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Of land, legislation and litigation: Forest leases, agrarian reform, legal ambiguity and landscape anomaly in the Nilgiris, 1969-2007

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Author(s): Krishnan Siddhartha

Journal: Conservation & Society
ISSN 0972-4923

Volume: 7;
Issue: 4;
Start page: 283;
Date: 2009;
Original page

Keywords: agrarian reform | forest | janmam | landscape anomaly | legal ambiguity | litigation | planter | peasant | section-17

ABSTRACT
This paper provides a history and sociology of how and why the Janmam Act, an apparently well-intended scheme of agrarian reform in Gudalur, South India, has had unintended social, legal and ecological consequences. The Act sought to abolish a largely forested janmam (Zamindari) estate and reform its tenures. Some of its provisions pertaining to acquisition of forests leased to planters are still operative four decades since. Legal ambiguity, constituted chiefly by litigation and also by long periods of legal incertitude, has rendered ambivalent the revenue and forest departments administration of forests in leases. Planters have expanded and forested portions of leases have been occupied by migrant peasants. Forest leases appear legally and ecologically anomalous to the state. Popular and legal resistance to state efforts in establishing its interests, especially conservation, is rife. Due to sheer denudation and agrarian conversion, Gudalur is ceasing to be a constituency for conservation. This even as a title seeking social constituency has emerged, albeit problematically, because peasant claims are untenable as per the Act. Such local complexities, with distinct agrarian afflictions, have been wrought by the reformatory scheme and contribute to scheme incompletion.

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