Relocate sensibly

Tuesday 31 August 2010

It has never been based on any scientific forest-specific study

imageThe creation of inviolate areas in protected forests has been a key concern of conservation for decades. It assumes the only way to conserve "critical" areas is to relocate people who live in these forests. In theory, such people are moved and provided higher living standards while the inviolate area remains pristine.

Numerous studies—most prominently the Tiger Task Force report of 2005—have brought out the failure of this model. Relocation has mostly resulted in impoverishment and injustice. Relocation has also been used as a threat and has become an excuse to deny forest dwellers basic rights. Relocation efforts have practically never been based on scientific evidence of the dwellers' impact on wildlife; forest authorities have damarcated "core areas" arbitrarily, hardly ever considering alternatives to relocation.

Following prolonged struggles for forest rights, this policy was finally changed in 2006, when two pieces of legislation—the Forest Rights Act and the Wild Life (Protection) Amendment—laid down conditions required to be fulfilled prior to relocation. These were nothing radical: the concerned critical habitats should be demarcated through a process of public consultations, there should be site-specific scientific evidence that relocation is required, and consent of those being relocated must be taken after their forest rights have been recognised and recorded. Finally, relocation must provide a secure livelihood. All these points were already present either in policy documents or in positions taken up by conservation organisations.

Yet relocation is proceeding in tiger reserves in total violation of the law. No scientific study has been put on record; people's rights have not been recorded; a secure livelihood has never been provided. Unsurprisingly, relocation has led to atrocities. In Achanakmar Tiger Reserve, a Baiga adivasi died of malnutrition and disease at a relocation site where not even shelter, leave alone food or medical care, was provided. In Simlipal Tiger Reserve, an adivasi died of heatstroke in the tinsheds provided as "resettlement".

Relocation efforts by and large ignore the law entirely. In other cases, the illegal process is covered up by claiming people want to move out; the relocating agency merely helps them do so. As for forest rights, people don't want them, and sometimes have signed statements to this effect.

At first sight the latter position appears valid. But there are two problems. The more fundamental is reality of life in protected areas, where harassment, brutality and even killings are commonplace—for instance, in 2009 alone, wildlife authorities killed two adivasis and critically injured four in Buxar. Many then wish to move out. To partially address this, the law now requires recognition (and hence respect) for people's forest rights prior to relocation.

But, say many, there will still be some who wish to move. In that case, there is only one approach can be permitted by law: any community can move anywhere and resettlement can be offered to anyone, but they must be allowed to (and in fact should be assisted to) return to their original homes and livelihoods if they wish. Section 4(2) of the Forest Rights Act and section 38V(5) of the Wild Life (Protection) Act are very clear: rights cannot be modified for relocation except under the specified conditions, and the Wild Life Act extends these conditions to "voluntary relocation."

The writer is with Campaign for Survival & Dignity that advocates forest rights

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  • With due respects to you, I

    With due respects to you, I understand that every Individuals right must be accorded and respected. Wildife and People cannot co-exists. We have less than 2% of our land mass as PAs.And our population is ever increasing. Its is indeed very necessary to have inviolate spaces ,Many scientific studies have been conducted worldwide which has proved that wildlife cannot survive in close proximity with humans, I am surprised that you have not read one. Some relocation efforts that you have mentioned have failed mainly due to inefficient administration or insufficient support or due to various reasons. But please note relocation has been fairly successful for example in Bhadra and Kudremukh. I have seen that tribals do wish to leave jungles.they do aspire to live as you and me.Their apprehensions about life outside forests have to be carefully clarified.Its on us to bring them on to the mainstream of our society with access to roads, Medical facilities, education,etc. Which are absent in jungles.By moving out of jungles its not only the wildlife that benefit,Tribals benefit more. Securing lively hood for every individual is not feasible instead equipping them with vocational training will help. Let me add living in jungles does not mean they have a secure lively hood.They have to interact with the outside world for livelihood. Talking about rights, animals also have rights, right to live,Its a fundamental duty of every citizen to conserve our bio-diversity. Article 51A of our Fundamental duties: (G) To protect and improve natural environment including Forests,Lakes,Rivers and Wildlife,and to have compassion for Living creatures. Its unfair to say that relocation is failure,and being a tool to deny tribals their right because its failed in a few areas. rather its worth the effort to study successful relocation and replicate it in other areas. Regards Praveen Ram

    Posted by: Anonymous | 8 years ago | Reply
  • The tribes and other backward

    The tribes and other backward class people living in the forests must be protected without relocating them completely from their natural environment as they will experience difficulties. Protect forests and people living in forests must be the motto of people working for the welfare of nature. Best wishes!

    Posted by: Anonymous | 5 years ago | Reply
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