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Alienation of Tribal Lands

in Tamil Nadu
Panel Data Analysis
This paper reviews the results of two studies conducted in 1989 and 1998
on tribal land alienation. Despite government action and legislation, land alienation has not
been checked but has increased. Transfer of land from tribals to non-tribals has happened
largely through sale driven by consumption needs and also through indebtedness. As
development makes land more attractive, tribals will need protection – and urgently.


ribal economy has traditionally the adequacy of laws and administrative categories, viz, community land, land
centred on land and other land based machinery for preventing alienation of belonging to clan and individual
resources. Even today, land con- tribal lands and restoration of alienated holdings. As the British administration
tinues to be the mainstay of 90 per cent lands to tribes. consolidated its position in India, they
of the tribal population. Thus land is the established three main systems of land
only tangible productive asset which I revenue and land rights, viz, ‘zamindari’,
members of scheduled tribes possess. The Background ‘mahalwari’ and ‘ryotwari’. Some of the
supply of land is virtually inelastic. The tribal areas also came under one of these
use pattern of land has changed drastically Land is the only tangible asset of a tribal new systems depending on the system
in the post-independence era through family, other possessions being meagre at adopted in the concerned British prov-
conversion of agricultural land for other the present stage of their economy. Land ince.
commercial, industrial and domestic uses. also occupies a pivotal place in the tribal The position of land records also varied
On the other hand, some amount of psyche. There are a number of social considerably. In some provinces, the tribal
uncultivable and ‘poramboke’ (waste) factors and religious rituals connected areas were also covered by regular settle-
lands have been converted into productive with land, which establish emotional ties ment operations. While in some provinces
lands through various land reclamation between the tribal and his land. Thus, land and many princely states, rough and ready
measures. Besides, the initiatives of indi- is much more than merely a source of records were prepared based on visual
viduals have contributed to this process. livelihood to the tribes. One of the impor- estimates without a detailed survey. In
This has resulted in the pressure on land tant characteristics of a tribal community many areas, a system of revenue based on
spreading to the interior tribal areas, and is the traditional association with a terri- the number of ploughs or family units was
hence the problem of alienation of tribal tory. Initially, the community subsisted on introduced on the presumption that in the
land. food gathering and hunting in the area context of extensive availability of land in
There is very little authentic data on the under its command. As the pressure of the tribal areas this would be a dependable
nature and magnitude of the problem at population grew and the community ac- criterion for determining the quantum of
the national or regional levels. The gov- quired the new skills of agriculture, they land utilised. Nevertheless, the tribes
ernment of India realised the absence of cleared the forest and brought land under continued to clear lands for agriculture as
adequate data on the nature and magnitude cultivation. The individual tribal con- noted earlier and there was considerable
of the problem of tribal land alienation, siders himself owner of the land he divergence between the records and the
and directed the Tribal Research Centres occupies by virtue of his traditional actual position in the field. The state of
to conduct a quick survey on this subject. association and his personal effort in land records ever after the abolition of
At this juncture, two studies have been making it cultivable. However, pressure intermediaries has remained unsatisfac-
carried out, at two points of time, viz, 1989 from advanced communities in a variety tory in tribal areas. After independence
and 1998. This paper is based on these two of forms sometimes forces him to leave when the planners and policy-makers began
panels of data and it intends to make a his land. to pay attention to the tribal areas, the
fair assessment of the magnitude of the The tribal areas remained for a long time question of ownership and alienation of
problem of land alienation in the state of outside the land management systems of tribal lands came to the fore in discu-
Tamil Nadu. The specific objectives of the the advanced areas because of their inac- ssions.
studies were to assess the extent of alien- cessibility. The tribal communities, there- The tribal areas of Tamil Nadu can be
ation of tribal lands to non-tribals and fore, developed their own tradition for broadly divided into two major geo-
institutions; to identify the forms of and management of land. The landownership graphical divisions: (1) the eastern coast
causes for land alienation; and to examine amongst the tribes broadly falls under three line, and (2) the mountainous region of the

Economic and Political Weekly September 9, 2000 3343

north and west. The average elevation of from 5.20 lakh to 5.75 lakh. Now the tribes ment undertook the studies to make field
the eastern ghats is 2,000 ft and the are widely dispersed in 21 districts. level sample surveys to assess the magni-
highest peak is 6,000 ft. This range is Some of the districts have been bifur- tude of land alienation in 12 states of the
not continuous in Tamil Nadu. The cated and trifurcated for better admin- country. The Department of rural develop-
important hill ranges of Tamil Nadu are istration, hence the number of districts ment in consultation with tribal research
the Jawadhi hills and Yelagiri hills of where tribals are found increased from centres and some universities prepared
North Arcot district, the Kalrayan hills of 16 to 21. a detailed schedule for collecting
South Arcot, the Pachmalai, Kollimalai comprehensive information from the tribal
and Yercaud ranges of Salem, the Anamalai II households on various aspects of tribal
of Coimbatore, the Sitteri hills of Source of Data land alienation. The village schedule pre-
Dharmapuri and the Palani hills of pared for collecting important information
Madurai. This paper is based on the two panels on demographic data regarding the social
Table 1 details the tribes of Tamil Nadu of data, one collected by the Tribal Re- and economic status of the tribes surveyed
and their nativity. There are 33 scheduled search Centre, Udagamandalam, Tamil in the studies. The objective of consul-
tribes (STs) in Tamil Nadu. There is Nadu during 1989 (Study I) and the other
considerable ambiguity in regard to ethnic Table 1: Tribes of Tamil Nadu
by the NGO, ACCORD and Adivasi
identity of these scheduled tribes. For Munnetra Sangam, Nilgiris, Tamil Nadu District Tribes
instance, there is confusion regarding during 1998 (Study II). The latter study Chenglepet Polayar, Moopar,
identity between Kurumbas and Kurumans, was co-ordinated by the Indian Social Muthuvas, Pallayar,
Malasar and Maha Malasar and Muduvan/ Institute, New Delhi. Both the studies have Irulas, Paliyar, Kurumbas
Mudugar and Muthuvan in the govern- Coimbatore Sholagas, Irulas
been carried out on the direction of govern-
Dharmapuri Malayalis
ment list of 33 tribes. Besides, there are ment of India. The second report submi- Erode Sholagas, Uralis
six endogamous groups which go with the tted by the NGO is subject to revision. In Kanyakumari Kanikar
suffix Kurumba. Clear distinction be- the presentation of results they had not Madurai Pallayar, Paliyar, Pallar,
Kurumbar, Irulas
tween these groups was not consistently followed uniformity and comparability of Nilgiris Kurumbas,
maintained in the enumeration in different data at different levels. The report has to Bettakurumbas,
censuses making the data non-comparable be revised to meet the objectives of the Mullukurumbas,
for some of these groups. Hence correct study. If they revise the report and modify Palkurumbas, Irulas,
Paniyas, Kattunaickens,
identification of tribes is still a grey area the presentation of tables and other Kothas, Todas.
in research. Malayai is the largest single format, the end results will not be dis- North Arcot Malayalis, Irulas
tribe in the state. A large majority of the turbed. Hence, the data gathered from Pudukottai Malayalis
STs are very small in terms of their nu- Salem Malayalis, Irulas,
3,341 sample households has been used
merical strength. Eight STs have popu- to assess the situation of alienation of tribal South Arcot Malayalis
lations less than 100 persons each. The lands in Tamil Nadu. Thiruvannamalai Malayalis
populations of another eight STs vary Study I was carried out in pursuance Tiruchirappalli Malayalis
Tirunelveli Kanikaran, Kanikkar
between 100 to 500 and four STs vary of the directives of the ‘Group of Mini- Virudunagar Paliyar
between 500 to 1,000 persons. The two sters’. The department of rural develop-
large tribes in the state are Malayalis and
Irulas. These groups are widely scattered Table 2: Districtwise Tribal Population in Tamil Nadu
over all the districts. Of these, only 6 District 1981 1991
per cent of the ST population live in Population Percentage Population Percentage
urban areas and the rest live in rural Chengelpet 46050 1.27 57705 1.24
areas particularly in remote hilly and forest Coimbatore 22358 0.73 26313 0.75
areas. Dharmapuri 46074 2.31 47600 1.96
Table 2 gives the picture of districtwise Dindigul – – 9507 0.54
Erode 15191 0.73 19258 0.83
tribal population in the state of Tamil Kanyakumari 6358 0.45 5281 0.33
Nadu. As per 1981 Census count, STs Madras 5373 0.16 8067 0.21
have a strength of 5.20 lakhs in Tamil Madurai 13646 0.30 12764 0.37
Nilgris 20874 3.31 25071 3.53
Nadu. They constitute 1.07 per cent of the North Arcot 93690 2.12 49936 1.65
population of the state. A large majority P M Thevar – – 1186 0.11
of ST people live in hitherto inacces- Pudukkottai 1516 0.13 796 0.06
sible hilly areas mentioned above and Ramanathapuram 6617 0.20 1602 0.14
Salem 122444 3.56 135984 3.49
only a few are living in the plain areas. South Arcot 53775 1.28 58053 1.19
These STs are widely distributed over 16 Thanjavur 6012 0.15 9969 0.22
districts in the state. This wide dispersal Thiruvannamalai — — 62924 3.04
of ST population in certain districts made Thiuchirappalli 48294 1.34 28139 0.68
Tirunelveli 11954 0.33 9007 0.26
it difficult to identify and demarcate con- Tuticorin — — 3203 0.22
tiguous tribal areas as scheduled areas Virudhunagar — — 2974 0.19
meant for providing special administra- Total 520226 1.07 575339 1.05
tive and development inputs. During Note: The percentage is to the total population of the state.
the 1991 Census, the population increased Source: Census of India, 1991.

3344 Economic and Political Weekly September 9, 2000

tation was to bring about, to the extent worthwhile to conduct it in nine districts, are given in the eighth chapter. Summary
possible, some modicum of methodological though the fund has been sanctioned only and conclusion are given in the ninth
uniformity in gathering field information to conduct the study in seven districts. The chapter.
and for comparability of the data thrown process of data collection was undertaken The report of Study II consists of
up by these studies. This effort, however, by all the organisations mentioned above 60 pages in print, including 13 tables
did not succeed. Some of the studies have simultaneously in the months of Febru- and 11 graphs. The report has been
adopted a methodology different from ary and March 1998. They collected data divided into five chapters: ‘Overview’,
the one suggested to all the institutions from 19 revenue villages of nine districts ‘Methodology’ ‘Results and Discus-
concerned. Hence, the studies in such in the state of Tamil Nadu. They did not sions’, Legislation in Tamil Nadu vis-
states would not throw adequate light on select samples tribewise. However, the a-vis Tribal Lands’ and ‘Recommen-
the basic questions raised by the ‘Group selected sample of 3,341 households dations and Conclusions’. In Study II,
of Ministers’. Unfortunately, the studies was representative of nine major tribes in one page interview schedule was admin-
have concentrated more on methods, the state. They are Bettakurumbas, Kattu- istered with 3,341 sample of 19 revenue
techniques and process of alienation of naickens, Mullukurumbas, Paniyas, Irulas, villages situated in nine districts. The
tribal land than on assessing its magni- Sholagas, Uralis, Malayalis and quantum of information gathered in
tudes. Kurumans. Study I covered nine tribes Study II was very poor compared to that
In Study I, sample design was framed including Toda and Kota whereas Study of Study I. The objectives of both the
on the basis of concentration of tribal II also covers nine tribes excluding Toda studies are to study the problem of land
population in Tamil Nadu numbering 5.20 and Kota, but including Uralis and alienation from tribes to non-tribes and
lakhs (1981 Census), dispersed in 16 Kurumans. to identify the weaknesses/loopholes in
districts in the state. The study was based Methodologically, Study I was sound the administrative as well as legal struc-
on the assumption that large-scale exploi- compared to Study II carried out by the tures. The scope of Study II was limited
tation of tribal people and alienation of NGO. Study I report consists of 461 type- to the northern districts of Tamil Nadu
tribal lands to non-tribal people takes place script pages including 316 tables. The and they ignored southern districts par-
when both the tribes and non-tribes are report was divided into nine chapters ticularly Cuddalore district, which is
living together or in the neighbourhood. including an introductory chapter. The bifurcated from the South Arcot district,
Based on census data, tribal habitats in second chapter on tribal setting presents where there is a high concentration of
Tamil Nadu can be broadly divided into the geographical distribution and the socio- tribal population.The Table 3 gives the
three zones: (1) tribal concentration zones; economic features of all the STs in Tamil picture of the sample drawn by the
(2) dispersed tribal zones; and (3) primi- Nadu. A brief resume of tribal develop- studies.
tive tribal zones. Sixteen revenue villages ment programmes in the state is given in
consisting of 102 hamlets had been se- the third chapter. The fourth chapter Table 3: Sample Population of Two
lected from seven districts in the state. A discusses protective legislation with spe- Studies
total of 2,631 tribal households were cial reference to alienation of tribal lands. Districts 1989 1998
covered from the sample villages. Al- Tribal economy in terms of occupations,
though no separate sample was taken for landholdings, income and expenditure Chengelpet – 286
Coimbatore 222 741
different tribal groups, the selected rev- patterns of tribal households of selected Dharmapuri 93 105
enue villages gave us adequate represen- villages are presented in the fifth chapter. Namakkal – 100
tation for nine major tribes found in Tamil The different forms of alienation of tribal Nilgris 614 648
Nadu, viz, Malayali, Irula, Toda, Kota, lands and the magnitude of the problem North Arcot 407 96
Periyar 246 275
Mullukurumba, Kattunayaka, Betta- of land alienation, by districts and tribe, Salem 684 458
kurumba, Paniya and Sholaga. Three are discussed in the sixth chapter. The South Arcot 365 –
types of schedules were prepared for seventh chapter discusses the loss of tribal Villupuram – 632
Total 2631 3341
collecting data.The three schedules were lands to the forest department. The
(1) household schedule meant for collect- causes for land alienation of tribal lands Source: Reports of Study I and II.
ing data from all the tribal households; (2)
village schedule for collecting data about Table 4: Extent of Alienation of Tribal Lands by Districts in Tamil Nadu
the village from the village officer; and 1989 1998
(3) a special schedule for collecting data Districts No of No of Alienated No of No of Alienated
HHs Alienated Lands in HHs Alienated Lands in
from tribes displaced from their homes in HHs Acres HHs Acres
the wake of implementation of develop-
ment programmes. Chengelpet – – – 286 65 89.20
Coimbatore 222 5 16.68 741 112 321.95
Study II was carried out by an NGO of Dharmapuri 93 31 155.04 105 44 104.55
Nilgiri district (ACCORD and Adivasi Namakkal – – – 100 130 234.53
Munnetra Sangam). The co-ordinators Nilgiris 614 247 544.05 648 236 331.55
North Arcot 407 112 409.30 96 9 33.15
organised a meeting of tribal organisations Periyar 246 46 141.76 275 124 679.49
and activists as well as the representatives Salem 684 411 1615.37 458 279 874.50
of NGOs before prosecuting the study. South Arcot 365 134 748.05 – – –
The participants of the meeting strongly Villupuram – – – 632 536 1979.00
Total 2631 986 3630.25 3341 1535 4647.92
felt that since the government of India had
commissioned the survey, it would be Source: Reports of Study I and II.

Economic and Political Weekly September 9, 2000 3345

III mortgage (usufructuary type) these lands tribes as well as within the tribal groups.
Land Legislation in Tamil Nadu for a period of 10 years. Any violation of The new law should arrest land alienation
these conditions would empower the state within tribal groups too and reduce in-
Article 46 of the Constitution clearly government to confiscate these lands. The equality among the tribal groups. Further
makes the state responsibile for protecting revenue board standing orders containing the new law should focus on various forms
the STs from social injustice and exploi- the above terms and conditions governing of land alienation such as sale, mortgage,
tation. The tribal sub-plans, accordingly, assigned lands are felt to be adequate lease and compulsory acquisition by gov-
envisage various measures for eliminating to deal with cases of alienation of as- ernment institutions.
exploitation of tribal people. Develop- signed lands. The standing orders of the The government of India’s concern in
ment of tribal economy with additional revenue board – BSO 15-40 – apply only the deteriorating tribal land situation shows
income generating schemes and provision to Malayali and Sholaga tribes of Tamil in a number of commissions set up to make
of credit and access to market systems are Nadu. They prohibit transfer of land an in-depth analysis of the problem of
expected to weaken the traditional hold of assigned to these tribes without approval development of STs in general and the
traders and moneylenders on tribal of divisional commissioner. The state has problem of tribal land alienation in parti-
people. Promotion of literacy and the no legislation prohibiting transfer of ST cular. Dhebar Commission in 1961 paid
quality of education among tribes also lands in the state to protect transfer of attention to the deteriorating land situ-
would contribute to this end. Never- tribal land to non-tribals particularly the ation in the tribal areas. They called for
theless, it is essential to formulate laws patta lands owned by the tribes other than a thorough review of the laws relating to
against all forms of exploitation of tribal the assigned lands. The state government land alienation and for adoption of a
people. is reported to be contemplating enacting uniform approach within and outside the
Linkage between private moneylending a legislation in this regard. scheduled areas. The Shilu AO Commit-
and debt bondage leading to sale or The government of Tamil Nadu pre- tee in 1969 reiterated the observations of
mortgage of tribal lands to non-tribal pared a bill during 1986 and sent it to the the Dhebar Commission, and urged govern-
people is well known. There is there- government of India for their concurrence. ment to take up vigorous protective mea-
fore need to frame legislation not only Since then, the government of India under- sures. A committee under the chairman-
against alienation of tribal lands to non- took two major surveys to assess the ship of P S Appu again went into the
tribal people, but also legislation regu- magnitude of the problem of land alien- question of land alienation in 1972 when
lating private moneylending and redemp- ation in the state. Both the studies had tribal development agencies were estab-
tion of debt bondage. Several states pointed out the need for separate legisla- lished in the wake of agrarian unrest in
have already passed such legislation. In tion in the context of tribal lands in order Andhra Pradesh, Bihar and Madhya
Tamil Nadu, the following acts are in to safeguard the tribes. The government Pradesh. Elimination of exploitation and
operations: have to take a decision immediately to effective protective measures was accepted
(1) The Madras Moneylenders Act of 1937. control land alienation from tribes to non- as an integral part of the strategy for tribal
(2) The Madras Pan Brokers Act of 1943.
(3) The Madras Debt Conciliation Act of Table 5: Causes of Land Alienation during 1989
1936. (Per cent)
(4) The Madras Indebted Agriculturists Districts Domestic Debt Medical Social Alcoholism Others Total
(Repayment of Debts) Act of 1955. Consumption Repayment Expenses Religious
(5) Tamil Nadu Debt Relief Act of 1976. Coimbatore 60.00 – – – – 40.00 100
(6) Tamil Nadu Debt Relief Act of 1980. Dharmapuri 51.28 20.51 – 10.26 – 17.95 100
(7) Tamil Nadu Debt Relief Act of 1982. Nilgiris 60.52 13.49 6.91 10.86 1.97 6.25 100
All these acts are meant to protect the North Arcot 58.82 17.65 0.84 5.04 – 17.65 100
Periyar(Erode) 64.58 10.42 6.25 10.42 – 8.33 100
backward people against exploitation. As Salem 56.44 24.24 0.95 6.25 0.19 11.93 100
the provisions in the above acts are found South Arcot 50.31 19.99 0.61 10.30 0.61 18.18 100
to be inadequate to cover the tribal situ- Total 57.04 19.54 2.57 8.10 0.66 12.09 100
ation, the government of Tamil Nadu is Source: Report of Study I.
contemplating fresh legislation dealing
with regulation of private moneylending Table 6: Causes of Land Alienation during 1998
and debt redemption for the benefit of (Per cent)
tribal people. Districts Domestic Medical Bank Other Not Total
Tribal lands can be broadly divided into Needs Needs Loans Debts Given
two categories: (1) private lands with full-
Chengelpet Details not reported
fledged rights; and (2) government as- Coimbatore 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 100.00 100
signed lands. Revenue porambokes or Dharmapuri 0.00 0.00 0.00 70.97 29.03 100
forest porambokes are assigned to the tribal Erode 18.49 1.68 0.00 16.81 63.02 100
Namakkal 0.00 0.00 0.00 12.79 87.21 100
people. In several cases government gave
Nilgiris 17.90 16.33 2.45 9.86 53.46 100
conditional pattas on these lands to the North Arcot Details not reported
tribal assignees. As per the terms and con- Salem 0.00 0.00 0.00 75.78 24.22 100
ditions of this assignment, the tribal as- Villupuram Details not reported
Total 7.71 4.91 0.70 31.66 55.02 100
signee should himself cultivate these lands
and should not transfer, donate, sell or Source: Report of Study II.

3346 Economic and Political Weekly September 9, 2000

development under the sub-plans and ning Commission had constituted a sepa- and institutions and organisations into
highest priority was accorded to this rate committee under the chairmanship tribal habitats leading to greater exploi-
problem. of B K Roy Burman exclusively on this tation of tribal people and alienation of
In the Fifth Five-Year Plan, action was subject with particular reference to the tribal lands.
initiated on two important lines, viz, effect of survey and settlement opera- Out of 2,631 tribal households of Study
updating and preparation of land records tions on tribal landholdings. There are I, 986 households constituting 37 per cent
in the tribal areas, and review of laws also independent research done on have lost their lands aggregating 3,630.25
relating to land. The dissonance continues the subject by the state tribal research acres (Table 4). The average area alienated
between the real situation in the field institutes. comes to 1.38 acres for a tribal household
and the land records due to inadequate in general and 3.68 acres for the alienated
preparatory work to ascertain local \IV households. It is important to note that
traditions, customs of land tenure and Analysis 160 tribal households have completely
communal nature of ownership and alienated their lands to the extent of 738.97
land use, and failure to orient the land Several tribal areas experienced unrest acres and joined the ranks of landless tribal
records staff before undertaking these in the wake of exploitation of tribal people people. The incidence of alienation of
operations. by non-tribal traders, moneylenders and lands does not show any clear trend in
The process of the review of land laws immigrant farmers. This can be seen in the terms of households. But in terms of area,
was also initiated in the Fifth Plan follow- 12 reports submitted by the various re- the percentage has steadily declined with
ing the conference of state ministers in search institutions and university centres. the farm size.
charge of welfare of backward classes in The survey was carried out on the direction The 2,631 tribal households surveyed
1973 who resolved that the existing laws of the ministry of rural development dur- consist of 652 landless households (25 per
relating to transfer of land should be ing 1986.1 In particular, in the state of cent), 920 marginal farmers (35 per cent),
prepared for identification of lands trans- Tamil Nadu, a few scholars have carried 642 small farmers (24 per cent), 305 me-
ferred legally or irregularly within a period out some work in respect of tribal devel- dium farmers (12 per cent) and 112 large
of two years. The ministry of home affairs opment [Saminatha Ratnam 1988; farmers (4 per cent). Thus a large ma-
circulated a model draft for land legisla- Manivannan 1989, Karuppaiyan 1990, jority of the tribal households are land-
tion drawing attention to the possible Ramachandran 1992]. They too reveal less and weaker sections among farmers
loopholes. The Sixth and Seventh Five- that the non-tribal people grabbing tribal in the state.
Year Plans have also consistently reiter- lands by deceitful methods is the worst Looking across the districts, the inci-
ated the need for taking legislative and form of exploitation found in tribal areas. dence of alienation of tribal lands is
administrative measures by states for pro- Ironically, the process of development of significantly higher in the concentration
tection of tribal interests in land. Since tribal areas particularly after indepen- areas and also primitive tribal areas com-
land is a state subject, the responsibility dence, has brought non-tribal people pared to dispersed tribal areas. The highest
of enacting necessary legislation and its
implementation rests with the state govern- Table 7: Forms of Land Alienation by Districts, 1989
ments. In the Revenue Minister’s Con- (Per cent)
ference of May 1985 and November 1986
Districts Sale Mortgage Lease Encroachment Total
a number of recommendation were made
regarding the question of tribal land South Arcot 87.80 4.42 0.28 7.50 100
Salem 83.35 5.87 1.16 9.62 100
alienation. Deputy minister, welfare, Dharmapuri 77.27 7.89 – 14.84 100
government of India addressed a letter to Coimbatore 65.95 – 34.05 – 100
tribal welfare ministers in April 1986 North Arcot 42.10 16.38 26.02 15.50 100
and welfare minister wrote to chief Periyar (Erode) 23.90 31.69 14.23 30.18 100
Nilgiris 25.26 51.90 14.72 8.12 100
ministers of all tribal sub-plan states in Total 68.64 14.72 6.04 10.60 100
May 1986 drawing their attention, among
Source: Report of Study I.
others, to the problem of tribal land alien-
ation and the need for taking protective
measures. The prime minister also add- Table 8: Forms of Land Alienation by Districts, 1998
ressed a letter to the chief ministers in June (Per cent)
1986 emphasising the need to tackle, Districts Sale Cheating Mortgage/ Acquiring Not Total
among others, the problem of tribal land Lease Land Given
Chengelpet Details not reported
The working groups on tribal develop- Coimbatore 0.77 77.69 20.77 0.00 0.77 100
ment since the last five five-year plans Dharmapuri 58.06 41.94 0.00 0.00 0.00 100
have made extensive reference to the Erode 50.81 35.48 7.26 4.84 1.61 100
problem of tribal land alienation and steps Namakkal 30.34 10.11 0.00 59.55 0.00 100
Nilgiris 72.95 16.80 3.69 0.41 6.15 100
necessary to check this process. In addi- North Arcot Details not reported
tion, some committees constituted on Salem 5.08 9.76 0.00 80.08 5.08 100
various aspects of problems of tribal unrest Villupuram Details not reported
Total 34.32 26.66 5.15 30.32 3.55 100
and development also refer to the prob-
lems of tribal land alienation. The Plan- Source: Report of Study II.

Economic and Political Weekly September 9, 2000 3347

incidence of alienation is found in Salem alienation (Table 5), domestic con- cent, followed by domestic expenses and
district where 60 per cent of the tribal sumption, i e, expenditure in excess of medical needs. In general, the tribes are
households lost 36 per cent of their lands. income, was reported in 57 per cent of often in need of money for their daily
South Arcot comes second with 37 per cases, debt redemption in 20 per cent of needs. They have no assets to fall back
cent of tribal households lost 28 per cent cases, expenditure on social and religious on, except their land. This is mortgaged
of their lands. In Dharmapuri, 33 per cent functions in 8 per cent of cases, medical or leased out to non-tribals. The lease
of tribal households have lost 34 per cent expenses in 3 per cent of cases and alco- expires and the land is never returned.
of their lands and 28 per cent of house- holism in 1 per cent of cases. The other Details have not been reported in the
holds have lost 22 per cent of their lands category includes the individual inability districts of Chengelpet, North Arcot and
in North Arcot district. In Nilgiris, the to cultivate lands, lack of irrigation facili- Villupuram. But they faced some special
primitive tribal areas, 40 per cent of tribal ties, preponderance of non-tribes sur- problems in the districts of Villupuram
households have lost 35 per cent of their rounding tribal lands, continuous crop and Chengelpet.
lands. failure, joint patta problems, and In the Villupuram district, 600 fami-
Some interesting information was locational disadvantages (long distance lies of Malayali tribe were surveyed. In
brought to the notice of the researchers. from their settlements). This category this district, the forest department started
It seems the officers who undertook land was reported in 12 per cent of cases. taking over the lands and evicting the tribal
survey were not familiar with the local Thus the general picture obtained reveals people. After some period the adminis-
dialect of Tamil. The tribes reported as that domestic consumption followed by tration and the tribal people woke up to
cultivating their land ‘kadu’ (meaning debt repayment, inability to cultivate the impacts. The government then issued
cultivable land) which was understood because of various reasons, social and an order in 1984 that if the tribes could
by the officers as forest. The word is very religious ceremonies, medical expenses prove they have been in possession of the
familiar and widely prevalent meaning of and alcoholism were the major causes lands for a three-year period, they could
cultivable land in the tribal areas. But this of alienation of tribal lands in that order. be assigned lands. But the people had
semantic problem has caused a permanent More or less the same picture can be seen to make their representation in six
damage to the interest of tribes. As a result in all the districts except in Coimbatore months. This provision has failed.
many of them have lost their lands to the district. Again, the government studied the issue
forest department. In Study II, it is rather surprising to note and a fresh settlement was agreed on.
In Study II, of the surveyed 3,341 house- that the reason for land alienation (Table 6) But, the settlement office felt that this
holds in nine districts, 1,535 households has not been reported by 55 per cent of would not yield any new results as the
have lost their lands aggregating cases. This may be because research in- tribes had no papers and were practising
4,647.92 acres. The degree of land alien- vestigators were not to elicite the informa- shifting cultivation. It was then decided
ation varies from district to district. The tion from the tribes. However, of the to allot two hectares per family for 5,000
magnitude of land alienation is very reported cases, the ‘other debt’ category tribal households. So far, neither have
high in Villupuram district in terms of constitutes a larger proportion of 32 per the lands have been allotted nor families
number of households and the lands
alienated. It is followed the Salem dis- Table 9: Agents of Alienation, 1989
trict. Patta lands have been transferred to (Per cent)
non-tribals with the aid of the admini- Districts Non-Tribe Institutions Government Total
Coimbatore 100.00 – – 100
This study has clearly brought out this Dharmapuri 100.00 – – 100
complicity. Almost all the districts sur- Nilgiris 99.00 0.40 0.60 100
veyed had instances to report of the North Arcot 86.00 11.00 3.00 100
Periyar(Erode) 98.00 — 2.00 100
village administration being a party to Salem 96.00 1.00 3.00 100
the alienation process. In many of the South Arcot 88.00 9.00 3.00 100
districts, most of the tribes were reported All 95.00 3.00 2.00 100
to have lands of very low quality. The Source: Report of Study I.
majority of them depend on rains. There
are families which have more than 7 acres Table 10: Agents of Alienation, 1998
of land but do not know what to do with (Per cent)
the land. Productivity of land therefore Districts Non-Tribe Tribes Government Other Not Total
is a key issue. Any remedial measures Institutions Given
aimed at solving the land alienation
Chengelpet Details not reported – special cases explained
problems of the tribal people cannot do Coimbatore 34.35 0.00 0.00 65.65 0.00 100
so without providing any measures for Dharmapuri 100.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 100
increasing the productivity of tribal Erode 98.26 0.00 1.74 0.00 0.00 100
lands. Namakkal 39.77 0.00 60.23 0.00 0.00 100
Nilgiris 85.66 2.05 0.41 0.00 11.88 100
Why land alienation? Why should the North Arcot Details not reported
tribes sell land at all? Study I notes drin- Salem 80.54 0.00 13.23 0.00 6.23 100
king, celebration of festivals, etc, which Villupuram Details not reported – special problems explained
Total 73.91 0.58 10.39 9.93 5.19 100
lead to tribal indebtedness and finally sale
of land. Looking at the causes of land Source: Reports of Study II.

3348 Economic and Political Weekly September 9, 2000

identified. Immediate action is needed land (30 per cent), cheating (27 per cent) 2.38 per cent to government departments
in this regard. and mortgage (5 per cent). Most of the and 2.72 per cent of private institutions
In Chengelpet district two special cases lands were alienated to non-tribals (74 per like Christian missionaries.
were reported. The Sriperumpudhur case cent) and the rest to government (10 per In Study II, of the surveyed 3,341 house-
involves the Rajiv Gandhi Memorial. For cent) and other institutions (10 per cent). holds in nine districts, 1,535 (46 per cent)
the purpose of building a memorial, the It is interesting to note that the land households have alienated their lands to
tribes were asked to vacate the place. They alienation occurs within the tribes, although the tune of 4,647.92 acres. On an average
were promised adequate rehabilitation, but it is only to a meagre extent of 0.58 per there has been a loss of 1.39 acres per tribal
they have only been given houses in a cent. This has happened in the district household and 3.05 acres for every af-
colony, with no land or any other assis- Nilgiris. This development may spread fected tribal household. Around 74 per
tance. About 50 families have been af- over to other districts also. cent of the lands have been lost to non-
fected by this eviction. Another case has In the Coimbatore district, there were 42 tribals, followed by the government
happened in the village Thannerkulam, cases of alienation to non-tribals and 84 (10 per cent) and other institutions (10
which falls in the belt area around 41 kms cases of alienation that was to an institu- per cent). The causes of land alienation
from Chennai. The tribe Irulas has B- tion, viz, the Coimbatore Zoological Park were not reported in the majority of the
Memos and the certificates as proof for (CZP). The CZP was founded in 1986 by cases (55 per cent). Of the reported causes,
their landholdings. Repeated requests for a group of Coimbatore industrialists. The debts play a vital role (32 per cent). The
pattas were always turned down. Some government had allotted 250 acres for the forms of land alienation are sale (34
year back, T I Cycles took over the lands park but the society has managed to get per cent), acquiring land (30 per cent), by
of five people (1.92 acres). There are an additional area of 400 acres by various cheating (27 per cent) and mortgage
rumours that SIDCO plans to develop that means, which should be construed unethi- (5 per cent).
area further. The tribes are being threat- cal. Much of the lands allotted to the park The foregoing particulars provide ample
ened, but they have taken up an organised – tribal lands or government porambokes testimony to the fact that the degree of
fight for their rights. It may be concluded – were those which the tribes were cul- alienation has not been reduced at all over
that the problems of land alienation are tivating earlier. A fact finding mission of the period of study in the state of Tamil
growing over the period in different ways. the People’s Union for Civil Liberties Nadu. A matter of greater concern is that
The causes of land alienation are associ- (PUCL) investigated the problem. They there has been no action on the part of the
ated with some traditions as well as their found that the land transaction appeared government in this regard to restore the
circumstances. to be legal but various illegal means such alienated lands to the tribes.
The various forms of land alienation as coercion, fraud, misinterpretation and The following are suggestions for
found in tribal settlements are outright forgery had also played their role. There action.
sale, mortgage, lease, cheating and en- were many cases of the CZP having The Tamil Nadu Scheduled Tribes Re-
croachment of tribal lands. A total of possession of sale deeds in the name of storation and Transfer of Immovable Prop-
2,733.42 acres of tribal land was alienated patta holders who were dead. The mission erty Bill of 1986 has been prepared and
to non-tribals alone, which constitutes 95 has raised various doubts in this regard. is waiting to be passed in the legislative
per cent of all tribal alienated lands. In general, most of the cases were un- assembly. The details of the bill must be
Outright sales occupy major form of land reported and some cases were reported and made public and the government can invite
alienation and cover 2,492.18 acres consti- no action has not been taken so far in discussions on the bill from various sec-
tuting 69 per cent of the total alienated favour of tribes. tors involved in tribal development. The
lands (Tables 7 and 9). Sale of tribal lands state government may pass legislation
is the major form of alienation followed V immediately prohibiting alienation of
by mortgage, encroachment, and lease of Conclusions tribal lands to non-tribal people and
lands in that order. Most encroachment providing for restoration of alienated lands to
has been reported in the case of dry lands Study I shows that 986 households the respective tribes with effect from 1950.
followed by revenue poramboke (waste constituting 37 per cent of the total 2,631 Alienation or transfer for purposes of
land) and forest poramboke. Encroach- households have lost 3,630 acres of land this law will cover not only transfers by
ment has been reported by all categories (31 per cent). On an average there is a sale to non-STs, but all kinds of transfers
of farmers and because of this all the loss of 1.38 acres per tribal household and including benami transfers, transfers to
farmers have lost a sizeable portion of 3.68 acres for every affected household. wives, ploughmen, servants, adopted
revenue and forest poramboke and the An important point that emerges from the sons or daughters, sons or daughters
extent is quite high in the case of landless survey is loss of economic status for small taken in adoption by non-tribals, trans-
and marginal farmers. and marginal farmers reducing them to fer through marriage with tribal women,
South Arcot has the most land alienated landless households in the process of transfer through consent decree, declara-
through outright sales; Nilgiri district alienation of lands. Sale, usufructuary tory suits, and deeds of surrender or
through mortgage; Coimbatore district mortgage, leasing out and encroachment abandonment of land executed by STs
through leasing; and Periyar district through are the four forms of land alienation found in favour of non-tribals will also be
encroachment. In general, the alienation of in tribal societies. Tribal lands are alien- covered.
tribal lands has been mainly in the form ated to non-tribal people and private in- Restrictions should be placed on the
of outright sale. stitutions and government departments. transfer of land from small and marginal
Study II, reports that the forms of land The non-tribals share in the alienation of landholders belonging to STs to those with
alienation are sale (34 per cent), acquiring tribal lands comes to 95 per cent as against larger landholdings and economically better

Economic and Political Weekly September 9, 2000 3349

placed among them in order to prevent the Notes Areas and Scheduled Tribes Commission,
further impoverishment of the former. Planning Commission, New Delhi.
Government of India (1989): Report of the
In-depth scrutiny of methods of prepa- [I am grateful to R Elango, who encourages me Working Group on Development and Welfare
ration of land records and their mainte- to work. His comments are invaluable.] of Scheduled Tribes during Eighth Five-Year
nance and updating will be undertaken to 1 These surveys and studies were carried out Plan 1990-95, Ministry of Welfare, New Delhi.
identify cases where lands cultivated by with the help of tribal research institutes and Karuppaiyan, E (1989): ‘Issues in Poverty
tribal individuals or communities have been with some university centres. They are: Alleviation Programmes for the Tribals’,
(1) Tribal Cultural Research and Training Social Action 39, pp 72-82.
misrecorded. – (1990a): ‘Development of a Tribal Village in
The rules and regulations of institutional Institute Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh;
(2) Tribal Research Institute, Guwahati, Tamil Nadu: 1961-1988’, unpublished PhD
credit agencies have to be suitably modi- Assam; (3) Tribal Welfare Research Institute, dissertation, Annamalai University,
fied to facilitate easy, adequate and timely Ranchi, Bihar; (4) Tribal Research and Training Annamalai Nagar.
credit to eligible families. Institute, Ahmedabad, Gujarat; (5) Social and – (1990b): ‘Alienation of Tribal Lands in Tamil
Women’s Welfare Department, Shimla, Nadu’, Economic and Political Weekly 25,
State government should pass legisla- pp 1185-86.
tion or issue an ordinance abolishing all Himachal Pradesh; (6) Tribal Research and
Development Institute, Bhopal, Madhya – (1990c): ‘Studies on Tribal Development in
debts of tribal people owed to non-tribal Pradesh; (7) Tribal Research Institute, Pune, India: A Critical Analysis’, International
people, and also regulating private money- Maharashtra; (8) Tribal Research Institute, Journal of Development Planning Literature,
lending in tribal areas. Udaipur, Rajasthan; (9) Tribal Research 5(4):, pp 159-72.
Centre, Udagamandalam,Tamil Nadu; Raghava Rao, D V and K Baskaradoss (1989):
As alcoholism is found to be one of the A Study on Alienation of Tribal Lands in
reasons for alienation of tribal lands, steps (10) Department of Revenue, Government of
Tripura; (11) Central Research Institute, Tamil Nadu, Tribal Research Centre,
should be taken to eliminate or at least Scheduled Castes and Tribes Welfare Depart- Udagamandalam.
control liquor enterprise being run by non- ment, Government of West Bengal; and Manivannan, S (1989): ‘A Study of Tribal and
tribal people. (12) Tribal Research Institute, Bhubaneshwar, Indebtedness with Special Reference to the
Orissa. Malayali Tribe of South Arcot Kalrayan Hills,
Purchase of tribal lands by private in- Tamil Nadu’, unpublished Ph D dissertation,
stitutions including Christian missionaries Annamalai University, Annamalai Nagar.
has to be checked and lands used for References Ramachandran, S (1992): ‘Integrated Tribal
commercial purposes should be confiscated Development Programmes: An Evaluation at
ACCORD and Adivasi Munnetra Sangam (1998): Kalrayan Hills of South Arcot District’,
Report of the Study on Tribal Land Alienation unpublished Ph D dissertation, Annamalai
As the tribal people are generally illit- in the State of Tamil Nadu, The Nilgiris. University, Annamalai Nagar.
erate and ignorant of the provisions of Ao, P Shilu (1969): Report of the Study Team Saminatha Ratnam, R (1988): ‘A Case Study of
various rules and regulations, efforts should on Tribal Development Programmes: the Tribal Economy of Malayalees of Pacha-
be made to educate and enlighten them. Committee on Plan Projects, Planning malai Hills, Trichirapalli District, Tamil
Commission, New Delhi. Nadu’, unpublished PhD dissertation,
Efforts should also be made to provide free
Dhebar, U N (1961): Report of the Scheduled Annamalai University, Annamalai Nagar.
legal aid to all tribes and the legal aid cells
up to the block level have to be strength-
ened further.
As a large chunk of lands cultivated by
tribal people in Kalrayan hills of South Arcot Bank of Maharashtra
district were classified as ‘kadu’ (forest) and
taken over by the forest department through
a misunderstanding of the dialect spoken,
a resurvey of the entire Kalrayan hills of
B ank of Maharashtra has decided to increase interest rates on term deposits effective
August 19, 2000. The structure of interest rates on different maturities works
out to: on short-term deposits between 15 and 45 days 5.25 per cent up from 5 per
South Arcot district is necessary.
It is also necessary to take note of the cent, for 48 days and 90 days 6 per cent up from 5.5 per cent, for 91 days to 179
fact that the process of alienation of tribal days to 7 per cent from 6.5 per cent and to 7.5 per cent for the period 180 to 365
land continues despite the legal provisions days. The new category of deposits for periods over five years will attract 10.25 per
which exist in other states against such cent. Maturity periods of one to two years will attract 9 per cent, over two to three
alienation. This is on account of the fact years 9.5 per cent and three to five years 10 per cent. Higher interest rates for non-
that the individual tribal is under con- resident external rupee (NRE) deposits will be for six months to one year 8.5 per
tinuous pressure from a variety of forces cent, one to two years 9.5 per cent, two to three years 10 per cent and over three
which ultimately result in the loss of his years 10.5 per cent. Non-resident non-repatriable (NRNR) deposits will have 9.5
only capital base, agricultural land. He is per cent for deposit of six months to one year and 10.5 per cent for one to three years.
not in a position to comprehend the signi- The bait of high interest rates is intended to garner additional funds by attracting
ficance of individual transaction like trans- term depositors from competitor banks as well as claw in new depositors. Bank of
fer of land by him in the total socio-eco- Maharashtra is celebrating the fortnight September 4-19 as Customer Mobilisation
nomic dynamics of the situation. It is Fortnight. Its 1,200 branches will gear up for funds mobilisation. The bank has a
necessary that all those forces which target of Rs 16,600 crore deposit by March 2001 compared to Rs 13,407 crore in
individual tribal is facing are identified, the previous year. It aims at advances of Rs 7,000 crore as against Rs 5,252 crore
understood and countered suitably, oth- during the same period. The decision to raise term deposit rates has been prompted
erwise legal provisions and admini- by the bank having raised its prime lending rate from 12.5 per cent to 13 per cent
strative measures will continue to be in the second week of August 2000. The aim is to maintain a parity between deposit
inadequate and ineffective. EPW rates and lending rates. EPW

3350 Economic and Political Weekly September 9, 2000

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