Tribals in forests: From dwellers to outsiders

By Kapil Pincha, Tata Institute Of Social Sciences, Tuljapur Campus

A. Introduction

It was in the times of Jalal-ud-din-Akbar that the “royal game” was started owing to his passion for the game. This game had changed the approach of hunting tigers to an act of adventure and exoticism instead of an act of defense for saving lives of the villagers. It was a game which offered the thrill of adventure and was at the same time exotic in nature. This continued till the fall of the Mughal dynasty in 1857. There are many other documented histories in terms of paintings and other records where the Mongols, Turks, Rajputs and Afghans can be seen hunting tigers riding on elephant or horse backs. The most important part was the consideration of tigers as the ultimate trophies of these games.

The maharajas, the colonial administrators and the elites of many other countries increasingly found interest in this so called “royal game”. Re-emphasizing its popularity, this royal game was already a $4 million industry at the time of the ban on killing tigers. This game required detailed planning as it consisted of getting into the predator zone which in turn required getting deep in to the jungles. That would require long days in the jungle, hence the required amount of food, drinking water, tents etc. had to be carried. The maharajas had a coming-of-age ritual for princes to kill tigers. 109 tigers hunted were considered to be an auspicious number after their coronation. In 1965 maharaja of Surguja claimed to have killed 1150 tigers just because they made the best trophies. Colonial administrators like George V in 1911 after his ascension in 1911 went to Nepal and hunted 39 tigers in 10 days. Colonel Geoffrey Nightingale shot more than 300 tigers in India, to quote a few.

Historians claim 80,000 tigers hunted in the span of fifty years between 1875 and 1925. The mind-set towards tiger killing kept changing, from “threat to the villagers” to “royal games” to “emerging fashion”. In the 1950s a tiger pelt would cost a mere 50 dollars and slowly the Hollywood models started draping themselves with the tiger skin converting it in contemporary fashion. This triggered its demand. In the 1960s its price shot up to 10,000 dollars.

The number of tigers slowly fell from a range of50000 and 100000 in the nineteenth century to around 1800 in 1971. Under the then prime minister Indira Gandhi, project tiger was initiated. This was such a successful project that by the time of her assassination in 1984 the number of tigers shot up to 4000. The project was so successful that it was an inspiration around the world. But, soon after, in order to meet the demands of the new phenomenon in the Indian market, i.e., the traditional Chinese medicines, tigers were being hunted, poisoned and snared in India. When in 2008 the tiger survey was conducted with a more advanced technology of camera traps, the number laid in front was shocking. They were a mere 1411. After more than three decades and millions of dollars of investment the project tiger was back to square one. Two years later after a wider census raised the number of tigers to 1706. Today there are 45 tiger reserves in India holding around one per cent of India’s land mass. Tiger poaching has been a serious issue even now.

The reason for killing tigers since the past century has changed from time to time. But, the tribal folks living in the forests along with the tigers for times immemorial never shared the same passion, greed, or need of killing tigers. Had that been the case, modern times wouldn’t have witnessed this beautiful species. In the name of conservation of the wildlife and tigers particularly, tribal groups are being displaced from the places their forefathers had been living. The tribal folk have been the soft targets always. They were marginalised and suppressed by the colonial government in the past and by our own government in contemporary times. For the victims, it has been a mere change of the name of the government. There have been cases of tribal groups getting displaced multiple times. Since 1947, around 50 million people had been displaced in the name of developmental agenda. As Arundhati roy puts it, they are as many as three times the population of Australia, three times the number of refugees partition created, ten times the number of Palestinian refugees. Well, the examples cited are so known but the displacement caused in the name of development, has been silenced. Conservation induced displacement has just been a by-product of development induced displacement.

In India there are 657 protected areas. They include 513 wildlife sanctuaries, 99 national parks, 41 conservative reserves and 4 community reserves. All of them cover around five percent of the total landmass of our country. In the last thirty years since the inception of the project tiger, out of 1273 villages from the buffer zones and 273 villages from the core zones only 80 villages have been rehabilitated. In the villages of the core zones all kinds of development activities are suspended. These include the construction of small culverts essential during the rainy season, provision of primary health facility, fair price shop, no weather roads because of which these villages are almost inaccessible during the rainy season. The state transport services are rare and electricity supply is irregular.

By sanctioning an area as tiger reserve, the government intends to displace the tribal and other forest residents. The displacement is done with reasoning that it’s an effort towards bridging the gap and including the tribal to the mainstream society and income. But, in most cases this has just been a facade. The victims are often picked up from their natural habitat and dumped into some barren land with a rare effort to meet the humanly needs. Even though the forest right act states that the basic needs are to be met before the people are displaced, they are just dumped in concrete houses. Those settlements are never home to these people and the whole colony seems temporary and the people would leave soon. This is proved from the way these settlements start breaking off within a time of few years.

The different packages the tribal groups are offered by the government are:

1) Rs 10 lakhs compensation,

2)Things provided by the government which cost the same. the break up is:-
a)agricultural land (2 hectares)- ₹ 3,50,000
b)settlement of rights- ₹ 3,00,000
c)homestead land and house construction- ₹ 2,00,000
d)community facilities- ₹ 1,00,000
e)incentive- Rs 50,000

The tribal need to know both and according to their want or liking, they can opt for it. The major concern is the process of displacement more than displacement itself.

B. Laws Related to Displacement

B.1. Forest Rights Act (2007): It recognizes 13 different rights that are central to the lives and livelihoods of Adivasi and other traditional forest dwellers across the country. It will supersede forest conservation act of 1980. The conversion will not require consent of union ministry of environment and forests. The state will be able to take comprehensive steps, improve infrastructure in terms of health care, education, drinking water, power supply, sanitary and livelihood support. These rights include:

1)Rights to land under occupation as well as customary land.

2)Ownership of minor forest produces.

3)Rights to water bodies.

4)Rights to use the grazing areas.

5)Habitat of primitive tribal groups.

6)Conversion of all types of forest villagers/settlements to revenue villages. In revenue villages, the villagers are conferred with heritable but inalienable rights over the land which has manifold benefits. The villagers can use the land as a guarantee for seeking bank loans to engage in any vocation.

7)It mandates that forest dwellers cannot be evicted from forest land unless their traditional rights over forest resources are recognised.

8)It is mandatory to acquire written consent from gram sabha for resettlement process and the proposed compensatory package.

9)Relocation of forest dwellers to be last resort and to be carried out only on the basis of scientific criteria and when all the possible co-existence options had been considered.

B.2. Wildlife Protection Act, 1972: This act limits the rights to live inside the protected areas of national parks, sanctuaries. It puts restriction on harvesting of natural products and establishes centralised and exclusive management. It also states that “no resettlement shall take place until facilities and land allocation at the resettlement location is complete as per the promised package.

B.3. National Policy on Resettlement and Rehabilitation, 2007: The objective of this is to minimise displacement and support the other alternative which can avoid displacement or which indulges minimum displacement. This scheme specifies that rehabilitation should be voluntary and in conformity with the provisions of this national policy.

C. The Case Studies: A Brief

In this paper, there are four case studies; three of them have been constructed using secondary data and the remaining one is the Tadoba-Andhari tiger reserve which is related to my rural fieldwork.

My stay of first 11 days was in the core zone of the forest, kolsa and the rest 11 days in the buffer zone, Doni.

The first three case studies have been constructed with an objective to get an idea of how displacement and its process have been executed in the other tiger reserves. The other tiger reserves considered are Achnakmar tiger reserve in Chattisgarh, Sariska tiger reserve in Rajasthan and Similipal tiger reserve in Odisha.

C.1. Case Study: 1. Achnakmar Tiger Reserve

Achnakmar tiger reserve is 60kms from Bilaspur city in the Chhattisgarh state of India. In 1975, achnakmar wildlife sanctuary was established. Laterlormi, kota and gaurela reserve were combined and declared as tiger reserve. It is 914 square km in area and the core area is 480 square km. it is home to the baiga tribes. Baigas means “the lord of the jungle”. They were semi-nomadic tribe. They lived on the Maikal hill ranges running along the border of Chattisgarh. They used to practice “Bewar” or slash and burn cultivation with a belief that tilling the soil with a plough is akin to scratching the breast of mother earth. So, they would clear a patch of forest, burn it, and on the fertile ashes sow 16 varieties of seeds, mostly minor millets. After three crop cycles, the plot was left alone to grow back into a forest again and they would shift to another patch. When in 1890 the colonial British administration prohibited Bewar practice in all forest barring a few villages in Maikal hills, reason being the depletion of forests. Later, it was said that the forests which had presence of Bewar practice didn’t really deplete but instead the other parts did.

In 2009, the displacement was initiated phase wise wherein there were 6 villages in each phase. The 249 families were displaced to Kathmuda village, district Bilaspur. Most of the people belonging to the villages were not clear about either their rights or how the whole process of relocation is going to take place. In most cases the concerned person was made into a victim instead into a gainer. The people were not even asked for the selection of options. They were just ordered for displacement.

When they were shifted, for a year they lived in temporary huts outside the reserve. The displacement had taken place during the peak of the winter season, none of the promises of living accommodation, school, health centre, roads and livelihood sources were kept. Each head of the family got ₹ 5000 as cash and ₹ 45000 in the bank accounts made by the government.

Three years later when they were living in houses with 7.5 cm thick concrete roofs, leaking. The houses they received from the forest department were made of concrete whereas they were used to live in mud houses. The whole area does not look like a village anymore but like an urban settlement of colonies. The compensation received was for little crop. Electricity connection wasn’t available. Till 2012, which is after three years of rehabilitation; the displaced were yet to receive the land titles for farm and land for houses they had received as part of the compensation package.
The forest department does not let them use the forests. They would collect tendu leaves for bidis, bamboos for making household utensils and sal leaves for making plates. They would sell them and paddy, millets and maize grown in the plots in the jungle ensured food. Now, no access to the jungle leads them to the zone of double disadvantage. The compensation package never considered these losses which the villagers will have to sustain.

Quoting a villager, vipal of bankal village, “cultivable fields but no farming tools, schools but no teacher comes, fans and bulbs but no electricity. No access to forest which was the mother and source of livelihood”. There are such tribal families in this tribe who have been chased out as many as twelve times since 1989.

The department which advocates the laws instead violates them. A few of them in the case of Achnakmar tiger reserve displacement case are:

1)forced displacement
2)No recognition of community rights and the adivasis were not notified about their area being declared as critical tiger habitat zone. This leads to the violation of the forest rights act, 2006.
3)There was no consultation with the villagers which violates the panchayat extension to scheduled area act (pesa), 1996.
4)The status of the rehabilitation sites were not at all as promised. They as stated above had to live in temporary houses that too in the peak of winters. In this state they had to survive for a year.

C.2 Case Study: 2. Sariska Tiger Reserve

Sariska tiger reserve is in the Alwar district of Rajasthan in the Aravalis. It is 200 km from Delhi. Hunting here was legal till 1955. These forests of Sariska were managed as hunting reserves for the maharaja of Alwar. There was a whole system of maintaining the forest and protect from poaching. But in November 1955 it was declared as a wild life reserve and in 1978 it was declared as tiger reserve. It was the 11th tiger reserve of India. At that time the area was 400 square km but the area doubled to 881 square km in 2015. There were 24 villages in the core and 246 in the buffer area. Umri village was displaced in 2009. It had 350 people from 82 families. They were moved to a village called mojpurroondh in Alwar district. They belong to the Meena tribe. This tribe majorly depended on the livestock. This had led to severe conflicts among the forest department and the villagers over livestock grazing and other bio-mass extraction activities. The main income of the tribe was from the milk and milk products. Livestock being the main occupation, on an average each family had 9 buffaloes, 1 cow and 12 goats.

The villagers after relocating automatically had to shift to agriculture from livestock. This was a huge shock. The tribe has been into livestock for generations and there whole lifestyle was according to that. No presence of proper grazing land, proper water accessibility like lack of ponds and lakes, vulnerable economy in case of drought and famines led to sudden change in lifestyle. Due to the issues it eventually led to the deaths of their livestock in many cases and forcibly had to change their occupation into something they had never before indulged in, agriculture. The incomes have been adversely affected because of this sudden shift from livestock grazing to agriculture.
The process of relocation was highly non-participatory and inequitable. There were no meetings for information on plans being finalized. The villagers had come to know either from informal interaction with the forest guards or fellow villagers. Many villagers didn’t know anything about relocation. Interviews with the villagers revealed that half of them had no knowledge of the packages they were liable for compensation and the other half didn’t have any clear idea. All these led to violation of the rights related to displacement of tribal.

C.3. Case Study: 3. Similipal Tiger Reserve

The Similipal tiger reserve is situated in the Mayurbhanj district which is in the north-eastern part of the Odisha. It is 270 km from the state capital, Bhubaneswar. The massive damage caused by commercial foresting promoted by the Britishers for the logging companies by growing only timber. This went on till 1904 when finally the government realised the major damage these logging companies had done to the forest. Some measures were taken up but this at some measure went on till 1950s when finally logging was put at a stop. It was declared national park in two phases, first in 1980 and the second in1986. This covered an area of 2200 square km. It later was turned into a biosphere reserve because of its tigers, dense forests, sal forests, streams and other scenic spots. There are 4 villages in the core area which is 1194.75 square km and 65 villages in buffer area which is 1555.25 square km.

Ever since the ghosts of relocation have been haunting the Similipal tiger reserve core area villages, life has been made tough. They have been put under tremendous pressure by the forest officials. Their access to the forest was barred; they were living with a lot of rules and regulation which had made their life tough. People couldn’t use the forest they had been using for generations now. This made the survival tough because of their dependence on them. The Khadia tribe which had been residing in the villages for generations now people were quoted by different organisations when they reached the villages of the national park as they were put under such threat of being called as maoists and will be killed. They were forced to leave their villages and sign the documents which none knew what it had in it as most of them do not know how to read and write other than just signing their names.

When they rehabilitated to Ambadiha they were totally dependent on government hand-outs. The houses they were supposed to get were not ready and after living in the ever cool environment of the jungle they had to live in the heat chamber made of plastic. The promise of money, food, livestock and land never materialised. The then collector had promised cooked food for two months. This promise had lasted only eight days. The promise for water from lift points to be provided was fulfilled, but this quantity of water was just enough for their drinking needs. Hence the people couldn’t take bath ever since (report of after 15 days) and the children and old were falling ill. Another promise was broken of people getting an allowance of ₹ 2000 for a time period.

The whole process saw a violation of various laws at every point of the process of rehabilitation. They were:

1)According to the Forest rights act, 2006 a resettlement package or an alternative to it is being provided to the concerned person but in this case they were just forced and traumatised to such extent that for them rehabilitating had become an escape without considering the option.
2)The free informed consent of the gram sabha and the package obtaining in writing has to be obtained. This might be with the forest department but it was forced and done.
3)No resettlement shall take place until all the facilities required are in place at the relocation site. But they were as if just dumped in the resettled area.
4)Under the Wildlife (protection) act the government is liable to make sure agricultural, livelihood, developmental and other interests of the people living in tiger bearing forests or a tiger reserve.

C.4. Case Study: 4. Tadoba-Andhari Tiger Reserve

Tadoba national park is in the Vidharba region, Chandrapur district in Maharashtra. It is 160 km from the Nagpur city. It was the second tiger reserve in Maharashtra and was declared in 1995. The area of the forest is 625 square km. It is home to the Gond tribe. They are the largest tribe in India as well as in the world with nine million populations out of which four million staying in India. It had 6 villages in the core zone out of which two were rehabilitated. The two villages, Botezari and Kolsa were rehabilitated to a village named Bhagwanpur in 2005. The village of Botezari rehabilitated in its totality to this place. They chose the second package which got them houses, land for farming, incentive money. But the village of Kolsa hasn’t rehabilitated in its totality. By now half the village has relocated. Every year some of them are rehabilitating giving in to the pressures of the forest department or getting lured by the package.

The tribal people here were mainly dependent on agriculture, growing only rice and for all the other needs they would use the forest. Sometimes they would get temporary employment from the forest department also like clearing up of the roads in the forest, cutting the weeds etc. But the new settlement in Bhagwanpur neither has any access to forests nor any employment from the forest department. The sight of Bhagwanpur was that of a refugee camp. Houses seemed like a temporary establishment. Few of them were built three years back but they already had visible cracks. Those showed the cracked commitment of the government towards their responsibility of giving these displaced villagers a better chance of life. The place has water scarcity at such levels that during summers and the most part of the year the wells don’t have water. A pond for domestic purpose was promised before settlement but has not been materialised yet. The land they have been provided is not cultivable. Even after people living for the past eight years, they were not being able to make the land cultivable. This has led to people migrating from here to either close by towns or others land to work as daily wage labour. But even that is for a temporary time period of the year. For the major part of the year they struggle to find out employment for themselves. To make it cultivable it takes years and that too it is not sure that desired outcome will come or not. In the absence of water the impossibility of the chances grows.

After witnessing the above mentioned, the remaining people in Kolsa are putting up resistance. There had often been cases of face to face confrontation leading to violence from the end of the forest department. In one of such cases, the entire village was put behind bars.

Half the village has been resettled to the other location. According to the different laws governing the whole forests and tribal displacement, there cannot be any development schemes working. For example NREGA was dysfunctional here. Government is least bothered about the development projects in these area and the Directive Principal of State Policy of these villagers are being violated. No roads, no connectivity, no education, no employment, no effort in alleviating the standard of life of these people. This village of around 250 people has no Primary Health Clinic in its village. Though the village being in an area which is malaria prone and in such interiors of the forest the nearest medical facility they have is in Chandrapur which as mentioned earlier is 45 kms away or Chichpalli which is 22 kms. The school is till class four. It used to be till class 7 and had plans to extend it up to class 10 but after the rehabilitation order the school was limited to class 4 with only four students as the student strength and a school master which is not mentally fit to teach. Apart from all this there was no presence of PDS too. All the concerns for this village stop at one point and that being the displacement issue. There resistance to it has been going on for the past two decades.

During the interview of Up-sarpanch and our resource person Mr. Satish answered our question of why is he still staying back and putting this protest up against the state. He had said that he wouldn’t mind relocating but only if he gets a better option. Better option meant either more money which is a viable request because considering Rs 10 lakh, he can either get an agriculture land or a home for himself. The other option being getting a better place to relocate because the village they were being relocated to doesn’t have basic resources for human existence like water, fertile land, proper connectivity etc.
The whole relocation issue must have worked out in such manner where first the landless must have relocated thinking they will at least get some land and house of their own. Then the people with less land, then the people with land but must not have wanted to get into complications with the forest department. The ones who are left are also slowly moving out. Each year few households are leaving the village. From complete resistance, these people have come down to negotiation talks. The only thing left is these people should get what they are entitled of.

There has been violation of rights under different laws in this case of rehabilitation too.

1)The place of rehabilitation lacks basic amenities which are promised by the forest right act like water availability.

2)The land they have been provided with is a forest land and that means the people cannot enjoy the land rights as owners. The new land itself is a forest land and comes under forest department.

D. Summary

The four cases which have been studied are from different parts of India and have tribal groups as the habitants. They have been living in the forests for generations. The Project Tiger was established to save the endangered species of tiger from extinction owing to the fact that the population had descended from almost a lakh to a handful 1800 within a century because of the various reasons like hunting, poaching etc. the brunt of the ecstasy of adventure enjoyed by the elites is now faced by the tribal groups who are at the lower rung of our economy. Though the government did respond by passing acts like the forest right act which if applied properly has the potential to empower this section of people, but it had failed miserably in terms of compliance. Action had only been on papers.

In all the four cases covered the displacement has been either forced or the pressure has been created in such a way that the villagers found it easier to leave their ancestral homes and get settled in foreign environment. The approach to resettlement of these tribal groups is more because of the tough conditions created by the forest department instead of being it out of choice. The people have been made to sign the papers without knowledge or much clarity of the whole process.

The transparency of these processes is needed and each thing must be in knowledge of the concerned group of people. The meetings held between the Gram sabha and the forest department is either a facade or never happening. In many cases the people don’t even know there basic rights and the packages they can avail. Somewhere they are just given the cash compensation or somewhere just been shifted. Force, pressure, threats, threats to kill by claiming them to be Maoists are a few ways which have come in light. In each case the government has played such role from which the people belonging to these places have no more faith left in the government. Turning a blind eye to the culture and the lifestyle of the tribes, the victims had a tough time in transitioning from the cool and green environment to the middle of nowhere with zero primary needs fulfilled. The result is a culture shock and a long span of time to re-settlement. With just one thought and reason of linking them to the mainstream economy and lifestyle the government puts them into a state of disgust
The cases covered have been linked through the following commonality:

the victims: tribal folk
the problems they face because of the displacement
The utter failure of the government.

This paper analyses the situation of the tribal with help of the model of impoverishment risk or taxonomy of adverse consequences by Michael .M. Cernia. Following is a comparative analysis based on the seven aspects of the model, namely, landlessness, joblessness, homelessness, marginalization, morbidity, food insecurity, social disarticulation.


E. Conclusion

The rural fieldwork which was intended for an observational study of the villages turned out to be more than that. The Tadoba village at first sight seemed like some short story village and everything seemed in place. There seemed no regular issues which can be seen in other villages. But this village had an even grave issue which was influencing the life of villagers in everyday life. The conflict between the forest department and the tribal due to the issue of displacement has existed since 1995. The villagers want a better place to live where all their basic rights for livelihood is fulfilled or want more compensation. The village where they are supposed to relocate does not fulfill their demand of basic needs. We realized that the people living there for past eight years were frustrated because of no fulfillment of promises. Even now they do not have sources of water. The wells they have would dry during summers. The land they have received for cultivation is not cultivable and the houses already have developed cracks. The tribal group has not got land titles yet. On the other hand, ten lakhs rupees is a compensation which will either get them land for agriculture or a home. When questioned what kept them going and resist the forest dept., the up-sarpanch of this village (who is also heading the whole protests), stated in a rather simple and logical tone that their demand is enhancement or at least replication of their earlier quality of living, which is nothing but just. The current place where they are supposed to relocate doesn’t provide them the basic needs also. The cash compensation too would not ensure him a long lasting living in case of prolonged unemployment.

Relocation needs to be avoided and if there is no other way out but to displace the existing tribal groups then at least the living standards need to be replicated. Same compensation for all around this huge country cannot really ensure the same satisfaction. If the people at the helm try to just prove through citing different examples then they must first consider that seeing the tribal satisfied is not another court case that needs to be won. If they won’t expect from the government they are under then whom should they go to? There should be customised relocation compensation as per the needs of the different tribal group of different areas. Need, wants and requirements need to be well discussed in the meetings and the meetings among the gram Panchayat and Forest department should not be just for the sake of it. The realisation of all kinds of problems at physical, mental, psychological level these people will have to go through pre, during and post relocation. In so many cases the tribal have been relocated multiple times. This leads to the question of their identity. The question whether these people are considered to be just another pawns of the government where on the whims and fancies of the government can be relocated to anywhere in any condition at the expense of their emotions, health and mental trauma they are put through.

The forest rights act if followed properly, it has enough potential to set things right but then again in the cases covered in this paper it seems the forest department was trying to achieve some kind of target and for that they used all sorts of ways without considering the humanitarian aspect.
The paper has covered the laws and how those laws have been violated by the same body, Government, which is supposed to maintain it in different cases of different states. In the paper Michael m Cernias model of impoverishment risk has been used to specifically point out which aspects the tribal groups have been affected. The whole paper has been linked to my experience at the fieldwork in Tadoba-andhari tiger reserve. In all the other cases somewhere or the other parallels could be found when it came to the issue of displacement. As specified in the beginning that these development related projects have displaced more people than any other times including the episode of partition. A very important question arises when we look more and more into it. The question whether this kind of development is really necessary where our own people have to go through such ordeal? Is it not that the whole process of development for the sake of our people only? If they are made to go through such ordeal then there must be a better way where both the parties are in consensus resulting into satisfaction? How can government ignore a whole part of society to give the luxuries of development to another part of society?

Through this paper I am not trying to scientifically challenge the idea of tiger reserves but a general question comes up. It is told that the prey of the tigers is the livestock owned by the humans and if humans are only not there then what is going to happen? Living in the forest lifestyle the tribal is a part of that ecology and if they are forcibly taken out from there won’t that create a misbalance? The concern is about the ordeal and tough time the tribal have to go through for something which they are not even responsible for. The questions raised might see the light of answer someday.


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