The State Government (Department of Forest) has sent a proposal to the Ministry of Environment and Forests on allotting 20,000 hectares of forestland to convert it into a tiger sanctuary in Kanyakumari district.

However, it is objected to by farmers as well as Kani tribes as the formation of the tiger sanctuary will definitely affect their livelihood. According to a cross section of farmers who depend on agriculture, particularly cash crops, say that the conversion will disastrously affect the lives of more than 5 lakh people who are dependent on this forestland and hence, they have demanded the immediate cancellation of the proposed project.

The area selected for the tiger reserve will include Kilamalai reserve forest in Kaliyal range, Veerapuli reserve forest in Velimalai, Kulasekaram ranges and Panagudi reserve forest in the Mahendaragiri hill. This area has 50 villages and town panchayats.

Moreover, the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) is having a Liquid Propulsion System Centre in the Mahendragiri hill and many research operations are being conducted. The proposed project will affect the scientific activities and also pose a great threat to tigers.

The Pechipparai, Perunchani, Chittar I and Chittar II dams which cater the needs of farmers are situated with in the earmarked tiger reserve sprawling on 20,000 hectare.

These four dams are the main source of irrigation for nearly 2 lakhs hectares of agriculture land, situated in Kanyakumari and portion of Tirunelveli districts.

If the proposed tiger reserve is formed, water release from these dams for agriculture purposes will be totally disrupted as the Forest Department would try to preserve this water for the needs of the tiger.

N. Kumaran, general secretary of the Labour Trade Union of Arasu Rubber Corporation, affiliated to the Congress, told The Hindu that the chosen area for the formation of tiger reserve was having its rubber cultivation and factories and there were about 10,000 employees working in the corporation. Besides, there were a lot of private rubber plantation and factories and nearly 2 lakh people were dependent on this for their livelihood. There are spices gardens in these forest areas and more than one lakh people are dependent on this spices business. There are tea estates owned by private individuals and the tea produced here is famous next to Ooty.

Hence, he appealed the Government not to take any further action on forming tiger reserve in the Western Ghat.

According to Forest Department sources, the Government has sent a proposal for the formation of tiger reserve. There are two categories — core and buffer zones.

The proposed tiger reserve will come under the buffer zone. If the formation of tiger zone is materialised, the tribal people will be highly benefitted and it will lead their uplift and enhance their socio-economic status.

Chairman of Kodayaru irrigation system (Water Resource organization), PWD, A. Vins Anto, said that with the formation of tiger reserve, the farmers would definitely be affected.

However, as this project would be very helpful to the tribals to sustain their livelihood, instead of acquiring 20,000 hectares of land, the officials of Forest Department should acquire only the forest land so that farmers would not be affected. The development activities under the formation of tiger reserve should be a welcome one but at the same time it should not affect the welfare and rights of farmers as well as tribals, said Mr. Vins Anto.

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