Tigers in, people out
Maharashtra preparing to relocate people but without groundwork
"We were threatened that if we did not sign the consent notes for relocation, our names would be struck out of the rehabilitation list," said Yamunabai Khadke, a resident of Vairat village in Melghat tiger reserve in Maharashtra. Melghat along with Pench and Tadoba Andhari were notified critical tiger habitats in December 2007 by the state ministry of environment and forests. The notification meant relocating 69 villages from the three tiger reserves.
Baburao Pachpute, the state minister of environment and forests, had claimed after the notification of the reserves that relocation would be done on a "war footing" and the process of identification of families eligible for relocation would be completed by July 31.Of late, he has been emphasizing that villagers are more than willing to relocate and the Centre's "handsome compensation package of Rs 10 lakh per family" had proved to be an incentive. But Khadke's statement does not reflect that. She and other villagers claim that notifying the reserves as critical tiger habitats was done without consulting them. Experts add that it is illegal.
A K Saxena, chief conservator of forests, Nagpur division, agrees that villagers were not consulted. The reason, he says, is that the notification was done according to the Wild Life (Protection) Act 1972, which does not require people's consent.
Forest rights activists counter the argument saying an amendment to the act in 2006 laid down that "No Scheduled Tribes or other forest dwellers shall be resettled or have their rights adversely affected...for tiger conservation unless...agencies of the State Government...establishes...that the activities of the Scheduled Tribes and other forest dwellers is sufficient to cause irreversible damage and threaten the existence of tigers and their habitat..."
Also, under the Guidelines to Notify Critical Wildlife Habitats issued by the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests in October 2007, notifying requires a resolution from the gram sabhas concerned that the recognition and vesting of rights in the affected area is completed. The guidelines also suggest that the expert committee should conduct public hearings in the area with a quorum of at least two-thirds members of the population to be affected. "None of the above processes were carried out," says Mohan Kothekar, steering committee member of the National Forum of Forest People and Forest Workers. "It is a clear case of the government violating regulations." Until such procedures are carried out, no attempt should be made towards relocating the affected populations, he added.
Colin Gonzalves, a human rights lawyer, says "Failure to follow legal provisions makes the notification illegal and it can be challenged legally." But forest officials have already started the process of filling consent notes for relocation. In Melghat, residents of villages Vairat, Churni and Pastalai report largescale irregularities in the process of filling individual consent notes. Force, threats and opacity, all appear to be part of the game.
Alleges Namdeo Khadke, a Vairat resident "Forest officials do not give us prior notices. They come at any given time of the day or night, grab hold of whoever they find, and try to get them to sign the note. Once we had asked the range forest officer of Chikhaldara for photocopies of the notes we had filled up but that demand led to the abrupt cancellation of the meeting."
In Pastalai village, almost everyone signed the consent notes after forest officials dug demarcation trenches next to the boundary of the villagers' agricultural land, cutting off forest access.
|Residents of Vairat sit in protest against relocation measures adopted by the state|
|"We want rehabilitation, not Rs 10 lakh, but no one listening to us"|
resident Churni Village
We are a voice to you; you have been a support to us. Together we build journalism that is independent, credible and fearless. You can further help us by making a donation. This will mean a lot for our ability to bring you news, perspectives and analysis from the ground so that we can make change together.
Comments are moderated and will be published only after the site moderator’s approval. Please use a genuine email ID and provide your name. Selected comments may also be used in the ‘Letters’ section of the Down To Earth print edition.