State government claims rights of the forest communities will be protected
Ignoring strong protests from adivasi communities, the Andhra Pradesh government has issued an order declaring the Kawal Wildlife Sanctuary in Adilabad district as a tiger reserve. This is the second tiger reserve in the state after Srisailam and 42nd in the country for the big cats.
The declaration order dated April 10 says the Kawal Wildlife Sanctuary, spread over an area of 892 sq km, will form the core of the tiger reserve and an area of 1,123 sq km of the surrounding notified forests will form the buffer of the reserve.
According to the state government, the main objective of the declaration is ''to protect, restore, manage and maintain representative biodiversity of the Deccan plateau of the Sahyadri Mountain Ranges along with ecological processes and conservation of wild gene pool with a focus on Tiger."
The reserve with dense teak and bamboo forests has rich biodiversity with 673 species of plants and a variety of wild animals including 23 insect species, 10 species of amphibians, 34 reptile species, 267 bird species and 75 species of mammals like the Royal Bengal Tiger, gaur (Indian bison), wild dog and sloth bear. The government claims better security will be provided to curb and felling of trees that would help in improving the santuary's herbivorous population, which would lead to better tiger breeding.
The National Tiger Conservation Authority and the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests had given their approval to Kawal tiger reserve in September last year. But the project ran into controversy with the forest dwelling tribal communities refusing to move out of the notified areas. The tiger reserve constitutes notified forest blocks in Adilabad, Bellampalli, Jannaram and Nirmal forest divisions. About 2,000 adivasis live in 43 settlements in five mandals in the notified area.
Adivasis protest eviction
“The Central government has offered 10 lakh as compensation to each family that will be evicted but we are not ready to accept it since it will affect our lives and livelihood,” says C Prabhakar Gond, an adivasi leader belonging to Girijan Sangh. “ All of us have land and we’re cultivating it and it’s our livelihood. We won’t be able to live if we go out of the forests,” says K Sudhakar, an activist opposing the declaration of their area as tiger reserve. The forest communities claim there are no tigers in the forest, and that they would continue to protest against declaring the forests as tiger reserve and the move to evict the tribal families.
But according to the government order, the declaration of tiger reserve will not disturb the rights of the villagers to use existing pathways and traditional ways for their movement in the forest, and rights of the people living in forest; rights of villages on minor forest produce will be recognized and continued with the approval of the chief wildlife warden.
The order further says that the co-existence between wildlife and human activity should continue with due recognition of the social, cultural, livelihood and developmental rights of the forest communities and also the rights under the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 in consultation with gram sabhas and the expert committee constituted for this purpose.
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