Three years after the State government promised to shift residents of Bhimgad Wildlife Sanctuary to settlements outside the forest, the proposal is yet to be implemented.
In the 2015 budget, the government announced plans to shift willing families from the protected area. Forest officers, who conducted a survey in the affected villages, announced that residents of most of the villages were willing to move out if provided adequate compensation, including houses and farmlands. But the relocation is yet to begin.
They reason that villages within the sanctuary in Khanapur taluk do not have roads or other infrastructure facilities. There are no schools or hospitals nearby and residents suffer, especially during the four-month rainy season. Most of the bridges over streams are submerged in rain and people have difficulty reaching the mainland. The nearest hospital for most villages is 10-km away and residents would like to settle in villages on the border of the forest in Khanapur taluk, forest officials said.
The law does not permit permanent constructions in forest land. The only way we can help the villagers get civic amenities is by shifting them to villages outside the jungle, a senior forest officer in Belagavi said.
“Recently, a farmer was attacked by a bear. Though forest officials reached the spot in a few minutes, he could not be saved as he could not be shifted to a hospital in Belagavi on time,” he said.
They attribute the delay in relocation to the lack of coordination between the Forest and Revenue Departments. “Forest officials in Belagavi have written two letters to te Revenue Department to initiate the process of creating the relocation unit. But, there has been no response from the Revenue Secretariat in Bengaluru,” a forest officer said.
The sanctuary spread over nearly 200 sq. km has around 20,000 hectares of forest land. It also has around 3,000 people from 564 families in 13 villages. They keep around 1,500 head of cattle with them, some of which become victims to attacks by wild animals. Their crops are damaged by wild boars, gaurs and other animals.
The Bhimgad sanctuary is along the bordering protected areas like the Kali Tiger Reserve and Mhadei Wildlife Sanctuary. The thick forest that encompasses these areas is home to tigers, leopards, great Indian hornbill, king cobra, dhole, and other species.
The Barapede caves in the Bhimgad sanctuary is the only known breeding area of the Wroughton’s free-tailed bat, a species on the verge of extinction.
Wildlife activists have urged the Belagavi district administration, and Forest and Revenue Departments to speed up the relocation and rehabilitation of villages inside the sanctuary. Activist Giridhar Kulkarni has urged the Revenue Department to take up the matter on priority. Some people are spreading rumours that people are being forced to move out, which is not true. People of several villages have confided in us that they are willing to move out if properly compensated. Law also says that the government should relocate only willing families, he said.
Forest area extent: 19,042.58 hectares
Private land: 7,682.68 acres
Number of villages: 13
Number of families: 564