September 15, 2010

Duped of land, tribals knock on Rahul’s door

After Niyamgiri, Rahul Gandhi may play saviour to tribals of Kerala’s Attappadi, whose land was surreptitiously taken over by a private wind farm over the last five years. The tribals, who signed in 2006 on what they thought was consent for an electric pole, learnt in 2009 that they had been dispossessed. Six men and women travelled to meet Gandhi with the complaint that their community was mislead into believing that an electric pole would be erected on their land against a payment of R12,000. “We were duped into signing,” says Chinnaswami.

The group met Rahul Gandhi, Congress president Sonia Gandhi on Monday and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Tuesday. The government will now send a panel to probe the issue.

The tribals of Attappady, as in other parts of Kerala, have been alienated from their lands following migration from the plains to the hills. “What makes this episode more shameful is that it happened even after the enactment of the Forest Rights Act,” said Thiruvanchoor Radhakrishnan, Congress MLA, spearheading the campaign.

Nearly 500 people have lost their land since 2006, when the wind power company set up operation in the area. The state government entered into a power purchasing agreement with the firm in violation of the Forest Rights Act and conservation laws. The tribals met the CM, but the ruling CPI-M maintained no wrong has been done.

“A panel headed by the chief secretary is looking into the matter. If any tribal land has been dispossessed, it will be restored,” said A.K. Balan,minister for electricity, SC and ST welfare. “This is not something to be dealt by the Congress leadership in Delhi.”

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