Row over 'forest rights' in BRT tiger reserve

People claim forest officials seized honey belonging to them; director says investigation is on

Row over 'forest rights' in BRT tiger reserve

Just three years after being conferred the tag of a tiger reserve, a controversy is brewing over community forest rights (CFR) granted to a community and a probable misuse of them in one of the Soliga villages in the Biligiriranga Swamy Temple Wildlife Sanctuary (BRT) tiger reserve.

People from Hosapodu village in the reserve claimed that the forest department officials had seized honey rightfully belonging to them and have moved court to dispose of the same.

But officials said there was no clarity on the rights and that the honey was being supplied to an organisation in Tamil Nadu.

The community, one of its representatives claimed, received the CFR rights in October 2011. One year later, the gram sabha (GS) constituted a forest conservation group – Aranya Samrakshana Samiti – under Section 5 of the Forest Rights Act as an executive body to oversee conservation activities in the CFR area.

Small-scale enterprise

Subsequently, the GS also decided to use Section 3.1(c) to start a small-scale enterprise of honey collection, processing and sale, and that from November 2012 to April 2013, around 1,200 kg of honey was collected and sold from the community hall in the village.
However, the ranger of the Punanjanur Range in the reserve, on May 9, allegedly arrived in the village with about 20 forest department personnel, seized the honey cans, threw out the processing equipment and locked up the community hall.

That afternoon, a representative said, members of the gram sabha approached a senior district administration officer and the CEO of the Zilla Panchayat for help.

“The officer has written to the new CEO citing the gram sabha’s petition, but without invoking the Forest Rights Act and asked him to do the needful,” she claimed.

Further, she said the CEO had also written a more detailed letter invoking Section 3.1(c) and 10(g) of the amended rules and asked for the honey to be returned and for the range forest officer (RFO) to be instructed to follow due procedure according to the Act.

Speaking to Deccan Herald, Lingaraja S S, director, Biligiriranga Swamy Temple Wildlife Sanctuary tiger reserve, said: “I received a complaint from the locals, and our preliminary investigation has revealed that the honey was being sold to an organisation in Tamil Nadu. When our officers were on the spot, there was no proof to show they had produced the CFR. We are investigating the matter, and if their claims are right, we will follow the procedures under the law.”

He also expressed concern over a probable misuse of the CFR rights even if the said persons had obtained it.

“Such rights are given to benefit the local community and they will not have rights for free ranging. There will be boundaries. In this case, investigation shows they were supplying the product to another state, while we have a government-recognised organisation formed by the locals – LAMPS – to which they are supposed to sell honey,” he said.

Archana, one of the representatives, said the complainants now claimed that they did not know what papers they were signing.

Court proceedings

Following the seizure, the RFO, on May 10, filed a petition in a local court reporting seizure of 300 kg of honey, which he submitted was collected illegally (as per the Karnataka Forest Act, 1963) and moved the court for immediate disposal of honey citing perishability.

While the representative of the locals claimed that he under-reported the quantity, forest officials denied the allegation. The representative said the court, having heard their plea, had instructed the RFO not to dispose of the honey and deferred the hearing on ownership to Tuesday as the court was on a three-day holiday.

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