Close on the heels of attacks on forest department personnel conducting afforestation drive in the state, BJP Telangana MP Soyam Bapu Rao has asked tribals to “beat up” and “drive away” forest staff who take up plantation on ‘podu’ lands. Rao asked the adivasis to uproot the saplings planted in ‘podu’ lands under the ‘Haritha Haram’ plantation project.
He was addressing a programme to mark the death anniversary of tribal leader and Hakkula Porata Samithi (Tudum Debba) founder Siddam Shambu at Utnoor mandal on Saturday. “Obstruct plantation works by forest officials in podu lands and uproot the saplings planted by them.
If required beat them up I will take care of you. Need not worry about forest staff,” Rao is seen saying in a video. Telangana government’s flagship programme, ‘Haritha Haram’, is a massive afforestation drive featuring planting of crores of saplings to increase the green cover of the state.
The BJP leader said he has made a representation to the Union Tribal Minister and National Tribal Commission over protection of Adivasis rights. Alleging that Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao was trying to suppress Adivasis, he said, “Adivasis and Tudum Debba workers have to be alert and fight against his (CM) plans.”
The Chief Minister had last week said he would visit various districts, along with ministers and officials, to resolve the issue of ‘Podu’ lands, which witnessed conflict between ‘Podu’ farmers and forest officials in the state. The issue of ‘Podu’ lands (Podu cultivation is a form of shifting cultivation) is a bone of contention with forest officials trying to enforce law in forest areas and those involved in ‘Podu’ farming resisting it.
The state government’s afforestation drive, conducted by forest department officials, is resisted by those cultivating on these lands. On June 30, a woman forest official was attacked by a group of people, allegedly led by the brother of ruling TRS MLA, in KB Asifabad district when the forest personnel sought to take up a plantation drive.