Accent on enhancing the livelihood of forest dwellers
Sparks flew at a meeting held here on Thursday to discuss the proposed declaration of a Buffer Zone around the Mudumalai Tiger Reserve (MTR).
Convened by an ad-hoc Expert Committee it was attended by officials concerned and residents of areas adjoining the MTR like Masinagudy.
Addressing the meeting the Principal Chief Conservator of Forests and head of the panel R.Sunderaraju said that the aim of the buffer zone concept is to ensure that the people especially the forest dwellers co-exist harmoniously with the wild animals.
Stating that the decisions of the forest department in matters relating to the buffer zone will not be unilateral, he said that such meetings are being convened to collect the views of those concerned.
Pointing out that the enhancement of the livelihood of the forest dwellers and those residing nearby is among the objectives of the concept, he said that its effect is salutary at the Kalakad-Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve.
Dependence on the forest has come down considerably and its health has improved.
Attributing it to the joint effort of the department and the people, Mr.Sunderaraju said that if the eco zone comes into being, the villagers will be provided with a large number of facilities.
The consequent protection of the apex species will help conserve flora and fauna.
Since the legitimate rights of the people will not be usurped, they should support the conservation efforts.
“We want to protect the tribals,” he said, and added that they should be encouraged to do alternative jobs.
He wondered how many of them had become doctors, engineers or successful resort owners. If the tribals accept the offer of the department, help will be extended to them.
If they want to remain as they are they should give a written statement to this effect.
The Field Director, MTR and Member Secretary of the panel Rajiv K.Srivastava explained the role of the panel.
The President, Joint Council of Forest Rights Committees and Livelihood Rights Association of Masinagudy P.T.Varghese termed the declaration of the Core Area of the MTR as illegal and opined that there is no need for a buffer zone.
Forest officials should consult the local people.
Rohan Mathias of the Hospitality Association said that issues relating to promotion of tourism should not be ignored.
The Secretary, Adivasi Munnetra Sangam, B.Bomman, said that they do not oppose the proposal but their rights especially in matters like collection of minor forest produce should be protected.
M.Jayaraj of Vadamalai Samuthram explained how many villagers had improved the quality of their lives after the Eco-Zone concept came into being at Kalakad-Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve and funds started flowing to them.
Stating that their success story can be replicated at Mudumalai, he said that protection of forests is vital for combating global warming.
Scientist, World Wide Fund for Nature Ajay Desai and the Deputy Director, Kalakad Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve Venkatesh also spoke.
Later, speaking to presspersons, Mr.Sunderaraju said that the proposal will not in any way infringe on the legitimate rights of the tribals, patta holders and forest dwellers.
Pointing out that under the proposal a micro plan has been evolved for each village, he said that help to the tribals will be sustained.
Equal importance will be given to the tigers and dependents on the forests.