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With luxury encroaching in forest areas, tribals fear for their existence

From an annual 2,000 tourists in 1980s to 1,50,000 at present, the resort business in the buffer zone of the forests has thrived the most

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Tribal culture Image: Wikimedia Commons
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  • Tribals living in the buffer zone say that they are being “urged” to move by choosing one of the “government relocation packages” i.e “land against land” or “Rs 10 lakh per adult”
  • Villages populating the 1,134 sq km of Kanha’s buffer zone, after the families of Gond and Baiga, were either ‘voluntarily’ or ‘illegally’ evicted from forests on the name of ‘conservation
  • Over 1,400 families from nine villages of the Baiga and Gond tribes were moved from the core forest area between 2010 to 2015

Dheerwati, a member of the Baiga tribe, stands over some half acre of her dry patch of land, and points towards a luxurious resort — one of her many nightmares.

“Those resort people have their eyes fixed on our field. Officials lure us to move. We don’t have Patta (documents) for our land, we can’t do anything,” Dheerwati told this visiting IANS correspondent, in her village Khatiya of Mandla district in Madhya Pradesh.

Her village, situated in the buffer zone of Kanha National Park, is amongst the first human settlements outside the core zone of the reserve forest.

Dheerwati, her husband Sonu and six children live in a house that has self-baked Kavelu roof (tiles used across the tribal belt), an electric connection and a newly constructed toilet.

“We require some of the forest produce like bamboo to make a living. They don’t allow us in the forests. We can’t do anything to support ourselves,” says Sonu.

Another tribal said that they are even beaten when caught inside the forest.

From an annual 2,000 tourists in 1980s to 1,50,000 at present, the resort business in the buffer zone of the forests has thrived the most, but at a cost to every tribal in some way. Many tribespersons could be seen begging for their pictures to be taken by the tourists.

Influential people, including some reputed wildlife conservationists, own a resort around Kahna and other national parks across India.

Tribals living in the buffer zone say that they are being “urged” to move by choosing one of the “government relocation packages” i.e “land against land” or “Rs 10 lakh per adult”. Officials however deny this.

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“No village from the buffer zone is to be shifted. However, if they leave voluntarily, they will avail benefit of the packages,” J.S. Chauhan, Field Director of Kanha National Park, told IANS. He added that villages from the core zone only are being shifted.

Villages populating the 1,134 sq km of Kanha’s buffer zone, after the families of Gond and Baiga, were either ‘voluntarily’ or ‘illegally’ evicted from forests on the name of ‘conservation’.

Adivasi culture Image Source: Wikimedia Commons
Adivasi culture Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

As the tribes have inhabited the forests for generations it’s their legal right to live there with some limitations, as also assured to them in the Forest Rights Act (FRA). However, norms are seldom followed during eviction.

“Most of the families were moved without legal framework. FRA gives tribals an option to continue living in the core zone or move voluntarily. But no one was told that they had a choice and many were forced to sign the papers,” Sophie Grig, from Survival International, told IANS.

“An official told us to sign a letter of consent quickly. He said that we would get money or that we would go to another village. They were determined to destroy our village,” a tribal from a relocated village, called Jholar, said in a letter to Madhya Pradesh Human Rights Commission.

Another tribal, Lakhand Merabi, declared, “Irrespective of what happens to us, we will stay here.”

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But he had to leave. Over 1,400 families from nine villages of the Baiga and Gond tribes were moved from the core forest area between 2010 to 2015.

A village named Kariwah was moved this year. “One more is in the pipeline,” said a forest official. About seven villages still exist in the core zone of Kanha while over 36 had been moved slowly since 1969.

The number of people relocated remains unknown.

While many tribal families didn’t like leaving, some families preferred relocation and also benefited through education for their children.

“Some Gond families were happy to relocate but most were not,” Sophie said.

Ramkali Durbe and Sukhbati Durbe, who are now guides at Kanha, reflect the positive side of relocation and efforts by the forest department.

“I know these forests like my home, and love to show people around,” Ramkali, whose village in Mukki zone of Kanha was shifted few years back, told IANS.

However, the issue of ‘social security’ – a new concept for those relocated — continues to haunt.

“Most of those relocated prefer living in the vicinity of their relatives for the sense of security,” Chauhan said.

Such cases are however not limited to Kanha alone. Khadia and Munda tribe in Odisha’s Simlipal National Park and Baiga of Achanakmar Wildlife Sanctuary in Chhattisgarh are meeting the same fate in the name of tiger conservation.

However there are exceptions, Grig says, as the Solinga Tribes of BR Hills Tiger Reserve, in Karnataka, and Tharu tribes of Dudhwa Tiger Reserve, Uttar Pradesh, never shifted – and with little help they stand guard between poachers and the forest. (IANS)

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  • Shubhi Mangla

    The concerns of these tribal communities are justified. Moreover, making resorts or any such luxury buildings will also damage our flora and fauna.

  • Vrushali Mahajan

    There should be steps taken to conserve these forests along with the lives of these tribes as thye find it very difficult to manage with the urban lifestyle.

  • Shubhi Mangla

    The concerns of these tribal communities are justified. Moreover, making resorts or any such luxury buildings will also damage our flora and fauna.

  • Vrushali Mahajan

    There should be steps taken to conserve these forests along with the lives of these tribes as thye find it very difficult to manage with the urban lifestyle.

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Jadav Molai Peyang: Forest Man of India

Jadav Molai Peyang, 'Forest Man of India' single-handedly plants 1360 acre of forest on a barren sandbar.

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Indian Forest Man
Jadav Peyang, Forest Man of India. Wikimedia Commons.

There are many international organizations that have been working to save our planet from many harms of deforestation but there is one Indian man who, single-handedly, gave rise to the forest in 1360 acre land and converted it into the man-made forest in India and that man is Jadav Molai Peyang.
Jadav Peyang’s story was first discovered by journalist Jitu Kalita when he was stalking the vultures on the other end of Arun Sapori, an over 1,000-hectare riverine island on the Brahmaputra when he saw the forested area and found Peyang’s story there.
The forest man has planted over 1500-saplings since 1980 which has grown into the famous, Molai Kathoni, the forest famously named after his maker. Peyang had started this initiative as a teenager who started planting bamboo in the woodland after he had witnessed deaths of several snakes at the shore when water had resided from the area after a flood. Following that horrifying scenario, he sought the advice from the village elders who asked him to grow a forest as only the forest can save the lives of birds and animals. Since then, Peyang’s Molai Forest has developed its own ecosystem as deer, rabbits, rhinoceros, Bengal tigers, birds, insects have inhabited the forest which consists of trees such as Bamboo, valcol, Arjun, Pride of India, silk trees, cotton trees, to name a few. But it was a herd of 100 elephants that brought the attention of Assam’s forest department on Peyang in 2008. The elephants pay a yearly visit to his forest and give birth to their calves in the comfort there.
But the journey of creating a barren sandbar in the middle of the river Brahmaputra of Assam into the thriving forest that it is today wasn’t easy.
In the initial stages, he found planting trees extremely difficult and time-consuming but now as he gets the seeds from the trees, the forest seems to live on itself.
The forest man was the first part of the 5-year project launched by the Assam Forestry Division in Aruna Chapori in 1980 with an aim to reforest two hundred hectares of land. Peyang enrolled for the job and started planting trees for the project though, the project was finished in five years, Peyang had stayed and spread his own project bigger than Central Park, NYC (842.6 acres). Since his first project, he has been invited to several environmental conferences, conferred many honors among which is Padam Shri, the highest civilian award and ‘Forest Man of India’ by JNU along with the recent honor bestowed on Jitu Kalita and Jadav Peyang by Taiwan Government for their efforts.
The forest man’s story is full of inspiration and compassion as he keeps providing shelter to various insects and animals while his family, which consists of two sons, a daughter, and his wife subsides on the income provided by their livestock, there is a lot to learn from him. He had braved several threats and all he has to say to them, ‘Kill me first, before you kill my forest,’ but his ideas for the world remains unknown among the several honors.

Samridhi Nain. Samridhi is a student of Philosophy (Hons.) from University of Delhi.