Nov 13, 2018: The ‘Compulsory training course on voluntary resettlement of villages for Tiger reserves’ for IFS officers organised by WCS-India and the MoEFCC began with a classroom session for half a day where key players in the Bhadra voluntary relocation addressed the audience and shared their experiences.
Shreedev H, who conducted the sessions, briefly gave an introduction into the Bhadra landscape and the need for relocation. He then introduced the speakers.
The presentations began with D V Girish, conservation partner of WCS-India and founder member of WildCat-C, who was closely involved with the relocation process at Bhadra. He gave an overview of how the relocation was initiated and carried out in just six months, following initial delay and fears. Tracing the events from 1998 when the sanctuary was declared a Tiger Reserve, to the culmination when 13 villages were relocated at two locations, he took the audience through the whole process of convincing the people, obtaining the money from the central ministry, opening bank accounts for beneficiaries, allocation of land, taking possession of the same and the resettling of people at the new location. He made special mention of the roles of the DCF Yatish Kumar and the DC Gopalakrishne Gowda.
With 13 villages of around 2500 people and 2000 cattle living within the Protected Area, there was great damage to the forest by way of forest fires, poaching, timber logging and cattle grazing, he noted. Girish showed the audience images of the villages within the tiger reserve, and the school where all meetings and deliberations took place. One of the biggest challenges was getting the compensation amount from the MoEF&CC, he said, adding that when the initial amount of Rs 1.68 crores was released by the Centre in 1999, it was immediately deposited with the Deputy Commissioner to kickstart the relocation process.
The villagers were always kept in the loop, beginning with allocation to house design and livelihood support and this helped build a relationship of trust and friendship with them. Girish concluded by observing that relocation was a win-win situation where villagers got a better quality of life and wildlife was able to flourish in the forest.
D V Girish addressing the audience
Yatish Kumar, the then DCF of Bhadra Tiger Reserve started his talk by showcasing the rich biodiversity of Bhadra, and noting how large mammal sightings had been rare when the villages were within the tiger reserve. Forest fires too had been a significant challenge. There was a lot of hostility between the villagers and the forest department over the years owing to issues like illegal logging, grazing, crop raiding, etc. Yatish noted how it was most crucial to build a relationship with the villagers and how he managed to build a bridge in this regard by taking up some essential infrastructure provision like roads, drinking water and lighting for the people. The defining moment, he said, was when invited as the Chief Guest at the local school, he pointed out how children would have access to better education if they were relocated outside the forest. Soon after, forest fires in Bhadra ceased. Finally, the villagers agreed to the resettlement.
The next hurdle was dealing with the various departments and the bureaucratic process to actually make the resettlement take place. It was in March 1999 that after visiting New Delhi and meeting with Mr P.K. Sen, the initial amount of Rs 2.18 crores was released towards resettlement efforts. In 2000, meetings were held with the district administration, elected representatives and villagers to finalise the resettlement package. This amount was deposited in the account of the Deputy Commissioner in order to start the relocation efforts. He then went on to narrate anecdotes around tackling bureaucratic procedures and delays, with special mention of how the DC helped cut short on many of the red tapes and expedite the process.
A package was designed to ensure maximum benefit to the farmers and the landless. A house with one bedroom, kitchen and toilet along with a larder was designed for each family in MC Halli and Kelagur. The total cost of building these houses came to Rs 40,000.
The total cost of land acquisition was Rs 13 crores and of resettlement was Rs 4.5 crores.
Any resettlement package must be site-specific, and emphasis should be given to landless and marginalised farmers, said Yatish and concluded his presentation with a message to administrators that they can achieve anything they put their mind to, if it is done with patience, perseverance and effort.
Yatish Kumar talks about his experience
Gopalakrishne Gowda, the Deputy Commissioner who played a key role in ensuring the success of the Bhadra relocation project, began his presentation saying that the biggest reason why the Bhadra relocation was a success story was because of the rare combination of government and non-government organisation which worked in tandem on a ‘mission mode’.
Trio at work
From early morning discussions on the badminton court to constant interactions through the day, the “two batmen” Girish and Yatish would keep him updated on all the challenges and actions taken. By not involving subordinates and politicians in the process, much of the usual delays was circumvented, he noted. Yatish intervened to point out how to avoid the inevitable delays in moving files, the DC himself came to the FD office with the required seals to okay the grants!
Gowda went on to narrate some of the challenges he faced which ranged from squatters (instigated by the local MLA) in his office and having his effigy burnt by local protestors. Not wanting any complaints he ensured that all efforts were taken to make the whole process transparent, right from allocation. He said that a good administrator who wants to ensure success of any project has only to select “trustworthy people and give them the liberty” to function.
In the long run, it was the close coordination and being on a mission mode that helped the relocation project, he said, concluding that it was “an experience worth undergoing”.
Yatish Kumar also made a point on how the involvement of a few people ensured speed and transparency to the whole process. In identifying the landless people, the information was meticulously gathered by Yatish, Girish and the late Panduranga Swamy who visited each of the houses in the settlements personally and noted down the names. To avoid any accusations, the money was disbursed as cheques and at functions held for the same. Some beneficiaries got as much as Rs 50-60 lakh, he said.
Gopalakrishne Gowda highlights the key points of the relocation
Conservation in context
Vijay Mohan Raj, CCF of Bhadra Tiger Reserve began his presentation noting how the Mysore Maharajas’ legacy to forest protection continues to keep the state ahead in the field of conservation. He however felt it was required to place conservation in context and deliberate whether inviolate spaces can be afforded or an alternate option around co-existence and multi-stakeholders was the solution today. He suggested that the nomenclature “voluntary resettlement/rehabilitation” was problematic in that it suggests unrest and needs to be called “inclusive development”.
He also talked about the challenges in the field of conservation and specifically the expansion of tiger bearing areas, the increasing poaching threat in the light of China legalising wildlife trade and the rather complex legal structure that exists, as also the added complications after the enactment of the Forest Rights Act, 2006. Another significant challenge he voiced was the lack of quality leadership.
He called for better mitigation measures and rigorous clearance procedures for the developmental projects in order to reduce the impact on wildlife. The CCF expressed satisfaction in the way civil society groups today are playing a significant role in pressurising government into better conservation. He gave the example of protests in Bangalore regarding the revoking of the Bandipur highway night traffic ban. Corporate funding for conservation was another area he believed that emphasis should be laid on.
He also spoke about futuristic legislations which must ensure that conservation is made simpler. He gave the example of the Forest Rights Act, 2006 under which new directions have been issued regarding Critical Wildlife Habitats, making the procedure for resettlement more complex.
Vijay Mohan Raj calls for quality leadership in conservation
Prakriti Srivastava, Country Director, WCS-India spoke about voluntary relocation from Protected Areas with a focus on the legal and financial aspects of the same. She pointed to how historically relocation and resettlement of villages outside tiger habitats has been a focal point for the government, and that it has formed part of the centrally sponsored scheme of Project Tiger. The Wildlife Amendment Act of 2006 read with the Forest Rights Act, 2006 brought about enhanced, lucid and clear relocation packages for families relocating outside tiger habitats – it was enhanced from Rs 1 lakh per family to Rs 10 lakhs and provided two options – either of giving the resettled family Rs 10 lakh per beneficiary or by providing them with alternate land and rehabilitation. The relocation would however have to be voluntary.
Prakriti then stressed the importance of relocation of people in tiger habitats and the need for a habitat free of disturbances to create a reproductive surplus. We need larger spaces for wildlife, she said noting how protected areas have dropped from 4.9 percent to 4.3 percent of total geographical area in just six years. She said that an inviolate space of 800-1200 sq km is required to support a healthy population of 65-70 tigers and if such an inviolate space is not made available, it would result in various issues like conflicts.
Landscapes have made remarkable recoveries after relocation, Prakriti said and stressed on how social benefits were derived by the villagers upon their rehabilitation – better sanitation, access to education, communication and electricity. Co-ordination and involvement of all stakeholders are very important in relocation projects, she said. She commended the relocation work undertaken in various wildlife habitats of Karnataka.
She touched upon the Integrated Development of Wildlife Habitats (IDWH) Scheme of the MoEF&CC wherein Rs 450 Cr has been allotted to non-tiger reserve Protected Areas which are many in India. Additionally, there is also a budget of Rs 250 Cr for protection of wildlife outside Protected Areas and Rs 150 Cr for recovery of critically endangered species.
Prakriti spoke about the legal framework for resettlement and rehabilitation, specifically under the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 (WLPA) and the Forest Rights Act, 2006 (FRA). She also elucidated the difference in rehabilitation between “Critical Tiger Habitats” and “Critical Wildlife Habitats” defined by different acts of law, namely the WLPA and the FRA. She highlighted the difference in the monitoring committees for the two. Beyond this point, the format for tiger and non-tiger habitats is similar wherein payment of compensation against immovable property is made as part of settlement of rights.
Prakriti then gave the example of relocation of villages from Wayanad WLS, wherein 800 families were proposed to be moved out in 2008 owing to high human-elephant conflict. As of 2018, over 300 families have been relocated. It has been highly satisfying to receive thank-you messages from over 500 people who have moved to a better life, she said.
Concluding her presentation, she told the gathering that it was important not to romanticise life in the forests, especially when people living there want to come out, aspiring for a better life for their children. She was also highly appreciative of the role of NGOs who often did the hand-holding following relocation and welcomed their cooperation.
Prakriti Srivastava speaks on the merits of relocation
Ongoing relocation program in Mizoram and Maharashtra
Clement Ben, CCF, Yavatmal, Maharashtra talked about the challenges he faces in the ongoing voluntary relocation of villages from the Sahyadri Tiger Reserve. The Sahyadri Tiger Reserve has a corridor connecting it with Chandoli Tiger Reserve and this can potentially be developed further south into the Radhanagari WLS. There are about 55 villages within the tiger reserve that are looking to be relocated. Owing to the Koyna Hydroelectric Project, approximately 19 villages have been relocated in the past. The biggest challenge he has been facing is that the people wish to be relocated near Mumbai and in Thane. At the same time no gram panchayat welcomes outside people into their villages. Better coordination between departments, gairan land for relocation, funding from CAMPA and under the State Plan were some suggestions he provided, based on his experience.
Dr C Vidyasagar, DFO Lunglei, Mizoram talked about his experience in the ongoing relocation of two villages comprising 145 houses from the Darngawn and Kawnpui Villages in Thorang Tlang WLS, since 2014. The predominant village community forests are inaccessible for six months a year due to incessant rain. The primary threat to these forests are from jhum cultivation and poaching. The residents themselves approached the department seeking resettlement and opted for the first scheme wherein Rs 10 lakh was paid per beneficiary. The process was expedited upon requesting Prakash Javadekar, Minister for Environment and Forest in 2016, when the notification for extension of the sanctuary was proposed. Subsequently, a relocation grant of Rs 14.5 crores was included in the APO and submitted to the MoEF&CC in May 2016. A list of beneficiaries was finalised after door-to-door surveys, and a final notification was issued in September, 2016. In October 2016, the ministry granted the go-ahead for rehabilitation and it was decided to be done on a 90:10 ratio, between the Centre and the State Government.
Vidyasagar said that the department had been determined to finish the resettlement before the rainy season started in May and hence tried to speed up the process, but the demonetisation scheme made things a bit difficult. Subsequently, all 145 households submitted required documents at breakneck speed, and these were verified. On 23rd December, 2016 the first instalment of Rs 8,00,000 was deposited in the beneficiaries’ accounts. The second instalment was paid by June 2017.
Numerous advocates visited the DCF office seeking a copy of the details and tried to incite the villagers to demand better compensation, however no such cases were filed said Vidyasagar. The relocation paved the way for creating a corridor between Dampa Tiger Reserve and Thorang Tlang WLS. Also, the area of the WLS was increased from 35 sq km to 180 sq km, he added.