Stop allocation of land for building of temples in Schedule V Area of Araku Valley

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According to a news item dated 7th July 2018 that was published in The Hindu – “10 Acres for TTD temple in Araku” , it was stated that the Government of Andhra Pradesh is allocating 10 acres of land to TTD for building a Hindu temple in Araku. The proposed temple in Phanirangini village in Araku mandal is in the scheduled area where majority of the population belong to various ST communities, including several PVTGs. We are alarmed that the government is contemplating such a move. This is both a constitutional violation of the land rights and cultural rights of the Scheduled Tribes, and the very spirit of the Fifth Schedule of the Indian Constitution.

The STs are socially and culturally unique communities who have from time immemorial, practiced and continue to practice their native religions which are closely symbiotic with nature. They have rich religious and spiritual traditions that are not only a symbol of their culture but also a profound philosophy of human-nature sustenance, containing the laws of social and economic order which in other words, is their oral constitution. The hills and forests in Visakhapatnam tribal area have several tribal deities and tribal festivals are celebrated to respect these deities and the seasonal nature cycles connected to these deities. Setting up Hindu or any other religious institutions, especially by a state sponsored body is an affront to tribal spirituality and religions.

This has serious implications on the land rights of the Fifth Schedule areas as allocating land for purposes other than tribal development would lead to influx of non-tribals settling down in these areas. This is clearly evident even in the existing tourism places in Araku and Borra where land alienation has taken place through benami acquisition of tribal lands by traders and non-tribals whereas very few tribals have benefited from such industries, whether eco-tourism or religious tourism. Very soon the purpose of creating Scheduled Areas will not serve the intent of safeguarding STs who continue to be in a highly under-privileged situation vis-à-vis other social groups.

Such projects will also lead to severe deforestation and bring serious stress to this ecologically fragile region which does not have the capacity for large populations, whether settled or floating. This will bring serious environmental disturbance and crisis of water (given that residents of towns like Paderu and Araku already have daily problems with drinking water and sanitation), toxic and hazardous waste created by tourists where there are no mechanisms of disposal, and a serious social security to tribal women. Araku is already notorious as being a profligate centre for the spread of HIV/AIDS and trafficking of tribal girls.

Any projects in the Scheduled Areas should have the intent of promoting and protecting tribal culture, tribal people and environment conservation. Tourism or pilgrimage centres in Scheduled Areas should focus on a sustainable and ecologically healthy promotion of these cultures with well-organized management systems that cause least disturbance to the tribal way of life or of the forests and natural resources.

The governance of Scheduled Areas has to be based on respect for the constitutional institutions under PESA and FRA where consent of Gram Sabhas and tribal self-rule have primary importance.

We therefore, request you to kindly review such hasty proposals of handing over land in Scheduled Areas to TTD or any other private bodies. We urge you to initiate a larger consultation with tribal leaders, Gram Sabhas, concerned citizens and experts in legal, sociological and anthropological fields for a more sustainable development planning for Visakhapatnam Scheduled Area.