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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.

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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.

Next Story

An Application That Monitors Forest Resources And Helps Management

While the app is being tested in India, Khare said it can also be used in countries including Peru, Mali, Liberia and Indonesia

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forests
Traditional Toraja houses are seen in a forest near Rantepao, North Toraja, South Sulawesi, Indonesia. VOA

A web-based application that monitors the impact of successful forest-rights claims can help rural communities manage resources better and improve their livelihoods, according to analysts.

The app was developed by the Indian School of Business (ISB) to track community rights in India, where the 2006 Forest Rights Act aimed to improve the lives of rural people by recognizing their entitlement to inhabit and live off forests.

With a smartphone or tablet, the app can be used to track the status of a community rights claim.

Forest
A diesel ferry cuts through the Poshur river — the lifeline of Sundarbans — with travelers watching its heavily industrialized bank, which is rapidly increasing at the cost of world’s largest contiguous mangrove forest. wikimedia commons

 

After the claim is approved, community members can use it to collect data on tree cover, burned areas and other changes in the forest and analyze it, said Arvind Khare at Washington D.C.-based advocacy Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI).

“Even in areas that have made great progress in awarding rights, it is very hard to track the socio-ecological impact of the rights on the community,” said Khare, a senior director at RRI, which is testing the app in India.

“Recording the data and analyzing it can tell you which resources need better management, so that these are not used haphazardly, but in a manner that benefits them most,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Forest
The land-locked water body Lonar Lake Wikimedia Commons

For example, community members can record data on forest products they use such as leaves, flowers, wood and sap, making it easier to ensure that they are not over-exploited, he said.

While indigenous and local communities own more than half the world’s land under customary rights, they have secure legal rights to only 10 percent, according to RRI.

Governments maintain legal and administrative authority over more than two-thirds of global forest area, giving limited access for local communities.

In India, under the 2006 law, at least 150 million people could have their rights recognized to about 40 million hectares (154,400 sq miles) of forest land.

Forest
According to a report by the Ministry of Environment and Forests, the total remaining tree cover of India that included forests and non-forest areas was 24.16% in 2015. Wikimedia Commons

But rights to only 3 percent of land have been granted, with states largely rejecting community claims, campaigners say.

While the app is being tested in India, Khare said it can also be used in countries including Peru, Mali, Liberia and Indonesia, where RRI supports rural communities in scaling up forest rights claims.

Also Read: Recent Deportation Of Rohingyas Lead To Refugees In India To Flee

Data can be entered offline on the app, and then uploaded to the server when the device is connected to the internet. Data is stored in the cloud and accessible to anyone, said Ashwini Chhatre, an associate professor at ISB.

“All this while local communities have been fighting simply for the right to live in the forest and use its resources. Now, they can use data to truly benefit from it,” he said. (VOA)