Relocation of forest dwellers from tiger reserves is increasingly gaining currency as the means for tiger conservation. But smooth relocation requires effective land records and land use policies and this cannot be overemphasised. It seems the voiceless vote-less tiger is demanding this.

For instance, till the relocation process is complete in Sariska -- the tiger reserve where 22 tigers were killed some years ago -- forest officials aver that they will not relocate the tigers from Ranthambhore Tiger Reserve to Sariska. P S Somashekhar, the field director of Sariska Tiger Reserve connects it to the issue of land: "It is impossible to estimate accurately, the lands lost to settlers, for there is no reliable estimate of number of people and livestock living inside Sariska."

Pic credit: Project Tiger, Government of India.

Almost all the 28 tiger reserves in India suffer from ecological stress because of anthropogenic conflict. In the Dandeli-Anshi Tiger Reserve in Karnataka, atleast 300 odd square kilometres of revenue enclosures, which were denotified in 1988 from the sprawling Dandeli wildlife sanctuary to enable manganese mining, are yet to be renotified by the tiger reserve management. According to Karnataka's Wildlife PCCF I.B. Shrivastava, "Revenue pockets have not been handed over to the forest department".

Human occupation is stressful

Man-animal conflict has manifested unimaginable stress. The story of Mohiuddeen of Hippla village, in the core area of Karnataka's Bhadra Tiger Reserve is a good example. When he was patrolling his fields, his torch battery burnt out. His cousin ran over to the shop to bring batteries. But just a few paces before the house, he was mashed into pulp by an angry elephant. After this ghastly incident, many Muslim families left Bhadra for Mallandur or Chikmaglur; they did not even inform the officials that they were migrating, such was the panic.

Non-Muslims did not migrate at that point. The remaining families were largely Hindus with a couple of Christian families, and they waited it out for the relocation package to be implemented. But with only 2 Muslim families left in Hippla, the Mosque could no longer function without a quorum so the Mosque shut down and the Mullah migrated. Without the mosque, the Muslim families were deprived of Halal meat forcing them to remain vegetarian.

Abandoned wells in forest settlements can be life threatening for young wild animals. In May-June 2007, 3 tiger cubs died after falling into an abandoned well inside the Ranthambhore Tiger Reserve.

 •  Sariska: taking stock
 •  Tiger conservation in Sariska

Parvathi Chandra of the Maadla village in the reserve was more fortunate. In 1995, she was being taken to a PHC in a tractor for childbirth. The tractor was crossing over a fragile bamboo bridge when the ropes untied themselves due to the weight. In utter panic Parvathi delivered the baby in the tractor itself. Luckily for her, both mother and baby lived to tell the tale.

There are other worries. When cattle infected the Gaur (Bos gaurus) population in the Bhadra Tiger Reserve, Karnataka in 1989 with Rinderpest (a highly fatal viral disease), it decimated their population. The Gaur has still not recovered from the attack almost 18 years later. Their population is a meagre 200 over an area 492 square kilometres. The fear is that when Rinderpest can attack wildlife like Bos gaurus, it can attack the carnivores preying on them, like the tiger.

The Bhadra benchmark - a Karnataka example

The villagers inside the Bhadra Tiger Reserve were resettled in the new M C Halli town between 1998-2003, as part of the Bhadra resettlement programme. M C Halli is a small town created on the left side of the Bangalore-Honnavar Highway in Chikmaglur district of Karnataka barely 20 kilometres from National Highway 4 that connects Chennai to Mumbai. With World Bank funding, an elaborate resettlement and rehabilitation package was drawn up in 1998, after the tiger reserve was notified, by the Karnataka Government:

  • Land grants of minimum one acre to landless families inside Bhadra was the main feature. Those families, which surrendered land holdings of upto 2 acres, were compensated with land grants of 2 acres of wetlands or 4 acres of land fit for coffee plantations, called dry lands.

  • Those families which surrendered between 2 to 5 acres were compensated with land grants of 3 acres of wetlands or 2 acres of dry land.

  • Those families, which surrendered 5 acres or more of their holdings, were given 5 acres of wetland or 10 acres of dry coffee lands to enable them to cultivate crops of their choice.

  • The Public Works Department estimated the value of their living quarters inside the Bhadra Tiger Reserve, the owners were promised 50 % of the value of the house. They were also given ownership documents of all weather houses, in Mallali Chennena Halli village with sewerage, infrastructure, water supply, power supply and lands for community hall and village granary.

  • Each family was given Rs. 22,000 as housing allowance and Rs. 5000 as transportation allowance.

  • Besides, the State constructed sewage and drainage facilities, water supply tanks, roads, schools, power transmitters, shopping complex, cemetery, temple and primary health care dispensary for man and beast, - atleast on paper.

    A sambhar harem in Sariska. Pic credit: Malini Shankar.

    The Bhadra resettlement has become the benchmark in relocation proposals all over the country because of its successful implementation.

    Parvathi Chandra is an agricultural labourer with a bank account and her child now goes to school in the resettled township, M C Halli. Mohiuddeen who survived his less fortunate cousin in Hippla says "except for the under-estimation of all our immovable property, the relocation has been fair and justifiable. With infrastructure, proper housing, sanitation and water supply, besides schools and agricultural fields to till on, we are here far better off than inside the forests".

    This was possible because in Karnataka land revenue records have always been documented thoroughly, making their transfers back to forest status easier. Revenue pockets identified in Protected Areas are in the process of being transferred to the Karnataka Forest Department.

    Smita Bijoor the DCF of the Bhadra Tiger Reserve says "after Bhadra was rendered inviolate of all human pressure the bamboos are regenerating very well and there are atleast 18 to 20 tigers flourishing in the tiger reserve".

    In the Bandipur Tiger Reserve, around 15000 hectares of reserve forest land outside the reserve will soon be included within to offer contiguous buffer zones, says the DCF Range Gowda. In the Nagarhole Tiger Reserve, resettlement of the indigenous peoples living in 6 different villages is complete after a 16 year transitionary phase.

    Resettlement apart...

    Resettlement of forest dwellers in one area. Equally, checking wildlife crime and prevent trafficking need attention.

    Police and forest officials must be able chain evidence together for foolproof investigations, taking the help of specialised organisations.

    The forest department must recruit and train able bodied youngsters from the indigenous peoples for policing and protecting wildlife.

    Customs officials and Armed Forces personnel must be trained in intelligence gathering in wildlife crime, and to intercept wildlife contraband crossing our northern frontiers.

    Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) uses body parts from wild animals and rarely found plants for a variety of ailments. Over 5000 tigers bred in captivity in China are waiting to be butchered to supply raw material to the trade of TCM.

    Commercialisation of TCM has already had dangerous consequences for tiger conservation in India. TCM markets consumed tiger parts like bones, penises, claws, teeth and nails in quintals by 1993, decimating the population of the highly endangered Royal Bengal Tiger.

    The trauma to the wildlife on account of habitat loss is yet to be quantified though. Abandoned wells, cultivated fields, houses to tribal temples are all still inside the Nagarhole National Park and Tiger Reserve. Abandoned wells can be life threatening for young wild animals. This is not unique to Karnataka. In May-June 2007, 3 tiger cubs died after falling into an abandoned well inside the Ranthambhore Tiger Reserve.

    The coexistence perspective

    The controversial findings of the Central Tiger Task Force, 2005, that investigated the slaughter of tigers in Sariska sympathised with the impoverished villagers living inside the tiger reserve. "The fact is if people co-habit the tiger's space (in Sariska) then it is imperative that ways are found so that coexistence is harmonious… The agenda is within our reach… the 11 villages in the core area are denied any form of development - roads, schools and even wells…"

    It was on this premise that tiger conservationist Valmik Thapar, member of the Tiger Task Force dissented. He wrote: "Unfortunately, in its eagerness to find 'eternal solutions' for all problems afflicting the country at one go, the Committee appears to have lost this mission-focus and has gone adrift trying to find solutions to all the problems of inequity and social injustice that afflict India… In the process, the interests of the tiger's survival have been lost sight of." Thapar disagreed with the premise of continued co-existence of tigers and people over vast landscapes, with tigers thriving ecologically, and people thriving economically. It "is an impractical dream, with which I totally disagree," he wrote.

    A tall order

    With the population increasing, resettlement is the only practical way of decreasing the pressure on forests, nevertheless calling for the government taking on a whole gamut of administrative responsibilities for success in tiger conservation.

    Revenue departments at the state government must demarcate lands for relocation. Agriculture departments must allocate land resources to facilitate tilling. Agro Produce Marketing Cooperative Yards, Primary health care services for humans and livestock, multiple modes of public transport with connectivity to the district headquarters and state capital, food and civil supply outlets, police stations, fire brigade stations and judicial establishments would complete the mainstreaming. This apart, governments must facilitate housing, health care, infrastructure development, sewage and sanitation, water supply, power supply, education, hospitals, banks, community halls, and telecommunications in the new towns.

    Despite these challenges, it is worth all the effort to save a precious natural heritage such as the tiger.