Encroachment of M.P. National Park land continues unchecked

Displaced families for tiger corridor await land allotment

February 16, 2020 11:21 pm | Updated 11:21 pm IST - Bhopal

Families displaced from the Madhav National Park staging a dharna at the Shivpuri Collectorate.

Families displaced from the Madhav National Park staging a dharna at the Shivpuri Collectorate.

The Madhav National Park has claimed denotified land is unavailable for allotment to 39 tribal families displaced 20-years ago to make way for a tiger corridor, even though hundreds of others compensated for to vacate the Park continue to farm and encroach upon the corridor unchecked. Moreover, tigers are yet to be reintroduced in the park, let alone the corridor’s development.

Over several years, the Chief Conservator of Forests (CCF), Shivpuri circle, has flagged the encroachment to the State Chief Wildlife Warden and the district administration stating “the corridor land hasn’t been vacated, and several families who’ve received the compensation continue their encroachment and many have returned to resume farming,” and that “no action had been taken so far,” reveals an October 2019 letter.

“Many who took the compensation didn’t leave. While 77 families which refused to take compensation have stayed back and continue farming,” Y.P. Singh, CCF, Shivpuri circle, told The Hindu .

Of the 15 villages within the corridor of the Park, where tigers were last spotted in 1970s, 10 were relocated in 2000, while 391 of 468 families in the remaining accepted compensation. Still, most have refused to leave.

‘Mistaken allotment’

And as part of the rehabilitation package, which promised two hectare land and relocation to each family, when Balapur village was being relocated, authorities belatedly noticed they had mistakenly allotted 61 families protected forest land instead of revenue, stalling the process for 39 families, although relocated, awaiting ownership of two-hectare agricultural land.

The State government has sought the land’s denotification from the Centre, pending clearance till date.

Without land to till and call their own, men of the 39 Saharia families, a particularly vulnerable tribal group traditionally dependent on forest produce and farming, had taken to working in illegal-run stone mines, a hazardous job that snatched lives with tuberculosis, leaving at least 15 widows in its wake. This prompted the Madhya Pradesh Human Rights Commission to direct the district authorities to compensate their families.

‘Widow’s village’

On Thursday, 60 residents of Budi Barod, referred to as the ‘widow’s village’ locally for its relocated families, staged a dharna at the district Collectorate, demanding pending allotment of agricultural land, and even pointing out the allotted land was not arable, dependent entirely on rain.

“At least in the forest, we fetched tendu leaves, mahua and glue for a living and farmed lands. Now we’re forced to migrate to work as agricultural labourers,” said Kunjawati Adivasi, 45, whose family tilled eight-ten bighas in the forest before.

“The district officials and foresters will hold a camp in the village on February 21 to listen to their grievances,” said Ranjit Balodia, Additional District Magistrate, Shivpuri. This is despite Collector Anugraha P., who unilaterally upended the rehabilitation policy endorsed by the State Congress government in 1999, the Centre, the Park and the Madhya Pradesh Human Rights Commission, informing The Hindu earlier, “Members of the 39 families are ineligible for rehabilitation, as either they were not residing in the relocated village at the time or were minors.”

“When the government’s claiming they’re ineligible, why hold a camp? They must state it in writing if they are ineligible. This is just delaying tactics to take away what rightfully belongs to the families” said Abhay Jain, of the Zenith Legal Aid Clinic.

In 2017, the Commission directed the district administration to speedily rehabilitate the families and reiterate its request to the Centre to denotify the land. “It’s been three years, yet the administration has not acted. This shows its scant regard for our institutions,” said Mr. Abhay.

A long wait

Devendra Namdev, 40, a daily wager, asked for how long they’d have to leave a day’s work every time to flock to the Collectorate 22-km away to demand their rights.

“Ten days ago, when we protested here, the Collector was on leave. Now she says we must allow the Park Director some time to act, as he’s just taken charge. This shows their casual attitude in ensuring our livelihoods,” he said.

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