They were fishing in reservoir inside the Pench Tiger Reserve, where fishing has been banned by high court
Seventeen fishers from village New Totladoh in Nagpur district of Maharashtra were injured, four of them seriously, when forest guards opened fire on them in the wee hours of January 8.
They were fishing in the Totladoh reservoir inside the Pench Tiger Reserve, where fishing has been banned by a high court judgment of 1995. A magisterial inquiry has been ordered into the incident after families of the fishers staged a demonstration at the police station demanding that cases be registered against the guards involved in the firing.
The conflict between the fishing community of New Totladoh and the forest department over fishing in the reservoir dates back to 2002 when their village inside the Pench Tiger Reserve was uprooted and they were given no rehabilitation package. The village, which was later given residential plots in the Deolapar area of Ramtek tehsil, is still fighting a Supreme Court case for compensation and means of living.
“We have no choice but to fish in the reservoir by stealth,” says one of the injured fishers Babulal Madawi. “Despite repeated appeals to the district administration and the state government, nothing has been done to provide livelihood to the 325 displaced families,” says Anand Gajbhiye, an advocate who has represented the community in numerous cases. Two years ago, around 700 fishers, from New Totladoh and neighbouring village Usripar, who have been fishing in the reservoir for generations, applied for community right to fish in the reservoir under Forest Rights Act, but the district administration has not responded, he adds.
Gajbhiye says it is not the first time guards have fired at fishers. “Earlier, their strategy was to register false cases of forest offences against the community. After a skirmish turned violent in 2007, cases were registered against all 700 families,” he says. In the past three months, however, guards have taken to firing at fishers from a distance almost regularly, Gajbhiye adds. “This time, however, they fired from close range, causing serious injuries.”
The fishers also contest statements made by forest officials, including that of additional principal chief conservator of forests, A K Saxena who say the guards fired in self defence. They allege the forest guards who opened fire disappeared from the area, informing neither the police nor the forest department of the incident. The incident came to light only after the injured fishers, who were hiding in the forests for several hours fearing further attack, reached the
village after a gruelling 20-km walk on January 8 morning.
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