I understand that the State Govt has decided to reorganize the districts so that they may become co-terminus with the Parliamentary Constituencies. Apparently, this will result in the creation of new districts corresponding to the Constituencies comprising predominantly of the tribal areas in northern AP and elsewhere.
According to the reports that have appeared in the press, a committee has been constituted with you as its chairperson and a few other Secretaries as its members to work out the details of implementing the above decision.
While there may be some administrative advantages in creating special districts for the tribal areas, I find it somewhat incongruous with the manner in which the State government has chosen to drag its feet in empowering the tribal Gram Sabhas under the 1996 PESA law and the 2006 Forest Rights Act. If the govt is really earnest about taking administration nearer to the tribals, more than redrawing the borders of the districts, it should allow the PESA law to be enforced strictly and empower the tribal Gram Sabhas to have a say in decision making as envisaged in that legislation.
One aspect that causes concern to me is that the creation of the new districts will result in setting up the district offices of the different State Departments within the tribal areas. This will result in a huge influx of non-tribals into the tribal areas, leading to the possibility of extensive, illegal encroachments by the non-tribals. One can see the adverse impact of such an influx in and around places such as Paderu in the Visakhapatnam Agency area. Appropriation of the tribal lands by the non-tribals has given rise to a great deal of dissatisfaction among the tribals and the latest decision to create separate tribal districts will accentuate the same unless adequate safeguards are built-in.
The State govt has so far been lax in posting good officers to the Scheduled Areas to enforce the land transfer law and restore the illegally appropriated lands to the tribals. In the context of the creation of the new tribal districts, I suggest that the State govt simultaneously announces its decision to :
1.Enforce the PESA and the Forest Rights laws in the tribal areas on a war footing
2. Enforce the land transfer legislation by instituting a comprehensive survey of the encroachments and posting senior officers of the right aptitude for enforcing the land transfer legislation in a time-bound manner
3. Assure the tribals that special measures will be taken to safeguard their privacy, customs, culture, and heritage
4. Assure the tribals that they will be adequately involved in monitoring the implementation of the Tribal Sub-Plan
5. Assure the tribals that suitable mechanisms will be put in place to ensure that the additional employment opportunities arising from the creation of the new districts will benefit the tribals to the maximum extent.
Kindly place this letter before the Chief Minister for his information.
(Contents of the letter Dr EAS Sarma, former Secretary, GOI, wrote to Smt Nilam Sawhney, Chief Secretary, Govt of AP)