Tribals relocated from tiger reserve face livelihood crisis

Last Updated : 16 August 2013, 07:42 IST
Last Updated : 16 August 2013, 07:42 IST

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Relocated from native villages to pave way for Chhattisgarh's Achanakmar Tiger Reserve, tribals say the move has neither solved their livelihood issue nor helped in tiger conservation.

Achanakmar Wildlife Sanctuary, located around 200 kms from the state capital Raipur in Bilaspur region, was given the status of a tiger reserve in 2009 following which six villages were removed out of the core zone.

However, as per official information, the tiger population dipped drastically there. While 27 wild cats were recorded before 2009, now there is no exact count of the felines even as 5-6 have been spotted in tracking cameras.

"We have cultivable fields but we don't have farming tools, we have school but teacher hardly comes, we have fans and bulbs but no electricity. We have lost full access to the forest which was our mother and source of livelihood," Vipath of Bankal village, which was relocated, told PTI.

Tribals and tigers have co-existed for centuries in this country and the tribal people have deep bonding with forests and wildlife. Relocation at whatever cost always leads to pain in mind and heart, Vipath, the head of Van Samiti (forest committee) in his village, said.

In Achanakmar Tiger Reserve (ATR), out of 25 villages in core area - Jalda, Kuba, Bokrakachhar, Bahud, Bakal and Sambhar Dhasan - were relocated including 249 families - 238 of scheduled tribes and 11 of OBCs.

The villages are inhabited by Baiga tribe (categorised as primitive tribal group), who have lived here for centuries and consider themselves as protectors of forests.

Katik, an elderly tribal of Baiga community in Kuba village, says, "Government feels that we have been brought close to the mainstream but the fact is that we are still far away from benefits of government schemes."

The villagers have been strictly prohibited against collecting forest produce, the prime source of livelihood. Apart from collecting minor forest produce to sell, they were also taking firewood for fuel from the forests earlier.

"Now we have to buy firewood from the market. We have not only lost the only source of income but are also spending more money on buying these things from market," Katik rued.

"There are no irrigation facilities in the villages where we have been relocated. Even the oxen we were provided during displacement were in poor health and most of them died within a year of relocation," Katik said.

The tribals also lamented that there were no other livelihood options at the rehabilitation sites and they were only left with an option of shifting to urban areas and work as contract labour at construction sites etc.

Environment activist Gautam Bandopadhyay said the forest department has to take full responsibility of ensuring livelihood means to the relocated tribals.

An independent review of the status at rehabilitation sites including livelihood, living accommodation, access to forests, access to education, health services and other civic amenities must be conducted, Bandopadhyay said.

The Forest Rights Act provision of right to protect the forests should be acknowledged and this should be taken into account before any further displacement, he added.

Notably, the state forest department has already moved a proposal to relocate five more villages - Sarasdol, Rajak, Tilaidabra, Birarpani, Chhirhatta - in the second phase of displacement in Achanakmar.

When asked to comment, field director, ATR, Arvind Tiwrai said all facilities to tribal people under relocation were in compliance with relocation guidelines. They have been brought to a new environment and gradually they will adapt.

"We are providing training to them with the help van samitis and SHGs (self help groups) about adopting various means of earning livelihood. Achanakmar Amrkantak Biosphere Reserve wing has also been roped in this task," Tiwari said, adding the district administration has been asked to enrol them under schemes like MNREGA to provide them jobs.

Also, they are being provided guidance through different agencies not just for farming, but also for other works like handicrafts etc, he said.

As far as facilities are concerned, the field staff, in coordination with district administration, reviews the amenities provided to them, he said.

According to forest officials, the tiger population, which was recorded at 27 before 2009 in Achanakmar sanctuary, drastically fell to 18, as per 2010 tiger census.

The number further dwindled to 12 in 2011 and presently there is no exact record of big
cats population in ATR but 5-6 tigers have been spotted in tracking cameras, they said.

Published 16 August 2013, 07:42 IST

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