Mahabubnagar: It was about two years ago when Mahabubnagar had become the first district to go 100 per cent free of illicit liquor manufacturing. People who were into that business, on whom cases had been filed, are being rehabilitated in a phased manner by the State government by providing them loans and an alternative livelihood.
But, old habits die hard. After giving up illicit distillation of liquor, some elements have been felling trees in the reserve forest to meet the firewood needs of their brick kilns.
This is the sad story of Appannapally forest reserve. The residents of Erravalli thanda, which used to be under Thimasanpally gram panchayat before it was merged into Mahabubnagar municipality, were manufacturing illicit liquor for the past several decades.
Though there were many households where ‘saara’ or ‘gudumba’ used to be manufactured, only a few kingpins were arrested and cases were booked against them in the past.
The State government’s initiative to rehabilitate them has proved futile, as these few influential families in the hamlet have worn new hats as brick kiln owners. These owners are working round-the-clock to cut down trees in Appannapally forest reserve in which this hamlet is located.
Just a stone’s throw away from the famous Pillalamarri Tourism Centre and located within Mahabubnagar town, this hamlet is not really out of reach for officials.
Residents of this hamlet (not all of them), have been felling trees from the Appannapally forest reserve to get wood for the two brick kilns set up in this hamlet. A visit deep into the forest reveals how the brick kiln owners have been cutting down trees in patches of land within the forest area.
The brick kiln owners have also made road routes to the most interior areas of the forest using broken bricks and sand, so that they could transport wood for their kilns.
There is a deep trench dug by the forest department to separate forest land from the hamlet, but at some locations, the residents of the hamlet filled the trench and laid a makeshift road to carry the wood to the hamlet. Even the trench works have not been completed at several locations.
There are two brick kilns located in this hamlet. In one of the kilns, labourers from Souduru village in Nawabpet mandal of Mahabubnagar district are working. In the other kiln, migrant workers from Balangir district in Odisha have come to work. In both the kilns, workers are living in subhuman conditions with no toilet or even a bathroom has been constructed for women. Women and young girls bathe and defecate in the open.
The Nawabpet labourers (a family) gets Rs 250 for manufacturing 1,000 bricks in a day and the Balangir labourers get nothing because they take advance from their ‘sardars’ (contractors) in Odhisha- Rs 20,000 per family to be precise.
Children are also being made to work in these brick kilns by the owners of the kilns.
These two kilns are owned by the former kingpins of the hamlet’s illicit liquor manufacturing business. It has to be mentioned that there were many families in this small hamlet who were into illicit liquor manufacturing business in the past. But because cases were only filed on the kingpins and others were spared, those families without cases on them were not rehabilitated.
As a result, several families in the hamlet have lost their livelihood and have become labourers in these brick kilns.
Pandu (26), an Intermediate, is one such person from this hamlet. He wants to buy a trolley auto to make a livelihood, but he doesn’t know where to apply, how to apply and when to apply for a loan. He now serves as a labourer in one of these brick kilns.
Observers feel that the Labour Department and the Forest Department could have done more to address the workers’ rights and the forest’s right to exist. Unfortunately, according to a reliable source in the Forest Department, Mahabubnagar Forest Department is understaffed by 40 per cent and the Labour Department hardly ventures into the field-level.
As a result, the great Appannapally Forest Reserve is bearing the brunt of the tree felling, thanks to the permissions given for setting-up brick kilns so close to the forest.