Though the tribals of the Jawadhu hills in Tiruvannamalai district earn more by cultivating pepper and coffee, they are lured to red sanders logging, official sources revealed.
“As a person can pluck 10 kilos of pepper a day, they earn Rs 500 at the rate of Rs 50 per kilo. As the entire family works, a 5-member family can easily earn upto Rs 3 lakh in nearly three months,” he added.
Their move to Kerala resulted in starting a pepper cultivation in Jawadhu hills some years ago, officials added.
Similarly, Karnataka coffee planters seek these tribals to pluck coffee, which the tribals incorporated at Jawadhu hills, that had no earlier history of coffee cultivation, added Tamil Selvan.
Coffee and pepper are raised as intercrops. As pepper is a creeper, it is cultivated at the foot of trees and coffee is planted in the middle of the plot,” said Krishnamurthy of Muthu Naattu hamlet of Nammiampattu village panchayat.
This tribal venture was visited by nearly 100 panchayat union engineers from Telangana and under secretary level officials from Arunachal Pradesh.
In a bid to ensure that this new practice picked up in the hills, the DRDA officials procured pepper plants from Bihar through the State Horticultural Department,” said DRDA project director P Jayasudha.
In a bid to ensure additional income, Tiruvannamalai collector KS Kandasamy asked the horticultural department to procure and distribute 8,000 litchi layers to 126 tribal farmers, 1,600 mul seetha plants to 23 farmers and 50,000 silver oak saplings to 523 farmers of 13 villages in the Jawadhu hills. “Silver oak was resorted to as it would support both black pepper and coffee which tribals have started growing in the area” she added. As tribals earned money only in plantations, they were lured by Red sanders agents from Polur and Kannamanagalam, in the plains, who gave them money and provided them household needs, revealed an official on condition of anonymity.
Tribals who spoke casually to this reporter clammed up when asked about red sanders smuggling saying they know nothing about it and that no one from their village was involved in it. However, a source said, “Agents provide provisions and money to the families of volunteers. As cash is given before starting work, it lures many to this lethal trade.”
Referring to Vellore district forest officials who recently faced problems in registering cases against tribals,, as they provided different names to different officials.
Sources revealed that, “It is common as each tribal will have more than one ID card (usually a ration card) in more than one name due to their living in hamlets of 5-7 houses each in the Jawadhu hills.