Bhubaneshwar, Feb 27, 2017: In the Similipal forests, man and tiger co-exist in huge numbers. The race is now on to see which animal will win supremacy on their ‘home’.
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The indigenous villages are ripped off their rights fighting against the tigers with more clout.
Sanghamitra Dubey, an activist with an informal Indian advocacy group for forestry rights asked, “Why are indigenous people being asked outright to leave without even attempting to explore reasonable options of coexistence with wildlife?”, mentioned a report on Similipal forests by Thompson Reuters Foundation.
Dubey further highlighted the stripping of the ancestral lands of the people to protect the shrinking number of tigers and how it led to the extinction of the traditional ways of life, like the old rope plaiting technique.
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Nearly half the estimated 3200 tigers of the world are found in India, in dozens of different reserves built since the 1970s.
Wildlife tourism serves as a growing money maker for the country. However, conservationists continue to debate if the tourists encroach their habitat or help protect the species.
The relocation process:-
Notice: last November, to protect the Tiger habitat in the forests, hundreds of families from about 44 different villages were asked to relocate.
Anup Kumar Nayak, a senior forest officer in Bhubaneswar said, “relocations are voluntary but a number of villages around Similipal were in the ‘core’ habitat zone or so close they were “as good as inside it” and would need to move. Only the Buffer zone is for human-animal coexistence.”
Only months ago had the villagers acquired rights to the 25000 hectares of woodland area.
The Forest Rights Act of 2006 permits Tribal Households to harvest and utilize the forest resources for maintenance of their ancestral lands.
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One-off Settlement: A visit by the Park Officials was reported by the villagers in November, offering them a one-off payment to evacuate their homes and lands to clear the forest lands under human activity.
Tribandha Barja, a villager reported that most of the people refused the offer. “(They told us) take one million rupees keep it in the bank and live better with the bank interest,” Barja said.
Dubey also commented that 50 families from a neighboring village were also targeted though it was nowhere near the core zone.
As per official figures, about 2750 square kilometers of dense forests are covered by tigers reserves including bio-diverse land and adjoining forest which is used as a corridor by other animals.
According to the report by Thompson Reuters Foundation, 10,000 people are estimated to live within the park including the buffer zone by the Authorities. Also, half a million people are estimated to live in 1,200 villages within a 10km radius around the park.
The 10 year tiger conservation plan of Odisha highlights that 800 to 1000 square kilometer area is required by 80 to 100 tigers.
As pointed out by Nayak, this serves as the reason behind the relocation.
However, only 26 Royal Bengal Tigers were found by the official Odisha government in the Similipal reserve last year.
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The End of the rope plaiting : In the core of the park, in the Jamuna Garh Village, only 3 out of approximately 35 families have stayed back and decided to continue to use their land. The others chose to relocate, accepting the compensation.
One of the holdouts, Telanga Hasa said, “neighboring families had been paid one million rupees via bank deposit in September 2015 – of which 30,000 rupees was paid in cash.”
“All are still waiting to be allocated the two acres of farmland they were promised.”
“Now they have no forests, no farm land and no livelihood …how can they live with dignity?” Hasa also said that 25 families in the hillside village in Bakua had also stayed back.
The villagers are unable to access the sacred creeper ‘siali’ from which the rope os plaited. This rope, very strong, is highly demanded by farmers.
Presently, the locals have been forced to purchase plastic potato sacks for rupees three per sack for the purpose of plaiting ropes out of them. These ropes are then sold for a petty gain.
-By Nikita Saraf of NewsGram, Twitter: @niki_saraf
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