Karnataka to expedite rehabilitation of tribals from protected areas of Nagarhole Tiger Reserve

A letter sent to the Union Minister for Environment by a Karnataka State Wildlife Board member has highlighted that the voluntary resettlement of tribals in the reserve, which started in 1998, has not been completed even after 23 years.

Additional Director General of Forests, Project Tiger and Member Secretary, National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) have directed the Karnataka government to expedite the process of resettlement of tribals from Nagarhole Tiger Reserve.

“Directions have been given to state authorities for seeking funding assistance from the State Compensatory Afforestation Fund Management and Planning Authority (CAMPA) besides exploring funding possibilities from the State Tribal Department for voluntary village relocation in tribal dominated areas,” Additional DGF S P Yadav said.

The development comes in the background of a letter sent to Bhupinder Yadav, Union Minister for Environment and Labour, by a Karnataka State Wildlife Board member, Siddharth Goenka, who highlighted that the voluntary resettlement of tribals in Nagarahole tiger reserve which started in the year 1998 has not been completed even after 23 years.

“As of now there are still 350-400 families that are waiting to be re-settled. This needs to be done keeping in mind the ecological impact of having human habitation in core forest areas as well as keeping in mind aspirations of those 350 families who are demanding resettlement to join the mainstream society,” the letter read.

The conservationists point out that the NTCA package and human-wildlife conflict were the main reasons for the tribals to voluntarily move out of the core forest area. There are three major tribal groups within the Nagarahole national park.- Jenukurubas and Bettakuruba, Yerawas, Soligas.

Wildlife board member Goenka said the central government has transferred around Rs 1,300 crore from the CAMPA Fund to the Government of Karnataka for the relocation of people from the protected areas but the fund has not been utilised yet.

“It is also learnt that the CAMPA funds are not being used even in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh even though there is a demand from the people to voluntarily relocate from the interiors of Protected Areas. This is despite the fact that the voluntary resettlement process is part of the official policy of the central government aimed to deliver genuine social justice to people marooned inside Tiger Reserves and Protected Areas. This effort will be a landmark achievement in delivering social justice to tribal people while ensuring consolidation of critical wildlife habitats,” Goenka added.

Nagarahole has been a site of contention between tribal organisations, supportive NGOs, the state Forest Department and pro wildlife organisations over the need for voluntary resettlement and the need to live within the Nagarhole forest area.

Severe restrictions on activities inside the forest area that came with the Wildlife Protection Act (WLPA), 1972, saw the shrinking of the sources of livelihood for local communities. In 1991 the first step towards voluntary relocation was taken when a group of tribals met the former chief minister of Karnataka, S Bangarappa, and demanded services like agricultural land, roads, hospitals, and schools inside the park.

A senior official from the forest department said NGOs, activists and a section of tribals are opposed to the resettlement of tribals.

“There will be no forceful evacuation, only voluntary. However, by 2006 more than 250 families moved out. There is a disagreement between the tribals and the government over compensatory packages but we hope to finish the rehabilitation work soon. However, the forest department does not have funds to carry out the rehabilitation work,” the official said.

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