities claim are being distributed. Weakend by age, she finds it challenging to navigate the hilly terrain.
Peep into Kerala’s rehabilitation history
The land in the Idamalayar range owned by the residents of Veerankudi came into their possession through the Forest Rights Act. If they have to be rehabilitated to another place, the Union Forest Ministry should first declare their current land as a reserve forest. There have been such instances earlier, says advocate Viju Vazhakala, former Chalakudy Block Panchayat vice-president. The decision falls under the purview of the State Cabinet. It is imperative that the residents of the colony are moved to a safer place, he emphasizes.
Land is allocated to tribal communities through various programmes like Land Bank Scheme, Distribution of Reserve Forest Land and Forest Rights Act. As per the Economic Survey report for 2021-22, 6.17 acres was distributed among 53 beneficiaries under the Land Bank Scheme, and 406.66 acres among 362 beneficiaries under the Forests Rights Act.
As many as 32 Malampandaram families of Laha, Manjathodu, Chalakkayam, Planthodu, Attathodu-Nilakkal and Plappally in the Sabarimala forest range under Ranni forest division were rehabilitated to Rajambara forest station limits four years ago. Later in 2022, 20 families were given 1 acre each under the Forest Rights Act.
But contrary to this, the rehabilitation exercise for the adivasis of Olarikara in Thrissur district has encountered hurdles, stopping halfway. The survey was initiated to give title deeds to the adivasis. But a legal hurdle over 2.54 hectares saw the whole survey exercise halted suddenly. The forest department claims that survey can be initiated only on land in their possession and since the land the adivasis sought was more, the issue remains unresolved, and the rehabilitation process has come to a standstill.
The arduous path of miseries
After a day-long exercise of hearing the sad tales of Veerankudi and Arekkap colony residents and moving to Malakappara, we could see the residents descending back home through the forest. The haunting thought of their miseries lingers, and it remains uncertain when these arduous paths of misery will come to an end.
Adv Aathira Deverajan (Athirapally panchayat president)
Jayarajan (Congress leader)
Sajeev Pallath (BJP local leader)