Several tribals living within the Kudremukh National Park on Monday came in support of the former member of Kuthlur Grama Panchayat Ramchandra Bhat (42) whom alleged Maoists recently targeted accusing him of harassing forest dwellers.

The villagers from Maoist-affected areas of Navoor, Yelnir and Kuthlur in Belthangady taluk and Mapala in Karkala taluk said no one was forced to leave the park, and no one had given money to the non-governmental organisation (NGO) to aid the rehabilitation process.

Around 2 a.m. on Saturday, a group of about 10 persons set on fire vehicles at the house of Mr. Bhat, who works for the NGO Wildlife Conservation Society. Banners put up after the attack alleged that he was an agent who was “forcibly removing tribals for a profit”.

Contentious rehab

“Even when travelling to our remote villages, Mr. Bhat has not taken a single rupee for us. And, in no way has he forced us. All he has done is to give us information, help us fill the forms, and track the rehabilitation,” said Puttanna Malekudiya, from Navoor.

Shashidhar Malekudiya, from Alambe in Kuthlur, said as the amount was deposited by the government in the bank account of the beneficiaries, there was “no chance” of the NGO diverting money.

Similarly, those who have rejected the rehabilitation package in the national park area of Kuthlur village told The Hindu that they had not be coerced in any way to leave. “Who are they [Maoists] to tell us that we can’t leave the forest? We have done it voluntarily, and in no way are we obliged to ‘preserve’ tribal culture by only staying in the forests,” said Vasanti Malekudiya from Alambe nearby.

Fear

An atmosphere of fear seemed to have descended on the village. While Sujay Hegde, a resident outside the park premises, said it was “frightening” that an attack could happen by the main road (connecting Udupi to Dharmasthala), others within the park area expressed concern that those willing to rehabilitate may be targeted next.

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