Mankidia, one of the 13 Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups (PVTG) in Odisha, were denied habitat rights inside the Similipal Tiger Reserve (STR) under the historic Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006, as the State Forest Department has objected on grounds that tribals could be attacked by wild animals, especially tigers.
But tribal rights activists said the Forest Department continued to play the role of an obstructionist by denying tribals their rights. “‘Habitat’ as defined under Section 2(h) of the FRA (Forest Rights Act) includes the area comprising the customary habitat and such other habitats in reserved forests and protected forests of primitive tribal groups and pre-agricultural communities and other forest dwelling Scheduled Tribes,” Chittaranjan Pani, a researcher on tribal rights and livelihoods, said.
Mankidia, a marginalised group that critically depends on making rope with siali fibre that’s richly available in Similipal, would now be deprived of the non-timber forest produce.
According to the District Level Committee (DLC) meeting’s proceedings, J. D. Pati, deputy director of STR, had raised objections, saying habitat rights would create barriers for free movement of tigers and other animals. “There is also apprehension of the risk to life of the PVTG,” Mr. Pati said, while advocating that habitat rights to PVTG should be confined to STR’s buffer zone.
But, Hemant Kumar Sahu, a researcher with NGO Vasundhara, said, “There is no empirical evidence that Mankidias face tiger threat in their villages. For decades, they have been residing inside the core area of the tiger reserve with animals”
The process of recognising habitat rights for Mankidia had made substantial progress before being denied by the DLC. Had it been approved, the Mankidia would have been the first PVTG to have habitat rights. In Odisha, processes have been initiated for according habitat rights to PVTGs such as Bondas, Didai, Hill Khadia and Paudi Bhuyan.