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Andhra tribals 'victims' of displacement, land alienation, natural resource exploitation

By Dr Palla Trinadha Rao* 

The Scheduled Area in Andhra Pradesh is spread over Srikakulam, Vizianagaram, Visakhapatnam and Godavari districts. Based on the rainfall received, type and topography of the soil and the high altitude, the tribal areas comprised of northern borders of Srikakulam, Vizianagaram and Visakhapatnam are divided into the North Coastal Zone comprising Srikakulam, Vizianagaram and Visakhapatnam districts and the Godavari zone covering East Godavari and West Godavari districts.
The Scheduled Area (SA) is often seen in narrow perspective, focussed on its rich natural resources and tremendous potential to meet market demands for agri-business, industry, and mining activity to the neglect of the Adivasis. As a result, SAs are pockets of poverty, growing impoverishment, displacement, land alienation, and exploitation of natural resources for commercial and industrial interests. Agriculture is the primary source of livelihood of Adivasis in the SAs, and it is subsistence in nature. Their traditional beliefs and customary practices are linked inseparably with its need based agricultural practices.
Adivasi agriculture in the SA of Andhra Pradesh is facing multidimensional vulnerability. The key issues around Adivasi agriculture are land alienation, adverse terrain, degraded soils, rainfed agriculture, absence of irrigation infrastructure and poor investment capacity. Sustainable traditional mixed agricultural crops have been replaced by monoculture, commercial and cash intensive crops due to influences of business groups, outsiders and programmes introduced by the government.
Land alienation is a major influencing factor of growing vulnerability of Adivasi agriculture. The reports of Integrated Tribal Development Agency (ITDA) show that as of May 2021, 44 percent of cases (12,664), covering 39 percent of the land (5,6921 acres) only were decided in favour of tribals. Under the tribal protective land transfer regulations 1 of 70 in 28,716 cases were disposed of, covering an extent of 1,47,450 acres of land situated in SA. Of the land secured through court orders, 90 percent of land (51,253 acres) actually were put to successful physical possession of tribal farmers. Non-tribals were able to illegally retain the rest of the lands in their possession.

Land holdings in Scheduled Area

As per the Annual Administration Reports, during 2015-16, the total cultivable extent of both dry and wet land was 4.83 lakh acres and the cultivated extent was 4,76,424 acres during Kharif and 1,03,257 acres in Rabi season. Surprisingly, the cultivable extent decreased to 3,81 lakh acres during 2019-20 while the extent cultivated of both dry and wet land was 2.93 lakh acres during Kharif and 1.03 lakh acres in Rabi season.
Data in respect of revenue lands show that there was a declining trend in both cultivable and cultivated extent of the lands in tribal areas
Therefore, the data in respect of revenue lands show that there was a declining trend in both cultivable and cultivated extent of the lands in the SA. The decrease of cultivable extent may be due to diversion of land for other purposes, while diminishing of the cultivated extent may be due to several problems faced by farmers in the SA.
There are around 2,50,760 scheduled tribe (ST) families in the SA of Andhra Pradesh having 10,08,527 acres of land, including ryotwari, assigned and patta lands under the Forest Rights Act (FRA), 2006, as per the NIC-Webland and Tribal Welfare Department sources. Therefore, each family is holding an average of four acres of land.
Increase in family land holdings was due to grant of several individual forest land pattas to STs under FRA 2006 for last two years. Of the total 10,08,527 acres, FRA patta land has been issued for 3,10,811.41 acres (31%) as of May 2021. Tribal families numbering 2,24,078 (89%) have more than two acres of land, while 26,682 (11%) families have less than two acres of land. Hence, the land holding families are in the group of either small or marginal farmers. However, productivity of their land is questionable.
The low yield in the SA is evident from the finding of a study by Centre for Economic and Social Studies (CESS). Thus, The average yield of paddy per acre in the Paderu region was observed to be 450 kg, as against 645 kg in Visakhapatnam district.
There are no proper irrigation plans in place to avail the water potential in the tribal areas. On the other hand, the available water resources are diverted from the tribal areas to general areas for the irrigation and industrial purposes by construction of medium as well as major irrigation projects like Polavaram on the river Godavari.
The State Commission on Agriculture has pointed out that check dams constructed earlier in a few places are unable to store water and irrigate the fields due to poor maintenance. Similarly, water harvesting structures created earlier for the better utilisation of streams have not been serving the intended purpose. . 
Therefore, interventions in relation to the irrigation, output and outcomes of the yield are playing a critical role in the Adivasi agriculture sector.
Not without reason, in Andhra Pradesh, the tribal farmers depend heavily on the money lender-cum–trader for credit for consumption and production needs. There is a need to restructure the Girijan Cooperative Corporation (GCC) and ITDA to make them accountable to tribal farmers.
 The monopoly powers of GCC should be curtailed and it should procure agricultural produce and non-timber forest products (NTFPs) in consultation with Gram Sabhas/ Gram Panchayats.
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*Excerpts from the original paper titled “The Adivasi Agriculture Question”

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