Future in forest: How eviction of villagers from Achanakmar tiger reserve united adivasis to fight for CFRR

Four villages in the core area of the reserve received forest rights August 9, 2022

By Zumbish
Published: Friday 26 August 2022
Future in the forest: How eviction of villagers from Achanakmar tiger reserve united adivasis to fight for CFRR Photo: Ramajack007 / Wikimedia Commons

Residents of the four villages in the Achanakmar Tiger Reserve in Chhattisgarh’s Mungeli district that received Community Forest Resource Rights (CFRR) are in celebration and planning mode. 

Along with residents from 15 other villages in the core zone of the protected forest, they fought tooth-and-nail for the forest rights for three years, they told Down To Earth.

But the groundwork to unite and take on the authorities was laid way back in December 2009, when people were evicted from six other villages in the protected forest area. 

In February 2009, the tiger reserve was notified under Project Tiger. It aimed at relocating all the villages from the core area of the reserve to make “inviolate space” for tigers. 

The 249 families who were moved out were promised a fixed compensation package of Rs 1 million, including basic amenities in the new settlement. These included 5 acres of agricultural land / household, accommodation, school, healthcare and better livelihood opportunities. 

After the relocation, however, alternative location was not provided to the displaced population and the villagers had to stay in temporary huts built by the forest department. Each household was given a measly sum of Rs 5,000 in cash and Rs 45,000 in their bank accounts. 

The villagers spent most of this money in meeting their daily needs and housing arrangement. 

The fear of relocation and displacement without getting ownership of land had been looming over them since this episode, said Simanchal Achary of Mungeli, who has been spearheading the fight for forest rights of these villages. “Residents from the remaining 19 villages united and began their collective fight for CFRR in 2019, after a related event was organised in the region.” 

The success for four villages is very important for them and is a ray of hope for those yet to receive the title, he added. 

On Adivasi Day August 9, 2022, the four villages Bamhani, Mahamai, Katami and Babutola received forest rights over 1,663 hectares, 1,384 hectares, 3,240 hectares and 191.60 hectares respectively at a state government event.

Sant Kumar, a member of Katami village’s Forest Rights Committee, said: 

The CFRR win gives us hope to liberate ourselves from the core zone label someday, living in which we are denied access to electricity and mobile networks. It also empowers us to not tolerate the domination of forest department, which curbs us from utilising our forest produce like char, amla and to collect dry wood for fuel.

Once CFRR is recognised for a community, the ownership of the forest passes into the hands of the Gram Sabha (village council, comprising all eligible voters), instead of the forest department.

The Gram Sabha is free to form its own rules and regulations for management, use and conservation after getting the right. Without its consent, the forest cannot be diverted for any use, including wildlife conservation. Effectively, the Gram Sabha becomes the nodal body for management of the forests.

Achanakmar became the second tiger reserve in Chhattisgarh to get CFRR, following Udanti Sitanadi Tiger Reserve in Dhamtari district. There are three tiger reserves in Chhattisgarh.

Residents of the core zone of a protected area are often neglected in terms of facilities, Kumar said. “At least they should have land rights and access to protect, manage, regenerate and use forest and forest produce.”

This right is about that — it is in sync with the jal, jungle, jameen sentiment and strengthens our slogan of land to the tiller, he added.

He was excited about the prospect of being able to freely sell forest produce in Lormi, the panchayat his village comes under.

“The right will save us from too much interference from the forest department. It has strengthened our fight for forest rights immensely,” was the message of Dilharan Tekam, president of the forest rights committee, Bamhani.

Scheduled Tribes And Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition Of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 entails that the rights are same in the case of protected areas. However, according to Section 4 (2) in the Act, the forest rights in critical wildlife habitats of national parks and sanctuaries may subsequently be modified or resettled. This is provided that no forest rights holders shall be resettled or have their rights in any manner affected for the purposes of creating inviolate areas for wildlife conservation except in case of conditions being satisfied.

Though the villages are under floodwaters, the villagers are in celebration mode since the announcement, determined to pen a new chapter of their life in the forests.

Subscribe to Daily Newsletter :

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.