PUCL Bulletin, June 2001

Anaikatti Hills, Tamil Nadu:
Adivasis struggle to retain their lands - A report

Update on the Anti-CZP Struggle

On 13 March 2001, after a long respite, stones and stone pillars were unloaded behind the Adivasi village of Thuvaipathy of Anaikatti Hills in Coimbatore bordering Attapadi of Palakkad in Kerala by Doraiswamy Chettiar of Anaikatti who has taken contract for fencing the 400 acre proposed site of the Coimbatore Zoological Park (CZP) - an NGO set up by prominent industrialists of Coimbatore. Doraiswamy Chettiar was warned to keep away as the struggle against CZP has now been going on since 1987 with the Adivasis successfully resisting attempts to displace them till date. At about 7.30 p.m. a jeep load of police arrived at the village who beat a hasty retreat when the people, especially the women and children rushed to chase them out. Earlier in July 1996, the Adivasis demolished the illegal fence that started coming up and CZP was effectively kept away from taking over their ancestral lands.

On 18th March, the stone pillars were once again demolished which made the administration send a van and 2 police jeeps to haul up the people and bring them the next day to the Tehsildar and the Revenue Divisional Officer, Selvaraj who warned of dire consequences if the people did not give up their claims to all the poramboke lands within 24 hours as the government has given these lands (reportedly 300 acres) on long lease to CZP. The people informed that this was not acceptable as they are ancestral lands and thus inalienable. On 21st March the police went in a van allegedly belonging to CZP and brought about 21 Adivasi men and women to the RDO for talks which obviously failed as the officials were clearly acting as spokespersons for CZP and against the people. The RDO rushed to the village but was turned back by the people. This time tension has reached a flash point as the government has taken upon itself the responsibility of displacing the Adivasis from the poramboke lands while the CZP has financed and organised non-Adivasi petty traders and business people under the banner of "CZP Sangam" in Anaikatti whose members have been promised various contracts and other benefits. CZP hopes to finally take over the ancestral territory of these Irula Adivasis affecting lives and livelihoods of over 1000 Adivasis, by engineering conflict between Adivasis and the government as well as with the local non-Adivasis petty traders and contractors.

According to the latest reports, there are allegations that CZP has hired goondas to physically threaten the Adivasis. On 25th March the house of Ramaswamy, an Adivasi activist was burnt down.

Ever since 1991, CZP has been trying to get the lease of poramboke lands in this part of Western Ghats located near the famous Silent Valley and falling within the elephant corridor. But it is only with the announcement of Assembly elections that finally this deal seems to have been effectively struck.
Background:

CZP is a registered society set up by leading industrialists and business men of Coimbatore City in 1986, headed by G.Rangaswamy, proposing to establish the "Coimbatore Zoological Park and Conservation Centre" at Thuvaipathy Village about 30 kms from Coimbatore city in an area extending from 252 acres to reportedly 400 acres finally which is claimed to be an "exclusive interpretation centre for the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve" and " a new kind of zoo and tourist centre". Closely associated with it is Zoo Outreach Organisation (ZOO) with the key office bearers of both these NGOs being the same industrialists.

A Chronology of significant incidents

  • 1987: Visits by CZP to the project site begins.
  • 1988: Village administrative officer refuses to receive the B.Memo dues for poramboke lands cultivated by Adivasis.
  • May 12, '88: People informs all concerned their opposition to the project.
  • Aug 11, '89: A team of officials of the Survey Department destroys the "sangapadi" (community meeting hall), assaults 8 year old Pappa who dared pluck out the survey flags planted by the officials.
  • May 6, '90: The then Collector A.M. Raman visits the village and promises that the project would not be sanctioned as long as the people object.
  • March '91: CZP commences their operation to grab patta lands by illegal and dubious means as coercion and fraud.
  • Oct. 15, '91: A gang of goondas of CZP demolishes the house of Vettai. No action by police and administration.
  • Nov.10, '91: The same gang demolishes Maruthan's house. No action by police and administration.
  • April 5, '93: Collector announces through the press that the zoological park would come up on over 400 acres including 300 acres of government land.
  • Jan.2, '94: Indian Express article titled "Gene Pool in Peril" alleges involvement of ZOO in organising smuggling of semen and blood samples of endangered species.
  • June 5, '94: A protest rally and public meeting at Anaikatti where the Adivasis declare their resolve to oppose the project totally.
  • Aug. '94: People's Union for Civil Liberties - Tamilnadu released their fact-finding report on human rights violations confirmed that "various illegal means such as coercion, fraud, misrepresentation and forgery have been adopted by the CZP".
  • 1995: CZP commences the illegal fencing of the area including the poramboke lands..
  • July 1995: The Adivasis of Thuvaipathy demolishes this illegal fence of CZP and commences physical retrieval of their lands, both patta and poramboke lands.
  • March 2001: Government issues a G.O leasing reportedly 300 acres of poramboke lands to CZP but refuses details. The process of actual physical possession over the poramboke lands by CZP commences.
  • March 18: Stone pillars of CZP kept for fencing demolished by the people.
  • March 21: Attempt of the RDO to coerce the people who are brought by the police to his office, to give up the poramboke lands fails.
  • March 25, 2001: The house of Ramaswamy, an Adivasi leader, was completely burnt down.


Demands:

  1. The lease of poramboke lands given to CZP be immediately withdrawn.
  2. A CBI enquiry be conducted into the whole affair especially on the grabbing of patta lands of Adivasis and other human rights violations since 1987.
  3. Immediate arrest of the culprits under SC/ST prevention of atrocities act.



(Report prepared by: Adivasi Urimai Padukappu Kuzhu (Adivasi Rights Protection Committee), Thuvaipathy, Anaikatti P.O, Via Thadagam, Coimbatore, Tamilnadu; Adivasi Thannatchikkana Tamizhaga Munnani (Tamilnadu Front for Adivasi Self-Rule), V.S.R Puram Post, Pannaikadu, Kodaikanal Taluk, Dindigul District, Tamilnadu). March 28, 2001

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