It can be painless

Some civil servants have relocated forest dwellers successfully

By Sanjay Gubbi
Published: Tuesday 31 August 2010

imageRelocation from protected areas is among the hotly debated issues in Indian wildlife conservation.

Though the number of people displaced from inviolate areas for wildlife is less compared to the displacement caused by other development projects, the fate of those ousted from protected areas is often a cause for friction between social scientists and those interested in wildlife conservation. Much of the heartburn is because of the dismal track record of relocation.

Relocation, though, was not always for conservation. According to wildlife historian Mahesh Rangarajan, in the 19th century relocation from forests was for "surveillance and revenue collection". Wildlife conservation became the major reason for relocating people from protected areas only since the early 1960s. Such relocation will definitely help improve wildlife numbers.

imageScientific studies have documented the chronic threats to wildlife from human habitation. With less than two per cent of the country's landscape reasonably well protected for wildlife conservation, we need to take a pragmatic view so that there is space for wildlife to survive in the coming years.

But old-style conservation is neither ecologically feasible nor ethical. It is imperative to accord priority to fair and well-implemented relocation projects. People who are willing to relocate voluntarily must be encouraged and provided better access to social amenities. Acting on the recommendations of the Tiger Task Force, which in 2005 recognised the need for inviolate areas for tiger conservation, the government has allocated increased budgets for relocation.

Today there are more funds for relocation under Centrally sponsored schemes—lately under the Compensatory Afforestation Fund Management and Planning Authority (CAMPA). One can see political will. It is time for the official machinery and civil society to deliver results.

Committed civil servants have recently achieved success in some relocation projects. One example is the relocation of 60 families from Nagarahole National Park in Karnataka. They were relocated to a hamlet in Sollepura village in Mandya district. The district authorities quickly ensured electricity and water for the families. Some houses that had leaky roofs were promptly repaired. The names of those who were of voting age were listed in Sollepura's rolls. The hamlet was attached to the nearest gram panchayat, very crucial in securing titles for the families who received land as part of their compensation package.

The communities were encouraged to form relocation implementation committees, which decide development priorities in the hamlet. The committees have to approve development proposals for their hamlet before they are placed before the District Level Monitoring Committee (DLMC). This was largely possible with the active participation of the DLMC chairperson, P Manivannan, a civil servant.

Under the new formula designed by the National Tiger Conservation Authority, a proactive DLMC can tailor relocation to site-specific needs. The government must also explore other means. Relocated families should be treated on a par with other developmental project evacuees, making them eligible for quotas in government jobs. Civil societies need to play watchdog and provide post-relocation support. Their role is important because the forest department still lacks the sensitivity to implement relocation projects.

Sanjay Gubbi focuses on educating policy makers on the need for wildlife conservation and currently works in the Western Ghats

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