Tribal travails

kerala's tribal resettlement mission is turning out to be a typical bureaucratic exercise. The recent acquisition of the 3,060-hectare (ha) Central State Farm (csf) at Aralam in Kannur district by the state government for resettling landless tribals is a case in point. The government purchased the land from the Union government-controlled State Farm Corporation of India (sfci) for Rs 42.09 crore and transferred it to the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes Welfare Department for distribution among tribals. But the Adivasi Gothra Maha Sabha (agms), a congregation of Kerala's tribal groups, is apprehensive about the outcome of the action.

"Moves are afoot to transfer half the farmland to private companies,' alleges agms leader C K Janu. The Central State Farm National Labour Union (csfnlu), the trade union of csf's workers affiliated to the Indian National Trade Union Congress, is equally sceptical. " Benami land dealers and timber mafia are waiting eagerly for the farm to be transferred to tribals,' cautions K Surendran, president, csfnlu. The union had earlier opposed the transfer of farmland to tribals but later agreed to give half of it.

The government plans to divide the csf into two and retain half as a farm while giving the other half to the tribals. The latter will be allowed to cultivate their portion of the tract. But no management plan or vision document exists for the purpose. Moreover, even as the Aralam farm is not large enough to suffice for Kannur's tribals, the state government has announced that it would have to be shared with tribals belonging to Kozhikode and Wayanad districts. It is also alleged that the 1,517 ha of land for distribution among tribals is neither contiguous nor fertile, and that rocky patches are being dumped on the tribals. But S Kumaraselvan, csf's director, says no part of the farm is "uncultivable'.

For their part, the tribals continue to stake a claim over the entire land as it has been bought with funds from the state government's Tribal Sub Plan. But the trade unions argue that the economic viability of the farm and the wages of its 630 workers must be protected. The farm has productive plantations of cashew, coconut and rubber, and seedling nurseries of various species.

Under the tribal resettlement plan launched in 2001, only 7.1 per cent of the land requirement has been met so far. This covers only 5 per cent of landless tribal families. Meanwhile, the impediment in diverting 7,693 ha of forestland to tribals continues due to the requirement of paying Rs 7 lakh to Rs 9 lakh per ha as compensation for environmental damage. The state government has moved the Supreme Court in this regard, reveals Kerala's minister for tribal welfare, M A Kuttappan.