Muthanga case: 70 tribespeople acquitted

Muthanga case: 70 tribespeople acquitted


The Sulthan Bathery First Class Judicial Magistrate Court I on Tuesday acquitted 70 of the 114 tribespeople arrested on the charge of encroaching on forestland at Muthanga inside the Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary on February 19, 2003.

Those acquitted include C.K. Janu, chairperson, Adivasi Gothra Maha Sabha, and M. Geethanandan, coordinator, Adivasi coordination committee.

First Class Judicial Magistrate P. Pradeep acquitted the 70 tribespeople citing lack of evidence for their involvement in the offence. The verdict concerning the rest was adjourned owing to technical reasons.

As many as 114 tribespeople from the district were arrested under various sections of the Wildlife Protection Act for allegedly encroaching on the sanctuary. They had been arrested under Section 27 (A) – entering a sanctuary without permission, Section 29 – destruction in wildlife sanctuary, Section 13 – causing fire in the wildlife sanctuary, and Section 31 – entering a sanctuary with weapon.

The prosecution failed in proving all these charges against the accused, the court observed.

It was argued on behalf of the accused that the incident took place at an eucalyptus plantation maintained by the Forest Department in a reserve forest.

The court observed that it was the duty of the prosecution to prove that the particular place came under a wildlife sanctuary notified by the Central government. The prosecution had failed to produce such a notification, the court observed in its judgment. The prosecution failed to prove the allegation that the tribespeople had set fire to the forest. Moreover, prosecution witnesses could not identify the entire accused in the court.

During cross examination, the forest range officer had stated that more than 2,000 people had assembled in the area but cases were charged against 110 persons.

The case related to a group of tribespeople claiming their right by erecting huts on forestland at Muthanga in February 2003. In a related incident, a policeman was hacked to death and a tribesman was killed in the police firing.

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