Javed Iqbal | Friday, May 4, 2012, DNA
Conflict and displacement in Bastar leads to deprivation and forest loss in neighbouring Khammam
Around 43 families from the villages of Millampalli, Simalpenta, Raygudem, Darba and Singaram in Dantewada district, lost their makeshift homes for the second time in three months in the Mothe Reserve Forest of Khammam district of Andhra Pradesh on March 26, when the forest department, mandated to protect the forests, evicted them using force.
A large number of families are internally displaced persons who’ve escaped the Salwa Judum-Maoist conflict of Dantewada and have lived in Khammam as informal labour.
Madvi Samaiya and Madvi Muthaiya from the village of Raygudem were also killed by the Maoists. In Simalpenta, the Sarpanch’s brother Kurra Anda was killed by the Maoists in 2006.In Singaram, an alleged encounter that took place on January 9, 2009, where 19 adivasis were killed by security forces as alleged Maoists.
In Khammam, most of the IDPs/migrants have worked as informal labour during the mircchi cutting season, earning around Rs100/day and live off their savings in the summer season when there is no work, and little access to water to a majority of the settlements. The Muria from Chhattisgarh, or the Gotti Koya as they are known in Andhra along with Koyas from Chhattisgarh, have been in a struggle to appropriate the reserve forest land of Khammam for podu cultivation, often leading the forest department to evict them, aware that the entire forest cover is turning into a ‘honeycomb,’ as described by the DFO Shafiullah, who pointed out to satellite imagery of a pockmarked forest in Khammam, back in 2010.
The influx of migrants and displaced persons has even led to conflicts with local adivasi Koya tribes over land and resources, sometimes leading to deadly clashes, like an incident in Mamallivaye in Aswapuram Mandal where the local Koya burned down the homes of the Gotti Koya, or in Kamantome settlement in 2009 where one man would be killed as a Maoist by the police after an erroneous tip-off from the neighbouring village of migrants who had settled before the civil war.
Recently, the forest survey of India, forest and environment ministry, published a controversial report that almost exonerated mining and land acquisition, and yet claimed that over 367 sq km of forest has been lost since 2009, pushing Khammam district to one of the worst affected districts where 182 sq km of forest cover have been lost.
In a recorded conversation between an activist and home minister P Chidambaram during the first months of Operation Green Hunt in late 2009, when repeated combing operations in Dantewada/Bijapur led to further influx of IDPs into Andhra Pradesh, the activist Himanshu Kumar had urged P Chidambaram to look into the plight of the IDPs and the migrants, yet his claims were refuted by the home minister as an exaggeration.
Yet there have been many recent reports of IDPs from the previously independently estimated 203 settlements who have returned to their villages owing to a decline in the frequency of combing operations and violent actions in their villages in Chhattisgarh and further difficulty to settle in AP. After the villages of Nendra, Lingagiri and Basaguda block were rehabilitated with the help of NGOs and activists using Supreme Court orders, many others have simply moved back to their villages on their own accord, including those of Kistaram, Uskowaya, Kanaiguda, Mullempanda, Gompad and Gaganpalli, to mention a few. Both Gompad, and Gaganpalli have faced a large number of killings — nine people were killed in Gompad on October 1, 2009 by security forces, and in the village of Gaganpalli, from where one of the leaders of the Salwa Judum originates, 10 people were killed in 2006 during the burning of the village by the Salwa Judum.
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