Homing in the forest

Published: Friday 31 March 1995

-- It seemed too good to be true. A recent order of the Karnataka government allowed the 650 tribal families living in a part of the Rajiv Gandhi National Park to collect minor forest produce to build homes within the forest. The order also initiated the process of setting up public distribution system (PDS) outlets.

For these tribals, who were till recently under the imminent threat of eviction, this almost amounts to an acknowledgment of their traditional forest rights.

The implications of this order are far reaching, and will encompass all the other 18 national parks in the country. But how the state government is going to deal with the remaining 4000 Jenu Kuruba and Beetta Kuruba tribals still living inside the park remains to be seen.

What could have provoked this move is not clear. The order almost borders on altruism, and says: "According to the philosophy of man and biosphere, no harm will be done to the forests if such collection is allowed."

The order charts out a nebulous development plan, including the setting up of schools for the tribals. This order, in fact, is in sharp contrast to the rehabilitation plan which the forest department had prepared, but could not implement in the face of strong opposition from the tribal joint action front.

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