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Wildlife Protection

Wildlife Protection

Designating national parks and sanctuaries as "protected areas" involves the elaborate relocation and resettlement of communities once resident within these areas. However, as an instance of community relocation from the Kuno sanctuary bears out, resettlement has not led to improved living standards for the affected community; neither has it afforded a measure of protection for the threatened animals.

Wildlife Protection

Reintroduction and Relocation

Designating national parks and sanctuaries as “protected areas” involves the elaborate relocation and resettlement of communities once resident within these areas. However, as an instance of community relocation from the Kuno sanctuary bears out, resettlement has not led to improved living standards for the affected community; neither has it afforded a measure of protection for the threatened animals.

ASMITA KABRA

S
tudies on wildlife conservation undertaken in recent years, especially for mega-carnivores like tigers and lions, have frequently recommended that local people be relocated from Protected Areas (PAs). This is based on the oftenarticulated premise that relocation of local people will create “inviolate spaces” [Tiger Task Force Report 2005], reduce biotic disturbances and thereby improve conservation potential of PAs. The argument, however, is not always backed by good science, and the TTF report says: “…while there is an emphasis on removing the biotic pressure that people bring to the tiger’s habitat in most cases, there is little empirical evidence of the nature of this impact and what can be done to manage or mitigate it, before the option of relocation is considered” [TTF Report 2005:88]. Rigorous social and ecological studies of the impact of local people on PAs are pitifully

few in number anywhere in India. Thus there is almost no pressure on the state to establish, before undertaking population displacement from a PA, that the local community is a major threat to conservation. As a recent report on Sariska Tiger Reserve by some independent scholars says, the basis for relocation of people from the PA is marked by “weak foundations (but) strong convictions” [Shahabuddin et al 2005].

Following a series of news reports on the escalating tiger crisis, the Rajasthan forest department is reportedly planning to reintroduce tigers in the Sariska tiger reserve from the Ranthambor national park in the same state (The Hindu, January 8, 2006). In a meeting with the Rajasthan forest department, scientists from the Wildlife Institute of India, Dehradun (WII) reportedly set out three conditions for successful tiger reintroduction in Sariska, the first of which was to relocate villagers living inside the sanctuary. In a similar study of reintroduction of Asiatic lions (Panthere leo persica) in the Kuno wildlife sanctuary in district Sheopur of Madhya Pradesh, the WII in 1995 had recommended that before lions were brought into Kuno, all villages situated inside the sanctuary should be relocated outside [WII 1995]. The lion reintroduction project of the MP forest department, supported by the ministry of environment and forests (MoEF), eventually resulted in relocation of 24 villages from the sanctuary during 19992001. However, to the knowledge of this researcher, who has been associated closely since 1999 with an NGO working among the displaced families, the basis for this relocation was not established with any degree of scientific rigour. The WII report, based on rapid surveys of the Kuno sanctuary, spoke of the need to improve the prey base in Kuno to sustain lions, and argued that competition for fodder between wild herbivores and the livestock of the local community was detrimental to prey-density improvement. The report also argued for relocating villages from the sanctuary to reduce probability of conflict between the local community and the reintroduced mega-carnivore. However, prior to initiation of the lion reintroduction project, no formal assessment, qualitative or quantitative, was made of main threats to the biodiversity in the Kuno sanctuary, nor were any attempts made to explore alternatives less drastic than outright displacement to address the perceived threats.

Local Community Loses

Six long years have passed since the first villages began moving out from their original location on the banks of the river Kuno; since then a saga of lost livelihoods and deepening poverty has unfolded among the adivasi community of the sahariyas. They have lost the fertile, well-drained lands (to more than 50 per cent of which, they held formal title deeds or ‘pattas’) that they had cultivated for decades inside the sanctuary. In return, they have received compensation under the Beneficiary Oriented Scheme for Tribal Development, which is the standard relocation package that most communities displaced from PAs have been given in recent years. Most of the displaced households have been given upland farm plots, that is of much lower quality than the land they held inside the sanctuary, with lower soil depth and very low soil moisture retention capacity. Many of these plots were judged unsuitable for

Economic and Political Weekly April 8, 2006 cultivation by a committee set up by the district collector, and have had to be changed later. Most of these farm plots have no source of irrigation, and while the forest department has been trying to raise resources for providing irrigation facilities, the process has been painfully slow. So far, only about 10 per cent of the households have received funds for digging irrigation wells, and less than 5 per cent have completed this process.

While these villages had no access to schools, electricity and formal healthcare systems when they lived inside the sanctuary, by their own accounts they did have enough to live by, and food insecurity was rare. This researcher’s study of two villages living on the periphery of the Kuno sanctuary, which are very similar to the displaced villages in terms of social structure, remoteness and livelihood pattern, also reaches a similar conclusion about food security. The families displaced from Kuno can send their children to school and take their ill to the local primary health centre, but the quality of state education and health services in the region is notoriously poor. Their houses have electricity, but power supply is highly erratic. Women can access the neighbourhood electrically powered ‘atta chakki’ instead of toiling at their manual grinders, and the young and the old alike have access to the latest Bollywood films at the local theatre (a jam-packed thatched hut equipped with a CD player, television set and solar-powered battery). But every year, more displaced families migrate than previous years and for much longer periods, to places like Sheopur (as farm labourers) and Morena (to pull rickshaws).

The incidence of hunger, disease and malnutrition in these villages has increased, average farm output for rain-fed crops like ‘bajra’ (millets) and ‘tilli’ (sesame) has declined, and the percentage of households that are able to cultivate two crops from their land has gone down significantly. Access to a whole range of high value forest produce (which they earlier collected for their own consumption and for sale) has dwindled and the percentage of people getting into exploitative sharecropping arrangements has increased. Livestock holdings have come down drastically after displacement and access to milk and milk products is abysmally low, because of extremely poor availability of fodder and drinking water at the relocation site. Because of this, the displaced people had to leave nearly all their cattle inside Kuno sanctuary when they moved out, and in a stunning and ironical reversal of previous threat assessments, a recent WII report on preybase for the Asiatic lion in Kuno cites the availability of almost 2,500 cattle left inside by the villagers as a “buffer prey” for the lions to be reintroduced in Kuno [Johnsingh et al 2005].

Does Conservation Gain?

While it is accepted that relocation of villages has had a negative impact on the livelihood of the community, it is also not clear that relocation has resulted unequivocally in improvement of the conservation potential of the Kuno sanctuary. While the recent WII report on Kuno [Johnsingh et al 2005] suggests that prey density has improved and a lion population can be sustained in Kuno, the degree of protection from poaching enjoyed by large carnivores is suspect. Many villagers displaced from Kuno sanctuary, in their personal communication with this researcher in the last two years, predicted that once they moved out the frequency of poaching inside the Kuno sanctuary was bound to increase. Their argument was that when villages existed inside the sanctuary, the risk to commercial poachers of being observed (by shepherds, forest produce collectors, firewood collectors and others) was quite high. This, according to the local people, was an effective deterrent to commercial poachers like those belonging to the moghiya community.

The moghiya are a local community that traditionally used to be hired by agriculturalists in this region for protecting their crops from depredation by domestic and wild animals. They are known to be excellent shooters and a number of moghiya families living on the fringes of villages around Kuno sanctuary even possess licensed firearms. Over time, however, there has been a steady decline in the demand for the services of the moghiya for crop protection, and commensurately, their dependence on commercial trade in wild animal products has increased. In fact, according to a news report in a leading national daily, hunters from the moghiya community were arrested from the village of Dhamini (located very close to the Kuno sanctuary) for their alleged role in tiger poaching in the Ranthambor national park in neighbouring Rajasthan, and they reportedly confessed to killing 22 tigers (Indian Express, November 20, 2005). While many sahariyas admit to having been avid hunters of bushmeat in Kuno, their kill, anecdotal evidence suggests, was meant for self-consumption and limited to wild herbivores and small fauna like rabbits and partridges. Larger carnivores like tigers and leopards were usually left alone, and in fact, the presence of the sahariya in the forests of Kuno could have been a fairly effective buffer for these animals against commercial poaching.

Over the last two years, many people relocated from Kuno have reported a reduced sighting of large carnivores during their few visits to the sanctuary after displacement. There is a lot of ambivalence in the official position regarding the status of tigers in Kuno. The official census figures of the state forest department showed that the number of tigers has declined from seven in the early years of this decade to none at all in 2004-05. However, a recent news report indicates that one or two tigers may still be present in Kuno, where a team of students have reported sightings of tiger scat and pugmarks. In this scenario, the startling confessions of the moghiya hunters arrested from Ranthambor simply reinforce the fear that if there are tigers in the jungles of Kuno, they face far greater poaching threats after displacement of villages than they did before.

Sanctuaries for Whom?

Patrolling by the forest department’s frontline staff may not be adequate to control poaching inside PAs like Kuno. It must be remembered that the forests of Kuno are part of the infamous Chambal region, frequented by various bandit gangs and this restricts mobility of the frontline forest staff quite severely. This is the “bioirony” of PA management that has been highlighted by Greenough (2003), who, in a study of Indian PAs, observed that “large, depopulated and (barely) protected reserves …function as magnets that draw in a range of illegal actors: criminals, rebels, poachers, or simply poor people looking for subsistence.” That poachers virtually have a free run of PAs like Kuno and Ranthambor, as disclosed by the moghiya hunters, is yet another manifestation of this larger “bioirony” inherent in the highly exclusionist protected area based model of conservation, where the “inviolate spaces” meant for wildlife are routinely violated by illegal actors, especially poachers.

In this light, it is quite remarkable that in spite of warning signals that all may not be well with wildlife in Kuno after village

Economic and Political Weekly April 8, 2006

relocation, the official and scientific community continues to champion the exclusionist conservationist paradigm for this and other PAs. The recent WII report on prey-density in Kuno recommends that two villages (Bagcha and Jangarh) in the Sironi forest range adjacent to the Kuno sanctuary should also be relocated by 2007. Once again, no studies have been carried out of the impact of these villages on the PA, and the recommendations seem to be based more on personal conviction than facts. Surprisingly, the WII report itself says that the 300 sq km of “habitat without people” that will be released due to this relocation has little ecological significance, and even after displacing Bagcha and Jangarh, “its contribution to prey biomass will…be negligible.” The main justification put forward for this displacement is that “when these two villages are removed, the disturbances (including poaching) arising from these villages…will come to an end helping the build-up of the preybase.” A subsidiary justification for this proposed displacement, which is again not informed by any socio-economic study of the area or intensive interaction with the people, is that “the villagers are willing to go as they are 15 km from any form of facility, such as school or hospital”.

Conclusion

The lesson from Kuno, then, is that the most serious threats to survival of large carnivores like tigers may not always emanate from local people, even though these communities are known to hunt bushmeat, have large cattle holdings, and may cause significant “disturbance” to the PA through forest fires, collection of fuelwood and other minor forest produce. These external threats often emanate from geographically distant sources like commercial, industrial, mining and other “development” agencies, high-profile game hunters, and consumers of exotic wildlife derivatives. With well-directed, site-specific interventions, local communities may be groomed to enhance their existing contribution as a “social fence” to protect key species from such pressures and threats. Thus, it may not be an article of faith that relocation of local communities necessarily and always will improve the conservation potential of PAs. As the ongoing tiger crisis unfolds, this is a lesson that needs to be debated, instead of giving forest departments across the country the green signal to carry out large-scale displacement of local people in a knee-jerk reaction.

EPW

Email: asmita@samrakshan.org

References

Greenough, Paul (2003): ‘Bio-Ironies of the Fractured Forest: India’s Tiger Reserves’ in Slater (ed), In Search of the Rainforest, Duke University Press, Durham and London.

Johnsingh, A J T, Q Qureshi and S P Goyal (2005): ‘Assessment of Prey Population for Lion Reintroduction in Kuno Wildlife Sanctuary, Central India’, report submitted to government of India and government of Madhya Pradesh, Wildlife Institute of India, Dehradun.

Shahabuddin, G, Ravi Kumar and Manish Shrivastava (2005): Forgotten Villages: A People’s Perspective on Village Displacement from Sariska Tiger Reserve, Environmental Studies Group, Council for Social Development, New Delhi.

Tiger Task Force (2005): ‘Joining the Dots’, report to Ministry of Environment and Forests, New Delhi.

Wildlife Institute of India (1995): Survey of the Potential Sites for Reintroduction of Asiatic Lions: Final Report, Wildlife Institute of India, Dehradun.

Economic and Political Weekly April 8, 2006

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