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Revisiting Bhadra relocation
| November 02, 2018
Almost two decades since the people moved out of the forest to start a new life, what greets a visitor at the sites of rehabilitation and forest alike is hope and wonder.
His shabby clothes notwithstanding, Huliyappa Gowda is a man who earns more than what an average city-bred youngster earns, toiling long hours in air-conditioned offices. He makes an annual Rs 8-10 lakh from his coffee and pepper crop grown on four acres of land. That is after deducting his expenses in terms of pesticide and manure. His initial days of toil allows him today to reap the benefits almost on auto-pilot! He is one of the people who have made a success after relocation from the Bhadra Tiger reserve to Kelaguru in 2000.
Huliyappa Gowda (Right) with D V Girish (Left)
Back in the forest, he had no land and would work as labour in other's lands. "Nobody looked twice at me or spoke to me except when they needed work done on their land. Today I am recognised for this," he says spreading his hand around his land, where he lovingly tenders to his coffee bushes and pepper vines. His success has made him confident and he tells us "I can talk to anyone today."
The money has not changed him however. He still works, but on his own land. Huliyappa sees nothing amiss in that, noting that work is work, wherever it be. It is only with hard work and a good fate that one can succeed, he believes. Of course patience too, he adds.
His son Sandeepa runs a nursery and makes a good earning. He has big plans to buy a car and build a bigger house. He did not study beyond the fourth class but his children now will. The move has done them good, agrees the family. Back in the jungle, saving the crops from elephants had been a struggle as also the need to send children away to the city for education.
Huliyappa is all thanks to D V Girish and Yatish Kumar, the two individuals the villagers had interacted regularly with, during the relocation times. "We can't thank them both enough. One life is not enough for that," he says.
Sundara Poojary is another one who persisted with the land allotted to him. Having sold his house, he moved out and built a new home adjacent to the land holding he was allotted. He too makes an annual earning of Rs 8-10 lakh from his five acres of coffee and pepper. His sons-in-law have gone on to open food centre and ice cream franchise in the cities. In his porch sit three cars, including a SUV -- all his.
Sundara Poojary in his nursery © Praneet Sargur
Unfortunately, not all at Kelaguru have a success story. Only 15 out of the 60 who were resettled here have managed to make good from their compensation packages. Many have sold out their homes and parts of the land holdings. Many have left the land uncultivated, waiting to sell it off at a good price. "They are happy to work as labour for Rs 300 a day, spend the money buying liquor and wait for buyers," sighs Huliyappa.
That sums up the story of those rehabilitated from Bhadra almost two decades ago. Those who have put in hard work and patience have reaped the benefits. Others have succumbed to the temptations of big money -- sold out and gone to the cities, or squandered it.
At MC Halli too, one will encounter locked up houses, left unoccupied. These belong to those who have left town and gone to the cities to pursue a 'better future'. There are the others who stayed behind and tilled the land. What used to be paddy and sugarcane initially later saw a shift towards the more lucrative arecanut.
Dharme Gowda, from Madla, who was the first settler to build his house at MC Halli, has done well. His four acres of arecanut fetches a good income. His son is an engineer while his daughter completed degree in fashion design. Kesave Surendra is not as wealthy but has just harvested his first crop of arecanut after six years and is a satisfied man. Women from the neighbourhood sit in his verandah, de-husking the arecanut. His son has completed a degree in metallurgy and now seeks employment.
Mallappa Hegde, known as the 'water man' as he operates release of water from the common tank for the colony, had no land in the forest. Here he has. Today, his son has completed education and found a job in Saudi Arabia. Ramachandra from Maadla has educated his two daughters who aspire to compete for IAS. Shifting out gave him 'khushi' he had said back then, and today he has named his daughter 'Khushi'. Having lived in a small shack till recently, Ramachandra has now embarked on building a palatial home, designed and supervised by himself.
Ramachandra with his family
Offered by the administration as a feel-good initiative, everyone from the forest was given land when rehabilitated. Mani, originally from Kerala but settled at Muthodi, used to run a small eatery in the forest. He had no land. When moving to MC Halli, he got a house and an acre of land. His son is now in Dubai.
Land value has gone up considerably, both in MC Halli and Kelaguru, with an acre fetching anywhere between Rs 25-30 lakh and higher in some areas.
MC Halli now boasts a community hall and its own school. Some of the residents have gone on to be elected to the local panchayat.
A telling difference in lifestyles can be seen in the form of the tempo vehicle delivering gas cylinders to doorsteps. A far cry from venturing into the forest to collect firewood at the risk of fatal encounters with wildlife. Similarly, the milk van comes to the colony. The school bus comes to pick the students whose peers had a tough time back in the forest, having had to walk miles to school through the forest, crossing streams on wooden logs and often encountering wildlife. Vegetable sellers from the markets come to sell their produce at MC Halli now, in a contrast to times when choice was limited and often meant trudging to the nearest town for supplies. The markets, schools, colleges and hospitals are all now within a few hundred metres away while buses are just a hop away.
Most of the residents will tell you life is much better now even though in terms of environment and clean air, the forest was best.
Bhadra Landscape © Nagakiran
In what is often termed as a model for how relocation and rehabilitation was done, Bhadra relocation was a process that saw many roadblocks but eventually succeeded by sheer persistence and involvement of many groups. The germ of the idea was born back in 1974 following the isolation of a few villages when a dam was built across the Bhadra river, but till 1996 nothing more happened beyond a few tentative attempts in terms of a survey and a proposal. Finally in 2001, with the High Court stepping in and giving an impetus to the programme, many citizen groups and NGOs joined hands with the administration to get the process going.
A Deputy Commissioner, Gopalakrishne Gowda who was sold to the idea of a better life for the people and conserving nature, a DCF, Yatish Kumar with a people-friendly face and a honorary wildlife warden, D V Girish "married to the sanctuary" (as branded by friends), together steered the project towards success. They did this by interacting with the people, understanding their needs and fears, educating them on benefits of relocation, while ensuring the whole process was done in a open and transparent manner. The sheer conviction and enthusiasm of the three helped win over politicians, officials and the people.
Taking care to see that the people were never burdened financially, the Bhadra compensation package addressed all contingencies including dismantling and moving to the new place, catering to the first six months of life at the new place, etc. The package was three to four times what was offered anywhere else in the country. The land offered was fertile.
Besides improving the lives of people, relocation has also been viewed as a tool in conserving prime wildlife habitats that face pressures from humans and wildlife competing for the same resources. Around 463 families from 13 villages and over 4000 livestock moved out leaving over 49 sq kms of forest inviolate.
In India, there are 771 protected areas (PAs) which comprise 1.62 lakh sq km or less than 5% of the country’s geographical area and most of them in the water catchment areas. At least a couple of million people live inside these areas while more than a 100 million live close by, with many among them dependent on resources found inside the PAs. This can cause tremendous pressure on the flora and fauna of the forests, even more so when extraction is not anymore for sole use of the families alone but is linked to the market, as it is today.
At Bhadra too, a study found that the area around six villages had been altered by human activities, impacting around 8-10 percent of the protected area. This had been shown in another 2-year field study at Bandipur National Park which revealed that resource competition between wild herbivores and livestock could lead to declines of wild herbivores if unchecked. In turn that affects the carnivores.
In terms of recovery of wildlife at Bhadra following the relocation, according to the NTCA report ‘Status of tigers co-predators and prey, 2014’ there has been a gradual increasing trend seen for large mammal populations at Bhadra. While carnivores tend to take longer times to recover, the smaller herbivores are on way to reclaim their land, according to conservationists.
Tigers in Bhadra Tiger Reserve © Biddappa P A
Therein lies the success of the programme.
Written by Jayalakshmi K