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Tribal Land Alienation in Andhra Pradesh

Development projects in Andhra Pradesh are emerging as new sources of displacement in the scheduled areas. But the track record of governments regarding rehabilitation of tribals leaves a great deal to be desired. The tribals are not homogeneous as upwardly mobile sections have already emerged. Recent research suggests a trend towards livelihood diversification. This paper argues that tribal development strategies need to go beyond land-based livelihoods and aim at emerging areas such as human capital, infrastructure, food security and employment generation. Positive discrimination has great potential but the policy still needs to be more inclusive. Empowerment of tribal women through self-help groups has shown the way in several locations.

Tribal Land Alienation in Andhra Pradesh

Processes, Impacts and Policy Concerns

Development projects in Andhra Pradesh are emerging as new sources of displacement in the scheduled areas. But the track record of governments regarding rehabilitation of tribals leaves a great deal to be desired. The tribals are not homogeneous as upwardly mobile sections have already emerged. Recent research suggests a trend towards livelihood diversification. This paper argues that tribal development strategies need to go beyond land-based livelihoods and aim at emerging areas such as human capital, infrastructure, food security and employment generation. Positive discrimination has great potential but the policy still needs to be more inclusive. Empowerment of tribal women through self-help groups has shown the way in several locations.


ndhra Pradesh is home to 33 communities officiallydesignated as scheduled tribes (STs). They numbered50,24,104 in the 2001 Census. The STs of Andhra Pradesh constitute 6.75 per cent of India’s tribal population. Althoughthe state’s STs comprise only 6.59 per cent of the state’spopulation, they account for the largest tribal concentration insouthern India.

The scheduled areas of Andhra Pradesh, covered by theTribal Sub-Plan (TSP) approach, are spread over 31,485 sq kmin the districts of Srikakulam, Vizianagaram, Visakhapatnam,East Godavari, West Godavari, Warangal, Khammam,Adilabad and Kurnool. This zone forms the traditional habitat of 30 tribal communities. The other three tribal groups,i e, Lambada, Yerukala and Yanadi mostly live outside thescheduled areas.

In some districts tribal population is spread thinly and theylive along with non-tribal communities. The indigenous tribesare mostly concentrated in contiguous tracts of the above districtsthat have been designated as scheduled areas administered bythe Integrated Tribal Development Agencies (ITDAs).

There are some one million ST households in the state and about a half of them live in 5,936 villages in the nine ITDA areas.The scheduled areas are inhabited by an estimated 2.8 milliontribals who are entitled to the benefits of TSP projects andprotective legislations. In conformity with the national TSPstrategy, Andhra Pradesh tribal population is divided into fourcategories: (i) Those living in tribal concentration areas in thescheduled villages and adjoining areas, i e, the TSP areas administered by ITDAs. Each of the above nine districts has oneITDA named after the tribal concentration block where it is headquartered; (ii) primitive tribal groups, i e, communities wholive in near isolation in inaccessible habitats in and outside the scheduled areas who are at the pre-agricultural stage of theeconomy; (iii) those living in small pockets outside the scheduledareas, i e, Modified Area Development Agency (MADA) areasand tribal clusters; and (iv) Dispersed Tribal Groups, i e, thosedispersed throughout the state.

Until independence, Andhra Pradesh was divided intotwo distinct regions ruled by two different administrativesystems. The present coastal Andhra and Rayalaseemadistricts were part of Madras province (ruled by the British)and Telangana was a part of Hyderabad state under the Nizams.Until the formation of Andhra Pradesh in 1956, the tribal areas of these regions were governed by two distinct administrative systems.

Colonial Period

Until the beginning of the 20th century, most tribal areas ofAndhra Pradesh had remained virtually isolated. During thesecond-half of the 19th century, the British started an indirectrule in tribal tracts of the coastal districts through feudal intermediaries such as ‘zamindars’ and ‘muttadars’. In Telanganaregion, the Nizams had similar intermediaries like ‘jagirdars’,‘kokhasis’, ‘mahaldars’, etc. Intermediary systems of land tenuresuch as ‘muttadari’ and ‘mahaldari’ were in place inVisakhapatnam, West Godavari and Khammam districts. Theestate-holders divided their estates into groups of villages andentrusted their management to influential individuals calledmuttadars. The non-tribals, who migrated to tribal areas, advanced money, foodgrains and clothes to tribals. Later the nontribals employed various usurious methods of moneylending tooccupy tribal lands. The non-tribals who took control of triballand were: itinerant traders; merchants-cum-moneylenders; forest and other contractors from the plains; non-tribal farmerimmigrants; and village level officials.

In the wake of tribal revolts in coastal areas, the first safeguardpolicy, i e, ‘Ganjam’ and Visakhapatnam Districts Act waspromulgated in 1839 and the tribal areas were brought under theadministration of the collector. The act set the agency areas apartfor all administrative purposes. The British enacted the firstlandmark protective legislation, i e, the Agency Tracts Interestand Land Transfer Act, 1917 to protect the interests of tribalsin the agency areas. Its main objective was to protect the triballand from non-tribals. With the enactment of the Government of India Act 1935, the scheduled areas came under the discretionary powers of the governor.

The laissez-faire policy in Hyderabad state (now Telanganaregion) had also worked against the interests of aboriginal tribes.Forest officials used to harass tribals and extract bribes from them. Following instances of non-tribal encroachments and expansion ofreserve forest and the resultant violent incidents in Adilabad district, a protective statute Tribal Areas Regulation (Fasli 1356)was enacted in 1946. The regulation entrusted all tribal landdisputes to tribal panchayats. It prohibited sale or attachment oftribal land and empowered the officials to appoint tribal village officers. A campaign to assign land with pattas was initiated in1944 resulting in the distribution of 1,60,000 acres benefiting11,198 tribal households.

Post-Independence Landmarks

Andhra Pradesh was formed in 1956 by merging the erstwhileHyderabad and Andhra states. The new government enactedthe first comprehensive legislation, Andhra Pradesh ScheduledAreas Land Transfer Regulation, 1959 (APSALTR 1959 orRegulation 1 of 1959) for the protection of tribal land. It came intoeffect in Andhra region in the same year and was extended toTelangana region through Regulation 2 in 1963. The Regulation1 of 1959 provides that: (i) In the scheduled areas, transfer ofimmovable property by a member of scheduled tribe to non-tribalswithout permission from the competent authority shall be nulland void; (ii) Where a transfer of immovable property is effectedin favour of non-tribals, the designated official, on representationor suo motu may restore the property to the transferor.

However, this legislation did not bar land transfer by nontribals. Even in the case of transfer from tribal to non-tribal, it was only restrictive and not proscriptive. Moreover, the regulation remained largely unimplemented as the working rules werenot framed for almost 10 years after its passage. Land alienationin scheduled areas continued in spite of this legislation. Thegovernment began moving in this direction after the tribaluprising in Srikakulam district in the 1960s by initiating morestringent measures in the form of Regulation 1 of 1970.

The 1970 amendment prohibits transfer of immovable propertyin scheduled areas. It has a presumptive provision stating thatany immovable property in the agency areas in the possessionof non-tribals shall be deemed to have been acquired from ascheduled tribe. When this regulation was questioned, the highcourt of AP upheld the regulation with a directive that it wouldnot have retrospective effect. Following the passage of 1 of 1970,branches of the Cooperative Land Mortgage Bank had to suspendtheir operations in scheduled areas. With a view to removing thishurdle, the APSALTR was further amended by Regulation 1 of1971. Yet another amendment was effected to the above enactment in 1978 which prohibits registration of sale transactionsin favour of non-tribals.

The tribal land policy took an interesting turn in 1979, following alull in tribal tracts, when the state government directed the officialsconcerned not to evict non-tribals occupying up to five acres ofwetland or 10 acres of dryland in scheduled areas. Predictably,the high court of AP declared the order bad in law and doubtedthe sagacity of the government which tried to dilute a legislativeenactment through an executive order. The policy towards triballand entered into another decisive phase in the 1990s. Attemptswere made in the late 1990s and early 2000s by the reformsoriented Telugu Desam Party regime – especially in the wakeof Samata Judgment – to amend Regulation 1 of 1970 to allowland transfers between non-tribals (see section on developmentprojects). Both state and central governments began initiativestowards amending the Fifth Schedule following the SupremeCourt verdict in Samata case. However, a new policy environmentbegan to unfold in 2004 with the Congress Party governmentscoming into power in the state as well as at the centre.

I A Typology of Tribal Land Alienation

Land is the primary source of livelihood for the tribals. Landbased livelihoods have assumed added importance with thedepletion of non-timber forest produce (NTFP). Land alienationin its broad sense is among the major causes of impoverishment of tribals: Occupation by non-tribals; reduced access to forest-basedlivelihoods; reservation of forests and restrictions on shiftingcultivation; land administration policies; and displacement bydevelopment projects. A detailed discussion of these processesis as follows.

Land Alienation to Non-Tribals

Moneylending is among the earliest routes through which triballand has been alienated in Andhra Pradesh. Non-tribal settlers advance petty cash to tribals taking tribal land as collateral. Theland would be in possession of the lender until the borrowerrepays the money completely. Because of income povertymost tribals default on their debts. This process of landoccupation occurred on a larger scale in tribal tracts of coastalAndhra Pradesh. A study conducted in Saluru agency area ofSrikakulam district found that the first outside trader entered this area about 45 years ago and began lending money at highinterest rates. The debt burden could be reduced by tribals onlyby conceding their land. The trader acquired the first chunk oftribal land within 10 years after he had established his foothold.This process gained momentum as more and more outsidersfollowed suit. Resultantly only 11 per cent of householdsretained land [Reddy 1988].

In many tribal areas, the non-tribal men entered into maritalrelationships with the tribal women and purchased land in thenames of tribal wives. Land alienation through polygyny has beenfound in Visakhapatnam, East Godavari and West Godavaridistricts. The tribals of north coastal Andhra Pradesh have inherited a sacred social institution called ‘nestam’, i e, the bond of friendship. The idea of this bond is to promote the well-beingof the members. The non-tribals entered into these bonds of friendship and purchased land in the names of their tribal friends.As members of these associations, tribals are supposed to protectthe interests of their friends. In tribal tracts of East and West Godavari districts, many non-tribal farmers purchased land inthe names of their tribal servants or attached labourers. Another means employed by non-tribal communities to occupy tribal landwas to procure false scheduled tribe certificates. Armed with thisstatus, the non-tribal migrants purchased tribal lands.

Survey and Settlement Processes

Even prior to independence, tribals had lost their customaryrights over land due to survey and settlement processes. With a viewto raising revenue from natural resources, the colonial policiesintroduced new systems of land administration where estates weregranted to influential non-tribals without conducting propersurveys. In some areas non-tribals were encouraged to bring as muchland as they could under cultivation. In the post-independenceperiod, tribals have lost their land rights through survey andsettlement operations undertaken during the transition from theintermediary system to individual-based settlement. Land deprivation occurred on a massive scale owing to the lack of properand regular survey and settlement practices. Most of the land inscheduled areas of AP was under feudatory systems of land tenuresuch as samindari, jagirdari, muttadari and mahaldari. Underthese systems, the tribal tenant had no security and the intermediaryhad the right to evict the tenant at will. With a view to conferring‘patta’ rights on tribal ryots and to putting in place proper landrecords after due survey and settlement operations, the government of Andhra Pradesh made the following regulations:

(i) A P Mahals (Abolition and Conversion into Ryotwari),Regulation 1 of 1969: Provides for the abolition of Mahals in Khammam district. Every tribal ryot in possession of landcontinuously for a period of one year before the notified date

Economic and Political Weekly December 30, 2006

shall be entitled to ryotwari patta only if he is in occupation fora continuous period of eight years and such occupation is notviolative of the APSALTR.

(ii) A P Muttas (Abolition and Conversion into Ryotwari),Regulation 2 of 1969: Apart from delineating the same provisionas the above with regard to tribal cultivator, this regulation statesthat no non-tribal ryot is entitled to ryotwari patta unless he isin a lawful possession of the said land for a continuous periodof eight years.

(iii) A P Scheduled Areas Ryotwari Settlement, Regulation 2 of1970: This applies to lands other than those comprised withinMuttas and Mahals. Regarding the non-tribals, this enactmentalso incorporates the same provision as the above.

Under the above regulations, thousands of non-tribals weregranted ryotwari pattas. Although the possession of land by anon-tribal for a period of eight years is subject to APSALTR,this proviso was not understood in proper spirit by the implementing authorities. Further, the influential non-tribals managedto produce records showing that the lands were under theiroccupation at the time of the settlement.

Haimendorf (1979), who studied the Gonds of Adilabad district, graphically chronicles the process of land alienation resulting from survey and settlement processes. The Gonds’ inabilityto retain their land was due to a system of land tenure far toocomplicated for a region with an illiterate population. The rightof ownership to land had to be formally recognised by theauthorities and the name of the owner (pattadar) entered in thevillage registers before the ownership was regarded as valid. MostGonds used to occupy land and pay revenue to the villageaccountant without insisting that they should be entered in theregister as pattadars. Such tenure was called ‘siwa-i-jamabandi’(without revenue settlement) and majority of Gonds cultivatedlands in this way. Yet, anyone whose name did not appear inthe register was liable to eviction. When pressure on the landgrew and Gonds had to compete with non-tribals, this systemwas very much to their disadvantage. Non-tribal settlers manoeuvered to get patta rights in siwa-i-jamabandi land held by Gondson payment of a nominal sum. The Gond habit of giving upcultivation on a piece of land and occupation of vacant land ofequal size on payment of the same revenue was also made useof by the immigrants. They turned the relinquished patta landsto government lands and got pattas in their own names. By the1940s, the Gonds had already been ousted from many villagesand large areas of land once held by their forefathers. The Nizamgovernment, pursuing a policy of opening up the district andraising its revenue, encouraged the influx of new settlers andgranted them pattas.

Forest Policies

Laws governing forests have also contributed to large-scaleland alienation in the scheduled areas. The concept of stateownership of forests came into conflict with the traditional rightsand practices of tribals. In several locations, tribals lost accessto their agricultural land and commons following the demarcationof forest boundaries. In north coastal districts of AP, in particular,tribals have lost large chunks of land that they had used for ‘podu’(shifting cultivation). Around 65 per cent of Andhra Pradeshforest area is spread over eight tribal districts in the northern partof the state. Historically, the relationship between tribals and thestate agencies has been antagonistic which gave rise to severaluprisings. The widespread commercialisation of forests duringthe colonial era, following the adoption of forest acts, restrictedthe traditional rights of tribals.

Although India has a long history of forest policy, the livelihoods of forest-dwellers have not been recognised in policy until recently. Predominantly tribal lands have been declared as stateforests. The reservation of forests has been a historical processwhereby the indigenous communities are pushed deeper intoforests and tribal lands are appropriated by non-tribals. Thestate has appropriated large tracts of land without recognisingcustomary rights, particularly of shifting cultivation. Much ofthe land classified as “encroached land” in AP is actually landunder customary tribal podu forest fallows management[Reddy et al 2004].

The case of Adilabad illustrates the process of alienation byforest policies. Until about 1900, the tribals of Adilabad had notbeen subject to any restrictions in the forest. While Kolams andNaikpods practised shifting cultivation, Gonds cultivated mainlythe light soils of the hilltops, allowing long periods of fallowbetween periods of cultivation. When in the name of forestconservancy boundary lines were drawn round the villages wheremost of the land not actually under cultivation was notified asgovernment forest. When the land Gonds had cultivated at thetime of the demarcation became exhausted, and Gonds wanted to reoccupy the fallow lands, they came up against the claimsof the forest department. When the forest lines were demarcated,the peculiarities of the tribal area were not taken into account.For instance, lands held by tribals under siva-i-jamabandi wereincluded under reserve forest. Even in villages that were put inenclosures, the forest boundary ran so close to the villages thatthere was hardly any space left for future growth. And in violationof the principles of reservation, many fields held by Gonds onpatta were included in the reserved forest. Owing to land alienation and population pressure, tribals in many locations hadstarted cultivating land falling under the reserve forest. In severalvillages, there have been conflicts between tribals and forestofficials over such “encroachments”.

Dispossession by Development Projects

At the national level, tribals constitute at least 55 per cent ofthe persons displaced by development projects such as irrigationsystems, hydroelectric projects, mining operations, power generating units and mineral-based industries [Saxena 2006]. In thename of development, tribals are displaced from their traditionalhabitat and are deprived of their livelihoods. The track recordof governments on the resettlement and rehabilitation frontleaves a lot to be desired. Even according to the official estimates,only 29 per cent of the affected have been rehabilitated. In therecent past, some development projects in AP have becomehighly controversial due to their implications for tribal land andlivelihoods.

Mining is among the largest industries in India which hasbecome contentious in the context of enforcing the safeguardsenshrined in the Fifth Schedule. The recent pronouncements bythe Supreme Court, following the interventions of Samata, onmining operations in the scheduled areas have set off a nationwidedebate on tribal land issues. The discourse on mining activityshould be set against the backdrop of the legal initiatives takenby Samata on the basis of their work in Visakhapatnam district.Mining operations in Anantagiri area go back to the 1960s whenmining leases were granted to private entities while tribals weredenied title deeds to their lands.

Samata moved the high court of Andhra Pradesh in 1993against mining permissions arguing that the leases violated theland transfer regulations and the government was also a “person”(non-tribal) and hence does not have the power to grant leasesto non-tribals. The court issued a stay order; but in 1995, thestay order was vacated and the case was dismissed. After hearinga special appeal by Samata, the Supreme Court delivered itslandmark verdict in 1997. The judgment inter alia says:

  • (i) Government lands, forest lands and tribal lands in the scheduled area cannot be leased out to non-tribals or to private industries.
  • (ii) Mining activity in scheduled areas can be undertaken onlyby the government or a society of tribals.
  • (iii) It would be appropriate to bring about a national legislationon mineral wealth in tribal areas.

    (iv) At least 20 per cent of the net profits from mining operationsshould be set aside for developing infrastructure in mining areas.

    Following the verdict in Samata case, both the state and centralgovernments made several attempts to regain the powers vis-àvis the mining activity in tribal areas. The government of AndhraPradesh received a major setback when its appeal to the SupremeCourt for a revision of the order was struck down. Then both the state and central governments began lobbying for an amendment to the Fifth Schedule to undo the Samata judgment.

    The main electoral plank of the present Congress governmentin the state was according high priority to the irrigation sector.On assuming office, the Rajashekhara Reddy government identified 26 irrigation projects with an estimated cost of Rs 460billion. Some of these projects, under various stages of implementation, have become more controversial as they will displacetribal villages and submerge forest areas. The Polavaram projectis the most contested of the ongoing projects as far as the triballivelihoods are concerned. This multipurpose mega project onthe Godavari at Polavaram in West Godavari district is expectedto irrigate 727,000 acres.

    The project would displace 276 villages and uproot 44,574families in three districts and tribals comprise almost 50 per centof the population of these villages. Opposition to the projectfrom civil society organisations, political parties and tribalrights activists is mounting as the government is going aheadwith the project in haste without conducting any scientific studieson its impact and without securing the mandatory clearancesfrom the central government. The critics are sceptical about the

    Table 1: Extent of Land Alienation and Restoration in 1975: District-wise

    District No of Area in No of Cases Area Actual Extent
    Cas e s Acres Land Ordered in of Land
    Detected to be Acres Restored
    Restored to Tribals
    Srikakulam 1369 7872 860 1870 1610
    Visakhapatnam East Godavari 3605 1019 9808 3523 2784 442 5508 1119 5348 1119
    West Godavari 894 NA 190 1004 858
    Adilabad 1159 9731 985 8282 7869
    Mahabubnagar 120 902 1 8 127 127
    Warangal 5094 3591 1462 2677 1368
    Khammam 5944 18837 2474 6680 2465
    Total 19204 54264 19203 25767 20764

    Source: Danam (1977).

    resettlement and rehabilitation package for the tribals given thegovernment’s track record on this front. Meanwhile, the tribalsof the project area have launched an agitation against thePolavaram project. The opponents of the project have put forwardtwo major arguments: alternatives to Polavaram, such as minorschemes with minimum displacement, should be explored; andproject work should be suspended until the rehabilitation issues,including the land for land compensation, are settled.

    II Magnitude of Land Alienation to Non-Tribals

    Alienation of tribal land to non-tribals has been the most widespread and visible process of dispossession in tribal tracts.Official data on the extent of tribal land alienation for different periods are available (see Tables 1-4); although the figures arenot totally comparable, the data demonstrate that land alienationis on the rise despite the protective laws.

    It is widely held that the official statistics do not reflect theground reality because in many cases non-tribals are in occupation of tribal land through various means such as lease, mortgage,sharecropping and benami transactions. On top of that many nontribals are still holding tribal land even after the decree of evictionhad been passed. A closer look at Table 3 reveals that theproportion of land restored to tribals (row 12) is relatively lowcompared to the extent of land under the non-tribal occupation(row 2). Figures published by the ministry of rural development(GoI) show that Andhra Pradesh accounts for the highest incidence of land alienation in the country and the quantum of landin dispute in the state represents a third of the extent reportedfor the entire country. Studies commissioned by the ministry alsoreveal the massive scale of land alienation across the country.The Andhra Pradesh report reveals that non-tribals own morethan half of the land in scheduled areas. The extent is 52 percent in Khammam, 60 per cent in Adilabad and as high as 71per cent in Warangal.

    III Impacts and Implications

    Loss of land has led to major changes in the livelihood patternof tribal people. A major consequence is the growing numberof agricultural labourers, an indication of the “depeasantisation”process [Murali and Rao 1992]. The census data also shows thatthe proportion of agricultural labourers among the STs is on therise. Migration to both rural and urban locations has emergedas an important livelihood option in tribal areas. Many scheduledlocations are in a transition from subsistence farming to commercial cropping due to reduced plot size and growing cash needsowing to widespread indebtedness. Legal battles and violent

    Table 2: Extent of Land Alienation and Restoration in 1997: District-wise
    District No of Cases Extent No of Extent Cases Decided Extent Cases in Extent Ca s es Extent
    Detected in Acres C a s e s Disposed of in Acres in Tribals’ Favour in Acres Which Land Restored in Acres Pending Disposal in Acres
    to Tribals
    Srikakulam 384 987 376 936 251 523 215 523 8 5 1
    Vizianagaram Visakhapatnam 1195 6582 7176 22490 1142 5518 6973 14071 836 4661 5469 13310 836 4475 836 4475 53 1064 204 8419
    East Godavari 6448 39959 6175 38831 2507 13165 2495 2495 173 1128
    West Godavari 7077 37216 6002 33194 1389 6828 414 414 1075 4021
    Khammam 26199 98283 23190 88154 10292 35304 10223 10223 3009 10129
    Warangal 12403 28133 5552 13074 3328 6813 2484 2484 6851 15058
    Adilabad 5763 43295 5174 40600 3068 23717 2857 2857 589 2695
    Mahabubnagar 287 1878 273 1186 178 1185 168 168 14 693
    Total 66338 279419 53402 237020 26551 106315 24203 97688 12836 42400
    Source: Mohan Rao (1999).
    5404 Economic and Political Weekly December 30, 2006

    confrontations between tribals and non-tribals over land alienation have become intense in recent times. This is evidenced byrecent conflicts between the Koyas and the non-tribal occupiersin West Godavari district. In several parts of Adilabad district,the dispossessed Gonds have encroached upon the forest land.This has been a cause of tension between the tribals and forest officials. The traditional livelihood pattern of the Koyas ofKhammam district is changing as a result of loss of customaryrights. The incidence of landlessness has gone up and a majorityof the landless are working as wage labourers. The non-tribalinfiltration in some districts is changing the demographic composition where tribals are at risk of being reduced to a minority.

    High level of indebtedness among tribals renders them vulnerable; exploitative practices by non-tribal moneylenders persistin spite of the legislations to curb these methods. The proceduresfollowed with regard to land alienation cases are tardy andcumbersome and land administration system is too complicatedfor the tribals. Deep-rooted fear of government agencies and thelack of faith in bureaucracy have discouraged tribals from seekingformal interventions. Article 226 of the Constitution has been invoked by non-tribals to secure stay orders in land restorationcases. Loopholes in the law have been exploited by non-tribals,the biggest one being the absence of retrospective effect to landalienation cases.

    Many non-tribals have succeeded in producing sale deeds datedbefore 1970 to avoid eviction. In many cases where judgmentswere given in favour of tribals, land could not be restored. Manytribal-majority villages are still considered as non-scheduledvillages. A large number of cases were settled in favour of nontribals following the government’s controversial order in 1979.Mainstream political parties in Andhra Pradesh have had greatsuccess in co-opting tribal leadership. The STs are considered,given their low proportion in the state population, politicallyinsignificant. Moreover, they have not organised themselves intoan effective pressure group. This is evident from the relative easewith which the successive governments have managed to bringabout consensus among TAC members. And non-indigenoustribes such as the Lambadas have a dominant presence in politicaland administrative structures.

    IV Emerging Policy Environment

    The policy context prevailing during the previous governments

    – the NDA government at the centre and the TDP governmentin Andhra Pradesh – was characterised by several controversialpolicy initiatives notably the eviction of tribals from forests andthe moves to dilute the Fifth Schedule. The early 2000s, bycontrast, have witnessed an intense national debate on tribal land issues. The emerging policy framework is a result of three majordevelopments: Change in regimes in 2004 at the centre as wellas in Andhra Pradesh; three national policy initiatives on triballand undertaken by the central government; and a more participatory and consultative policy-making process initiated by thepresent UPA government. The policy initiatives cover threeimportant areas of tribal land policy: A national policy on tribals;forest rights; and a national rehabilitation policy. The UPAgovernment is currently making amendments to these policiesin keeping with the commitments made in its common minimumprogramme (CMP).

    The CMP of the UPA government provides the broad policyagenda on issues of national importance. The UPA governmentalso constituted National Advisory Council (NAC) as an interfacewith civil society with regard to the implementation of the CMP.The NAC makes recommendations to the government on thepolicy priorities identified in the CMP. The policy interface with the NAC provided a unique opportunity to civil society toparticipate in the policy-making process. The current thinkingin the NAC on tribal land issues, contained in their communications to the government, offers very useful policy perspectivesand suggestions (available at:

    The Draft National Policy on Tribals announced by the NDAgovernment attracted criticism from the NAC and several otherquarters on the grounds that the draft was a disjointed documentas it does not take a holistic view of tribal development and treatstribal land issues in a superficial manner, in an isolation fromthe related laws and constitutional provisions; and it containssome anti-tribal provisions particularly regarding shifting cultivation. The NAC had conveyed their recommendations to thegovernment highlighting the weaknesses of the draft. The UPAgovernment has formulated a revised draft in 2006, i e, theNational Tribal Policy incorporating the suggestions and viewsfrom civil society and its coalition partners. With regard to landalienation, the new policy states that land alienation is thesingle most important cause of pauperisatoin of tribals andproposes that the centre would study state protective laws so asto identify the loopholes and formulate a model legislation.Regarding land restoration, annual targets will be fixed for thestates and the process will be monitored by a high-level empowered committee. Special fast-track courts will be established inscheduled areas to deal with land alienation cases and legal aidwill be imparted to tribals and land records will be computerised.The draft policy recognises that shifting cultivation is a form ofagriculture as it supports and protects collective ownership ofnatural resources.

    Table 3: Incidence of Tribal Land Alienation and Extent of Restoration under APSALTR: State Level*

    (Area in acres)

    Description 1975 1995 1997 2003

    1 Number of non-tribal occupations/cases

    filed in courts 19204 63004 66338 69119

    2 Area under above 54264 260523 279419 340491

    3 Number of cases in which enquiries

    were initiated 56544

    4 Area under above 246003

    5 Number of cases disposed of 19203 47803 59849

    6 Area under above 25764 215435 256452

    7 Cases rejected 23531 31737

    8 Area under cases rejected 129845 150227

    9 No of cases decided in favour of tribals 27461 10 Area under above 106225 11 Number of cases in which land was

    restored to tribals 22614 26551 23383 12 Extent of land restored to tribals 20764 91937 106315 94312 13 Number of cases pending disposal 11842 12836 7663 14 Area under above 33430 42400 31324

    Note: * Compiled from: Mohan Rao (1999) and Ministry of Rural Development (GoI), Annual Reports. Gaps indicate non-availability of data.

    Table 4: Extent of Land under Occupation of Non-Tribalsin Scheduled Areas in 1996

    Name of the District Total Land in Land under Percentage Scheduled Areas Occupation of (Acres) Non-Tribals (Acres)

    1 Srikakulam 14,949 359 2.20 2 Vizianagaram 42,333 91 0.21 3 Visakhapatnam 288,107 NA NA 4 East Godavari 173,417 33,740 19.46 5 West Godavari 75,702 27,979 36.96 6 Khammam 771,605 407,368 52.79 7 Warangal 142,533 102,105 71.64 8 Adilabad 297,171 180,349 60.69 9 Mahabubnagar 42,392 1,444 3.41 Total 18,48,210 7,53,435 48.29

    Source: Mohan Rao (1999).

    The new policy environment is also characterised by a debateon the contentious issues of resettlement and rehabilitation. The National Rehabilitation Policy, announced in February 2004 bythe NDA government, represents the culmination of the attemptstowards a model rehabilitation policy applicable to the entirecountry. The rehabilitation policy states that displacement oftribal people should be kept to the minimum and undertaken onlyafter possibilities of non-displacement and least displacementhave been exhausted. When displacement becomes inevitable,the displaced should be provided a better standard of living. Thepolicy formulated the following guidelines: each ST familyhaving land in the earlier settlement shall be given land againstland; reservation benefits enjoyed at the original settlement shallbe continued at the resettlement area; additional financial assistance equivalent to nearly one and a half years’ agricultural wagesfor the loss of customary and usufructory rights shall be given;tribals are to be resettled close to their natural habitat to helpthem retain their identity; if resettlement is possible only awayfrom the district or taluka, then substantively higher benefits inmonetary terms shall be given; and all basic amenities shall beprovided at the rehabilitation sites.

    Regarding the policy on rehabilitation, the NAC is of theopinion that non-displacing or least displacing alternativesshould be explored. If the former is not possible, displacementshould be based on prior informed consent of the gram sabha.Displaced families should have a standard of living better thanthat they had prior to the displacement. In the case of irrigationprojects, allotment of land in command areas should be mandatory. Rehabilitation policy should be linked with the LandAcquisition Act (LAA) to make the latter people-oriented andconsensual and “land for land” principle needs to be incorporatedinto the LAA. As for land acquisition for commercial undertakings, the affected families are entitled to a certain percentageof shares or profits. Employment and skills training should beprovided to the affected families on a priority basis. The principlesof geographical continuity, cultural homogeneity and adaptability should be adhered to in choosing resettlement sites.

    The National Tribal Policy has also formulated some broadpolicy directions on the rehabilitation front incorporating thefeedback from civil society. These principles acknowledge thetribal rights over forest resources and livelihoods and are aimedat protecting the tribal interests in a holistic way. The revisedtribal policy states that the provisions of all existing laws willbe amended to harmonise them with those of the PESA (see draftpolicy at:

    Forest Rights Bill 2005

    In keeping with the new policy framework and the pro-tribalpolicy priorities of the CMP, the UPA government has formulatedThe Scheduled Tribes (Recognition of Forest Rights) Bill, 2005which aims to compensate the “historical injustice” done to forestdwelling tribes and provide the adivasis rights to forest resources.The bill for the first time recognises that tribals have rights overforests. The proposed forest rights include: the right to hold andlive in the forest land; community rights over forest such as‘nistar’; right of ownership access to use and dispose of minorforest produce; rights over disputed lands; rights for conversionof pattas or leases or grants on forest land into titles; rights ofconversion of forest villages into revenue villages; right to manageany community forest resource; and any other traditional rightenjoyed by the forest-dwelling STs. In concrete terms, the billproposes pattas to forest lands occupied before 1980 but subjectto a ceiling of 2.5 hectares per family. No tribal person is to beevicted from forest land until the process of determining rightsis completed. The bill proposes wide-ranging powers for the gram sabha that include determining the nature and extent offorest rights, regulating access to forest resources, and punishingthose who violate the provisions.

    Although the bill is a step in the right direction, it addressestribal land issues in isolation from the related legislations onwildlife protection and forest conservation. Another weaknessof the bill concerns the issue of displacement by developmentprojects; the bill should clearly delineate the role of the gramsabha vis-à-vis development-induced displacement. The rightsproposed to be conferred with regard to the lands occupiedbefore 1980 are essentially compensatory in nature. Becausethe bill tries to compensate the loss tribals suffered withoutlooking at the processes that have resulted in land dispossession; nor does it refer to the failure of the state in restoringthe alienated land and in providing adequate rehabilitation forthe displaced. Because loss of land to non-tribals is among themajor factors driving tribals to “encroach” on the forest land.The cut-off date of 1980 and the ceiling on the extent of landproposed to be regularised would drastically reduce the scopeof the bill. It also excludes from its purview a large number ofnon-ST forest dwellers. Although the proposed legislationpromises a great deal, the scepticism remains given the trackrecord of the state in enforcing the earlier laws and theconstitutional provisions.

    V Conclusion and Policy Concerns

    The overall situation prevailing in AP today is one where thealienated land cannot be restored because of legal loopholes, nonretrospective land regulations, powerful outsiders and a continuing lack of political commitment to protecting tribal rights. Mostnon-tribals manage to hold on to their land by obtaining stayorders or producing false documents. Added to this is rampantrent-seeking among officials. Development projects are emergingas new sources of land alienation. In this context, tribal areas are used to attract private capital for exploiting mineral resourcesand tribals are forced to pay a far higher price in the case ofirrigation projects as the lion’s share of expected benefits wouldaccrue to non-tribals. The track record of governments withrespect to the resettlement and rehabilitation programmes is aclassic case of too late and too little.

    The tribal land problem in AP has assumed new dimensions inrelation to the traditional rights over ‘podu’ and access to naturalresources in general. The debate about shifting cultivation has beenrevived in the context of externally funded participatory forestmanagement programmes such as JFM and CFM (joint/community forest management). Traditional rights and livelihood patternof the forest-dependent tribals need to be respected while designing and implementing forest management programmes. The forestdepartment should not evict people practising shifting cultivationwithout creating real alternatives for them. At present the lawseems to be harder on poor tribals than it is on more powerfuland corrupt agents who are more damaging to forests than podu.

    Tribal land issues are currently subjects of national debatethanks to the major policy initiatives taken by the centre. Withrespect to land alienation to non-tribals, the recommendationsmade by the NAC – particularly with regard to making the landadministration system more transparent, participatory, accountable and tribal-friendly – could make a positive impact on therestoration process. Lessons could be learnt from other experiments such as the work on the right to information of the MazdoorKisan Shakti Sanghatan (MKSS) in Rajasthan. Training andcapacity-building of tribals in land administration, survey andsettlement and land transfer regulations will go some way towardsempowering tribals. Imparting legal literacy to tribals should be

    Economic and Political Weekly December 30, 2006

    an integral part of capacity-building approach. Interventionstowards legal empowerment can draw upon some innovativeinitiatives adopted by NGOs such as SAKTI. Other complementary reforms such as plugging the loopholes in the protective lawsand strengthening the quasi-judicial machinery that enforcesthese acts need immediate policy attention.

    The trained tribals would be able to assist the gram sabhaexpected to be further empowered by the proposed legislations.The gram sabha should be allowed to play a role in theadjudication of tribal land disputes. The survey and settlementprocess in the scheduled areas should be completed and thisshould recognise the customary rights to land. Customary rightsneed to be respected while drawing up boundaries undervarious forestry, wildlife and land programmes. The long overdue National Rehabilitation Policy, which is currently on thetable, needs to incorporate the special concerns related to triballivelihoods. In this context, the suggestions made by the NACare particularly relevant. The NAC’s recommendations addressthe serious flaws of the policy and take into account the concernsvoiced by civil society. Since indebtedness is a major vulnerability, there is a clear case for strengthening and expandinginstitutional credit in scheduled areas. The self-help groups (SHGs)of women have great potential to meet the microcredit needs ofthe poor and address higher level needs and constraints. Empowerment of tribal women through SHGs has in several locationsreduced the exploitation by vested interests [D’Silva et al 2004].

    Tribal development strategies, while respecting customary rightsand tribal values, need to go beyond land-based activities. Humancapital – education and health in particular – infrastructure, employment guarantee and food security are emerging as critical factors.Positive discrimination programmes have great potential toempower the STs. But Andhra Pradesh tribals are not homogeneous; upwardly mobile sections have already emerged. Somegroups, notably the non-indigenous Lambadas or Banjaras, havebeen able to capture the lion’s share of reservational benefits oftenat the expense of poorer and indigenous tribes. Policy and interventions need to take a more disaggregated view of tribal communities.

    The Forest Rights Bill, despite its progressive spirit, has alsoattracted criticism from several quarters. The original bill hadseveral ifs and buts that would have circumscribed the rightsproposed to be conferred. The bill was tabled in the Parliamenton December 13, 2005; it was then referred to a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC). The JPC has made several amendments to the bill and submitted its recommendations to the Parliament on May 23, 2006. The JPC has made several protribal amendments to the bill so as to remove those hurdles and make it more progressive and comprehensive. In additionto the STs, the revised bill includes in its ambit “other traditional forest dwellers”. The gram sabha is given more powers to hearand decide on the claims to forest land and other resources. The consent of the gram sabha is mandatory regarding landacquisition for development projects. More important are thechanges relating to the cut-off date and the ceiling on the extentof land to be regularised. The revised draft extends the earlier cutoff date of 1980 to 2005 and removes the 2.5 ha upper limit.

    The bill makes it clear that it will prevail over other laws ifthe provisions of the latter contravene with those of the former.This is a welcome provision in that forest and wildlife laws haveoften been used against tribals. The amendments try to strike abalance between tribal rights and the state-induced deprivationscaused by forest laws and development projects. So the pro-tribaltilt of the bill is understandable. A complementary policyinitiative that is long overdue is related to land alienation to nontribals. If protective laws are not strengthened and implementedeffectively the forest rights contemplated by the above bill maynot make a difference to tribal livelihoods.

    The Forest Rights Bill also refers to the land rights of tribalsdisplaced by development projects. The bill should haveprovisions to ensure that the land rights of the displaced tribalswithout documentary evidence to the ownership are also protected. Because the tribal lands remain unsettled; and unrestored in the case of alienation to non-tribals. This could result in nontribals receiving compensation at the expense of tribals. Moreimportant, the policy should ensure that the resettled tribals donot lose their constitutional entitlements and the benefits of protective and developmental policies under the Fifth Schedule.Interestingly, the bill focusing on forest rights does not delineatethe rights of tribals over mineral resources. Land alienation tonon-tribals has also been a part of “historical injustice”. But thestate, instead of attempting to restore the alienated land to thetribals, seems to have opted the easy way out, that is regularisingthe encroachments through the Forest Rights Bill.

    Predominantly tribal villages that have remained outside thescheduled areas should be scheduled. Unfortunately, the centreis yet to act on the proposals, submitted by the Andhra Pradeshgovernment two decades ago, to schedule 796 such villages inthe state. Since the number of informal workers, including migrantlabourers, among the STs is on the rise, providing them socialsecurity would go a long way towards reducing their vulnerability. The recently formulated bill, i e, the Unorganised WorkersSocial Security Bill 2006 seeks to provide minimum level ofsocial security to the poor informal worker. Experience has shownthat the top-down tribal development policies have largely failedto deliver on their promises resulting in a situation where thevast majority of indigenous tribals have remained at the receivingend. It is in this context that the suggestion of granting autonomyto the AP scheduled areas under the Sixth Schedule merits close consideration.


    [This paper draws on a background study for the World Bank Land Policy Economic Sector Work in India. The views and opinions expressed are those of the authors alone and should not be taken to reflect those of the World Bank. The authors are grateful to an anonymous referee of this journal forvery helpful comments.]



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