Almost five years after the first relocation of a village, inhabitants of another settlement inside the Sariska Tiger Reserve in Rajasthan's Alwar district have moved out lock, stock and barrel, allowing more space for the wild animals and the existing population of tigers. The residents of Umri, village of Gujjar settlers, left last week for Rundh Mozpur, some 40 km away.

“The village they cleared comes to some 2 sq km but that has facilitated some 50 sq km of inviolate space for the wild animals in Sariska,” said P.S. Somasekhar, Chief Conservator of Forests (Wildlife), Rajasthan. “This is the second village to move out completely from the park. The whole process was peaceful with the full cooperation of the families involved,” he said.

Sariska, much in the news in recent times for all the wrong reasons — perhaps, barring the experimental wild-to-wild re-introduction of tigers — is devoid of the status of a National Park because of the presence of 11 villages in the proposed area. Umri had a population of about 250, and cattle heads, double that number.

“The families accepted the option of taking agricultural land as compensation. Each of the family gets six bighas of land and about Rs. 2 lakh as financial assistance in building a house. We have made arrangements for water supply and electricity to the new village,” said Mr. Somasekhar. The families have been divided into clusters of four for allotment of land.

Mr. Somasekhar was the Field Director in Sariska when the first village, Baghani, moved out in 2007-08 to Barod Rundh, a locality in Alwar district not far from the Jaipur-Delhi stretch of the National Highway. After five years outside the forest, the residents of Barod Rundh are happy now about their decision. In fact, the good rehabilitation package given to the first village by the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) seemingly helped others also to come forward.

“We are finished with the work of clearing the settlement. The JCBs which brought down the houses have gone back. The villagers have collected what all they wanted from their settlements,” said Raghuveer Singh Shekhawat, Field Director, Sariska, speaking to The Hindu on phone. “Initially at least some families wanted more time. A little bit of persuasion from a visiting Forest Minister Bina Kak and the fact that the mustard crops they have planted in their newly allocated land are ripening made them go — rather happily, I would say,” Mr. Shekhawat noted.

It appears that the shifting of Umri would have a cascading effect. “Rodkayla and Dabli villages are in the process of moving out. Eighty per cent of the families are done,” informed Mr. Shekhawat. Another four villages – Kiraska, Devri, Rourkala, and Hamirpur — are in various stages of relocation. In Kiraska, 80 families have moved out and 16 others have taken the second instalment of the package.

“At this speed we expect the shifting to be complete in 2012-13,” Mr. Shekhawat observed. “February-March is the best time for shifting. Thereafter April-May-June.”

There is a tailpiece to this happy ending. Mr. Shekhawat testifies that two big cats — ST 4 and ST 5 — were spotted in the habitation cleared by humans and the cattle. “They were there all these past three days rushing to the place as if they were waiting for the humans to leave,” he observed.