Protesting Adivasis in Wayanad forced evicted by the CPIM led-government

Hundreds of people from the Adivasi communities who had been occupying Wayanad’s Thovarimala since last Sunday was evicted on Wednesday by officials of Kerala police and Forest Department, allegedly by force, for encroaching on government land. According to the news minute report,
the protesters have been agitating against an alleged land deal between the Forest Department and a private company. ” The Department has given authority over this land, which could have been used to the Adivasi communities or the landless for agriculture, to Harrisons Malayalam Private Limited, which has plantations in Kerala and Tamil Nadu”. the protesters said.

According to reports, authorities first picked up leaders of the agitation on Wednesday and then forcefully evicted protesters, who were being led by the All India Krantikari Kisan Sabha (AIKKS) under the CPI (ML) Red Star and the Adivasi Bharath Mahasabha. The root of the agitation lies in the ‘vested forest’ status of the 104 hectares. A CPI (ML) official explained, “Following implementation of the Kerala Land Reforms (Amendment) Act, 1969 by C Achutha Menon government, 104 hectares of this land in possession Harrisons Malayalam Private Limited in Thovarimala was deemed as excess land. Its custodianship was given to the Forest Department, and under the the Kerala Private Forests (Vesting and Assignment) Act, 1971, the land was deemed as vested forest.”

The vested forest status of this land was confirmed by a Forest Department official as well. Vested forests are private forests which the government – according to the Kerala Private Forests (Vesting and Assignment) Act, 1971 – can convert into agricultural lands. This was done to promote the welfare of the population practicing agriculture in the state.

“But over the past few years, Harrisons has encroached many acres of land here,” the CPI (ML) leader alleged. “Recently they have even leveled some portion of this land using a JCB. About four months ago, we received information that the Forest Department, which is the custodian of the land, has secretly transferred it to Harrisons Malayalam Private Limited. When we asked a Harrisons official, they claimed that they have an order from government which has given them authority over the land. If this is true, how can land that was under Forest Department’s custody be given to Harrisons?”

According to Harrisons Malayalam Private Limited’s LinkedIn profile, the company has a turnover of Rs 290 crore. It claims to be the largest cultivator of tea and the largest producer of rubber pan-India. The Forest Department, however, has denied that Harrisons is encroaching on the land. Hundreds of Adivasi families including women and children, from eight gram panchayats in Wayanad, thronged to the disputed land in Sulthanbathery taluk of Thovarimala on Sunday to protest over the alleged transfer of authority over the land. The protesters had also built sheds on the forest land after occupying it. A media person said that the 300 to 400 Adivasi people camping on the site had been dispersed by the police. “Some of the protestors we met after the incident told us that all of them – including women and children – were scattered in different directions after police forcefully led them out of the protest site,” he said. “A tribal woman I had met said that her two daughters aged 17 and 18 years have gone missing after the incident. They are not sure where they are.”

PM George, CPI (ML) state committee member, told TNM that around 15 police vehicles including two buses had come to Thovarimala on Wednesday morning. The CPI (ML) leaders in Wayanad including MP Kunjikanaran and Rajesh Appat and Adivasi persons who stood at the forefront were allegedly taken away by the police before they evicted other protesters. George added, “The police had told us on Tuesday that they will call us for a meeting. But on Wednesday, they first took Kunjikanaran saying that it was for discussion. But after a while, they came and took Rajesh Appat and around 15 others who were at the forefront of the protest. We are being told that they have been arrested by the police.”

According to sources in Thovarimala, the police also took away the mobile phones of protestors before evicting them. “We are told that only few people among them had mobile phones. All those were confiscated by the police,” said a source. The Ambalavayal police officials said that the leaders of the protest have not been arrested and maintained that they were taken for a discussion. However, the police refused to divulge the leaders’ location. Police also said that the protestors were evicted peacefully. “The people went from there peacefully, by themselves. They have been shifted to a field nearby,” the SHO of Ambalavayal police station said. Police had not allowed media to go into the protest site when eviction was going on.

“Forceful eviction of protestors – that too of Adivasi women and children – for peacefully agitating, is not a right thing to be done in democracy. We have not been given any information about the whereabouts of those who were arrested also,” said PM George.

Protesters are not giving up and have begun an indefinite strike in front of Wayanad District Collectorate.

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