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  • Andhra Pradesh

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    Community conservation in Andhra Pradesh

    Neema Pathak

    1. Background1.1. Geographic profile

    Andhra Pradesh lies between 1237 and 1954 N latitude and 7646 and 8446 E longitude, with Tamil Nadu to the south, Orissa to the north, Maharashtra and Karnataka to the west, and the Bay of Bengal on the east. It has a geographical area of 276,000 sq km. Out of this, 63,770 sq km (23 per cent) is classified as forest. About 40 major, medium and minor rivers flow through the state, the most important being the Godavari, the Krishna, the Pennar and the Vamsadhara.

    Andhra Pradesh can be broadly divided into three natural regions: the coastal plains, Eastern Ghats and the Andhra plateau. The coastline of Andhra Pradesh is about 966 km long, and is located between 1324 and 1954 N latitude and 8002 and 8646 E longitude.

    The forest department controls 23 percent of the states area, 79 per cent of which is Reserve Forest. 26 per cent of the official forest area lacks any forest cover. The forests are classified as southern tropical dry deciduous and moist deciduous, and southern tropical thorn forest, with a small percentage of littoral and mangrove forests.1. The forests are mainly in the west and north of the state, in the semi-arid hills of the Deccan and on the borders of Orissa. Areas rich in forests are dominated by tribal populations, which constitute 6.3 per cent of the total population of the state.

    Agriculture accounts for 40 per cent of the states income and provides a livelihood for 71 per cent of its population. The major commercial crops are paddy, jowar, groundnut, tobacco, chillies, cotton, castor and sugarcane, while these and a wide variety of millets and pulses continue also to be grown for domestic consumption.

    1.2. Socio-economic profile Andhra Pradesh has a population of 76.2 million as per the 2001 census, of which 73 per cent is

    rural and 27 per cent urban.2 This contains a diversity of tribal or adivasi communities, including the Gonds, Kolams, Naikpods, Pradhans and Thoties. While the Gonds practiced settled cultivation, the Kolams and Naikpods have been shifting cultivators (podu). Community livelihood has depended heavily on the forests and the Kolams and Naikpods owe their income to the sale of non-timber forest produce (NTFP). Tribal families or clans have custodianship of the land, but traditionally the concept of private ownership was alien to their culture. Though there are several tribal communities, they together consist of only 6.6 per cent of the states population.3 The majority of the states population consists of Hindus (89 per cent)and Muslims (9 per cent).4

    Andhra Pradesh is believed to have about 50,000 ha of forest land under illegal occupation.5 Disputes over illegally occupied lands; forest reservation policies and increased restriction on the use of the forests by local people have created deep-seated conflicts between the tribals and the government. These conflicts have provided a fertile ground for the growth of the Naxalite6


    2. A brief history of administrative control over land and resources 2.1. Pre-independence period

    Much of the state was under the rule of the Nizam7 of Hyderabad until 1948, when he was forced to accede to the Indian Union; the remainder was under British rule till 1947.

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    2.1.1. Nizam dominions

    Representatives of the Nizam, such as the Jagirdars, Watandars and Deshmukhs, played a role similar to the Zamindars. Lands including forest tracts were awarded to them for use. Remnants of large areas of land in non-forested areas are still under the ownership of the families of Jagirdars. Jagir forest lands, although owned by individuals, were openly accessible to the local communities for collection of non-timber forest produce and firewood, and in some cases even timber for construction8. Settlement of rights for these communities was accomplished under the Hyderabad Forest Act, 1890.

    Several areas were controlled by the forest department of the Nizams Government, which followed policies designed to regulate access to forests so as to regulate and exploit timber, prevent destruction by fires and so on. Concepts of forest management do not, however, seem to have been employed till about the end of 1800s.

    Areas under the Nizams dominion were highly forested and inhabited largely by tribals till the 1940s. The construction of motorable roads in following decades increased access to the region and led to the influx of migrants from outside the state. The new settlers were aggressive and shrewd and soon occupied most of the tribal lands. Unable to assert ownership over these lands, the tribals were pushed further into remote areas and forced to encroach newer forest areas. These migrations led to tribal rebellions in many parts of the Hyderabad State, forcing the Nizam to commission a study by the famous German anthropologist F. von.Haimendorf, who documented the pathetic condition of the tribal people, and recounted the stories of exploitation, extortion and displacement of unassuming tribals by migrant settlers. The recommendations of this study led to the appointment of a Special Officer to look into the grievances of the tribals. Many steps were taken to prevent land alienation of tribals, including the redistribution of lands under illegal control of non-tribals to the tribals.

    A subsequent visit by Haimendorf in 1975 revealed a completely different story. By this time the population ratio had reversed drastically in favour of non-tribals from adjoining states, many of them earning their living by smuggling timber from forests. The tribals were once again under the grip of moneylenders, dispossessed of their land, and with their life-sustaining forests badly degraded.9

    2.1.2. British dominions

    Not much has been documented about the kinds of traditional forestry practices that existed in areas of Andhra Pradesh under British dominion. Around 1770 AD the British annexed well-forested, tribal-dominated areas, mainly in the Eastern Ghats, from small rulers and zamindars (landlords). Most forested and unclaimed areas (often community lands, where the community had no wherewithal to stake a claim that was credible in the eyes of the government) came under the control of the state, thus restricting the rights of local communities. References in the state forest departments records claim that effective control and management of forests was not possible since much of the lands were also controlled by the Revenue Department, and were distributed under traditional land titles such as pattas10 and ijaras. Management was focused on conservation and plantation (mainly of teak and after the 1930s on other high-revenue-yielding plants such as bamboo and katha).

    Following several tribal rebellions, the hill estates were given special status, exempting them from normal civil and judicial laws. In 1839, the Ganjam and Vaizagapatnam Act was passed, constituting these areas as Agency areas under the jurisdiction of a special official called the Agent to the Governor General. This was followed by bringing these lands under the scheduled districts Act of 1874, the Agency Tracts Interest and Land Transfer Act of 1917, and the Government of India Act of 1935. Eventually, the Fifth Schedule of the Constitution (after Independence) marked most of the Agency area as a legally distinct entity (called Schedule V areas), and the Panchayat (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act 1996 has special provisions for these areas. These legislations were ostensibly passed to protect the interests of local tribals against outside traders, settlers and moneylenders. Muttadars (hereditary local chiefs) were appointed to administer these areas but they had no ownership over the land. Their main responsibilities included revenue collection and discouraging the practice of shifting cultivation. The forest reservation and anti-podu policies faced strong opposition from the local tribals, which were suppressed or overcome in most areas.11

    The alienation of communities from their habitat is intimately related to rights and access to the forest resources they used, and can be traced back to faulty colonial understandings of land ownership. Alien concepts of private property and a centralised land revenue system introduced in the colonial era initiated a process of land titling, which resulted in alienation for two immediate

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    reasons: (i) the diversion of uncultivated land for agriculture by migrant settlers, land deeds (pattas) for which were subsequently issued to them by the Government, and (ii) the establishment of the forest department leading to large tracts of forested (and non-forested) land coming under control of the state. The extent of pre-independence alienation of tribal land in the state is difficult to ascertain, except in cases of land regularisation where the revenue department and forest department have measured losses in terms of the acreage of land lost.12

    In 1932, when the forests may have been abundant and exploitation of timber was on a small scale and that of NTFP negligible, a forest policy was formulated by the Government of Hyderabad with the help of the then Inspector General of Forests of India, Mr. L. Mason. However, before the recommendations could be implemented the Second World War began and forest areas which were accessible were worked in advance to meet war needs. To rectify this over-exploitation, a post-war forest policy was prepared but when this was about to be implemented Hyderabad state was merged into the Indian Uni


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