-- Kudremukh was notified a national park in 2001. Protests have ensued ever since and the demand for denotification of the park has intensified over the years. The tribals fear they will be forced out of the park and relocated elsewhere. The state's relocation plans, however, haven't taken off yet. But there are Naxals who operate from the interior areas of the park and allegedly incite tribal communities not to give up their land. Then there are other players--encroachers and illegal miners--who keep the issue alive for their own interests. kirtiman awasthi tracks the case

Fear factor

Kudremukh National Park in Karnataka covers about 61,000 hectares (ha) spread over three districts--Dakshin Kannada (Belthangadi), Udupi (Karkala) and Chikmagalur (Mudigere, Koppa and Sringeri).More than 2,000 families inhabit the area; 1,425 families stay in the park.

The central issue behind the denotification demand is people's fear of eviction and loss of livelihood. In 1997, a state minister said that those living inside the national park will have to move out. The statement triggered protests in the area. The state later clarified that it would support those who wanted to leave the park premises on their own under its compensation plan and there would be no forced eviction. The principal secretary of Karnataka's home department wrote a letter to this effect on August 5, 2004. When the national park was notified in June 2001 (see box Protected reserve to national park), the state left out all revenue villages and settlements and various bonafide rights of people from the purview of the national park.

Why then the fear?

Of late, the national park has seen Naxal activities, which kicked off a debate that declaration of Kudremukh as national park had led to the Naxalite activity (see box Naxalism and Karnataka). Those opposing the park say that local communities' fear of eviction and Naxal activities are linked and want the park to be denotified to solve the Naxal problem. Wildlife activists on the other hand say people with vested interests--encroachers and illegal miners--are using Naxalism to get the park denotified. They also allege that the state government seems to have lapped up this rather simplistic view and is pressuring the union government to denotify the park. But the state forest department denies this. "The state is for the national park. We have sent a proposal on relocation of villagers to the centre but haven't got any response yet," says I B Srivastava, Principal Chief Conservator of Forests, Wildlife, Karnataka.

There are strategic considerations for the Naxals as well, says Praveen Bhargava of Wildlife First, an ngo in Bangalore, and a member of the National Board for Wildlife. "Kudremukh is one of the largest blocks of evergreen forests in the Western Ghats. This hilly forested area is difficult to access, particularly during the monsoons. The remoteness and hostile terrain makes Kudremukh a safe haven for Naxals," he says. Reports of villagers providing shelter to Naxals either out of fear or "perceiving them as messiahs of social justice" are common. "It is the eviction threat and fear of not getting good and fertile land that makes us restless," says Manjappa, a resident of Menasinahadya village within the national park.

The village in July 2007 saw a police attack that led to the death of five people, who the police call Naxals but villagers maintain they were residents (see box Naxals or villagers?). "Naxals often tell us about the consequences of leaving this place and ask us to support their activities," Manjappa adds.

Rehabilitation plan
In March 2004, the state government presented the rehabilitation plan for Kudremukh (see table Relocation plan). The plan said that there were about 201 families inside the national park where infrastructure development was not possible and hence they needed to be relocated in the first phase. The rehabilitation plan was sent to the Planning Commission in November 2006. The commission gave recommendations along the lines of the 2005 report of the Tiger Task Force appointed by the prime minister to look into the tiger crisis in the country and to prepare a tiger conservation plan.

The Planning Commission's recommendations emphasized that readymade houses be given to the evictees rather than giving them grants to construct houses. It stressed that a participatory approach and not a regulatory approach should be followed.

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KIRTMAN AWASTHI
The commission also wanted a fringe area development plan and pointed out that the proposal did not specify whether the area selected for acquisition was useful for people's livelihood. A fringe area development plan looks at alternative sources of livelihood through joint forest management/community forestry to reduce pressure on protected areas. The state is yet to revert to the commission and campaigners against the park doubt the state's intentions.

Making it work
In India about five million people live inside protected areas and about 147 million depend on resources that these areas provide. The laws that govern management of such areas prohibit hunting, fishing, collection of forest produce, agriculture and livestock grazing. In most cases, people face economic and livelihood insecurity after resettlement, of which there are examples aplenty (see box Bad precedent). "People have also been made to settle on unproductive land," says Leo Saldana of the Environment Support Group, Bangalore.

Relocation plan
Hangs in thin air, with no definite time frame
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Source Karnataka Forest Department
One of the options is to relocate forest villages just outside the forest area. To set an example, the Centre for Wildlife Studies, a Bangalore based research institution, relocated six families from within the national park. The families were "happy" with the measures taken. The six families belonged to a village called Nasehalla. When the organization approached them, they were reluctant initially. They then made an agreement with the organization, where the latter committed to giving them compensation in cash and helping them look for alternative land. The six families had 1.3 ha on record but they cultivated about 10 ha inside the national park. V Gowda, among the resettled families, owned about 2.4 ha outside the park, so he did not have to buy more land; he only had to build a house. He invested the money to grow more crops. Earlier, he grew coffee and rice but now he grows areca nut and black pepper too and earns about Rs 1 lakh a year compared to Rs 25,000 earlier. There is also no fear of wild boars raiding fields.

In another village, Kerekatte, about 200 families have given their consent for relocation. But overall, opinions differ. Some feel relocation will give them access to better healthcare facilities and schools. They believe if they get fertile land they will be able to diversify their crops but want to be assured of cash compensation. Some residents of Singsar village are also in favour of relocation but those living on revenue land are against it.

The denotification demand, however, has gathered steam.

Kudremukh
Down to EarthNestled in the Western Ghats, the Kudremukh National Park comprises tropical wet evergreen forests, noted for its scenic beauty. The name means "horse-face" and refers to a peak. Kudremukh receives an average annual rainfall of 700 cm. The northern, central and the eastern portions of the park form a chain of hills with a mosaic of natural grassland and shola forest, with tremendous water retention capacity. It houses various endangered animal species such as the lion tailed macaque. An important tiger habitat, Kudremukh National Park comes under the Global Tiger Conservation Priority-I, a format developed by the Wildlife Conservation Society and WWF. Kudremukh also forms the point of origin of three rivers--the Tunga, the Bhadra and the Nethravathi, besides numerous other streams.
Denotify common demand
"Surely, the mining lobby is interested because it cannot mine in a national park"

Wildlife activists say denotification will benefit the mining lobby and "encroachers" who are into large-scale plantations within the park. "The state has informed the union home minister that there would be a spurt in Naxalism if mining in Kudremukh is stopped and mining can happen only if the park is de-notified," says Bhargava. Conservationists also do not rule out a contractor lobby that stands to be affected. There is fall back of Naxalism in Kudremukh region.

Mining in Kudremukh
Kudremukh was primarily an iron ore mining town where the government-run Kudremukh Iron Ore Company Limited (kiocl) operated until 2002. kiocl was granted a 30-year mining lease in 1969 and allotted 3,203.55 ha of reserve forestland in Kudremukh. In 1987, the first notification declaring Kudremukh a national park brought the mining area under the purview of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972. The act does not allow non-forestry operations, including mining, within a protected area. But because the lease had already been granted, the company continued to mine till 1999. The permission, however, was extended till 2002 under a "temporary working permission" granted by the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (moef). In 2001, K M Chinnappa, a retired forest officer and trustee of the ngo Wildlife First, filed an interlocutory application with the supreme court in the ongoing Godavarman Thirumalpad v Union of India case. Chinnappa appealed that the mining operations should stop and the leased areas be included in the national park.

In October 2002, the apex court ordered all mining operations to stop and recommended that the company leave the area. The court also constituted a monitoring committee to oversee the closure proceedings. But the legal process did not end there. Keeping in mind that the central government had amended the Mineral Concession Rules, 1960, in April 2003, kiocl once again approached the supreme court, quoting the amendments, especially rule 23(C) which details procedures for final mine closure.

But the apex court dismissed the request in August 2004 saying the amendments would not override the directions contained in its 2002 judgement.

Illegal business
It is alleged that kiocl illegally mined more than 55 ha in the temporary working permit period--1999 to 2002. kiocl was required to operate only in patches according to the terms of the permit. The Comptroller and Auditor General's 2003 report also questioned the motive behind illegal mining. The report said that the company was operating outside the assigned area within the park and had illegally mined an additional area of 56.28 ha (between October 1999 and March 2002). This was in violation of statutory provisions in section 24 of the Karnataka Forest Act, 1963, section 35 (6) of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, and section 2 of the Forest Conservation Act, 1980.

A forest offence case was booked in March 2002 and the department assessed the environmental loss at Rs 19.33 crore, which has still not been recovered. This, however, is not the first time kiocl was fined. In 1974, the government allowed kiocl to construct a dam 65 m in height, which submerged about 265 ha of forest land. In 1994, the company, without any authorization, raised the height of the dam to 100 m, resulting in an additional 340 ha of reserved forest getting submerged. kiocl was fined more than Rs 100 crore for causing the destruction.

Eco-threat
Opposition to mining started amid concerns about the threat to the region's flora and fauna. Farmers were getting affected because of growing pollution of the streams that originated in the mining areas. High rainfall worsened the situation in the open-cast mines.

"It results in very high sediment discharge," says Jagdish Krishnaswamy, fellow with Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment (atree), who led the study on impact of mining in Kudremukh. The study showed that open-cast mining contributed to 220,530 tonnes of silt entering the Bhadra river during the 2002 and 2003 monsoons. Data from 1985 and 1986 revealed that the mining area, which formed less than 6 per cent of the catchment, contributed 53 per cent and 67 per cent of the total sediment load entering the Bhadra dam. "Over 100,000 ha of agricultural land would have been in peril if mining had not stopped. And this was not possible had Kudremukh not been declared a national park," says Sanjay Gubbi of the Centre for Wildlife Studies, Bangalore.

Satellite images taken by National Remote Sensing Agency show areas illegally mined
(in yellow, right) by KIOCL
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30th DECEMBER 1999   31st MARCH 2002

Haven for encroachers
"Encroachers" also have a stake in the denotification demand. Most encroachments in Chikmagalur district are by coffee growers. The issue saw a dramatic change when moef issued a directive on May 3, 2002, to summarily evict "all illegal encroachment of forestlands in various States/Union Territories" before September 30, 2002. The moef notification was backed by the 2002 supreme court order (which laid down closure of kiocl mining) asking for eviction of encroached forestland. "The Naxalites saw it as a larger programme for depopulating the forests of Karnataka, including the national park area," says Muzaffar Assadi, professor, political science, Mysore University. According to records submitted by the Karnataka government to the court, the highest number of households encroaching on forestland between 1978 and 2002 came from three districts--Uttar Kannada (35,604), Shimoga (23,994) and Chikmagalur (11,540). A total of 138,382 people had encroached on 117,556 ha of forestland in the state.

"While coffee planters have largely remained indifferent to the supreme court verdict on eviction, it affected the small farmers most. The state government even tried to legalize the land encroached upon between 1978 and 1992," says Assadi. The supreme court had directed that 1978 should be the cut-off year for legalizing encroachment, and those who encroached later should be evicted. Wildlife activists say big encroachers use villagers to safeguard their interests. "Around 100,000 ha of forests, primarily in the Western Ghats, have been encroached upon; 80 per cent of which are by powerful land grabbers. Linking the Naxalite issue to this will only help those who are attempting to establish private/commercial control over forestland and not people in need of social justice," says Bhargava. Assadi agrees. "Kudremukh was known for various social movements, including the one against kiocl and rights to resources. Naxalism has marginalized such movements," he says.

"It's all eyewash"
Down to EarthKALKULI VITTAL HEGDE, president of the Kudremukh Rashtriya Udhyana Virodhi Okkoota, an outfit agitating against the park, explains his organization's stand

On present status
We are against the national park status because people will be evicted and multi-national companies will gain entry to our forests in the name of research. This will allow them to exploit resources and use our indigenous knowledge to manufacture high-value products without any acknowledgement. There are several such examples.

On June 2001 notification
The government says there will be no forced eviction from the national park and has left out revenue villages and settlements from the purview of the national park but all this is just eyewash. Give me a single example where villages have not been asked to leave a national park area or where traditional rights over resources are retained.

On protecting biodiversity and conservation
Why are tigers dying? Aren't they protected? Communities protect their environment and biodiversity. National parks are made to give tourism and multi-national companies a boost; not to protect biodiversity.

On Naxalism
My campaign against the national park started in 1997; the first incidence of Naxalism was reported in 2002, and there is no relation between the two, although we fight for the same cause. Our campaign started after the then district magistrate of Chikmagalur said that no one can have land rights. Two people had committed suicide. Everybody started a satyagraha--they were ready to die. Some of them turned Naxals. But Naxalism has no roots here. Naxals are outsiders who supported villagers' cause.

On personal interest claims
Some people say I have personal interest as I have encroached upon land. Well yes, it is my personal interest and I think saving our environment and natural resources should be everybody's personal interest.

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