- Mongabay India published an article on the Madia Gond tribes in Chandrapur district on March 14, 2023. The story was updated on May 8, 2023, for factual inaccuracies. Certain attributions and quotes were also added for additional context.
- The discussion around the relocation of the tribal families, for tiger conservation in the Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve, has been ongoing for several years. Mongabay India based this article on field reporting undertaken at the end of 2022, with conversations with local residents, officials and long-term researchers in the area.
- We recognise that the issue is a complex one and debate around this will be ongoing. For the purpose of fairness, we are publishing a response to the article by Prerna Singh Bindra and Krithika Sampath.
We read the article ‘Madia Gond tribes forced to leave ancestral land, as human-animal conflict increases’ published in Mongabay India on 14th March, 2023, with interest. I, along with my Research Assistant (Krithika Sampath) who co-authored this response, have been conducting doctoral research on the relocation of villages from Tadoba-Andhari Tiger Reserve (TATR) with a particular focus on Bhagwanpur and Palasgaon villages, which were relocated in 2007 and 2019 respectively. We, along with a field assistant/ translator and occasional volunteers, spent over 160 and 75 hours in Bhagwanpur and Palasgaon respectively between September 2021 to September 2022. This is not counting time spent interviewing relevant forest department, revenue department and Zilla Parishad officials and staff, besides NGOs, NGIs and researchers associated with both these relocations. We also visited and conducted interviews at other relocated villages like Nawegaon (Ramdegi), Kolsa and Rantalodhi – both inside TATR and at their new (relocated) sites.
While the published article raises some pertinent issues, there are several egregious factual errors and omissions that need to be presented and clarified. The relocation of villages is a sensitive, fraught and often contentious exercise with outcomes on the socio-economic and cultural life of the affected people and impacts that may last generations. Such displacements are nuanced and complex and call for reporting based on fact.
Our purpose here is not to opine or debate on the subject of village relocations from Critical Tiger Habitats, but to point out factual errors and underline some significant omissions that seem to deliberately not find place in the article.
We have placed direct quotes from the article (highlighted in bold) and placed our responses directly below.
The protected area, Tadoba Andhari sanctuary, where Rantalodi is situated, stretches over 9,458.38 square kilometers, and includes six national parks with tiger reserves, five conservation reserves, and 49 sanctuaries.
This statement is factually incorrect and reflects shoddy reporting and editing on basic facts.
There is no such entity as ‘Tadoba Andhari sanctuary’. Tadoba-Andhari Tiger Reserve (TATR) comprises two Protected Areas (PAs): Tadoba National Park (116.55 sq km), and Andhari Wildlife Sanctuary (509.25 sq km). Together, these form the 625 sq.km. Critical Tiger Habitat (CTH) of TATR. Furthermore, ‘Tadoba Andhari sanctuary’, or rather TATR, is not 9,458.3 sq.km, nor does it “include six national parks with tiger reserves, five conservation reserves, 40 sanctuaries”. None of India’s tiger reserves or terrestrial PA’s have this kind of expanse. A simple fact-check would have ascertained this. Perhaps the writer meant Maharashtra, which has six national parks, though again what does ‘with tiger reserves’ mean? Generally, tiger reserves are constituted by PA categories which could be national parks, sanctuaries, conservation reserves, reserve forests and even private lands (usually within buffer areas).
In 2007, 140 families from Botezari village were relocated; followed by 200 families from the Ramdegi village in 2013; and 222 families from the Jamni village in March 2014.
Again, this is rife with inaccuracies. The number of families that have been relocated from the above villages are as follows:
Botezari to Bhagwanpur: 79 families (2007).
Kolsa: 49 families (2007), 48 families (2012-2016), 80 families (2022)
Nawegaon (also referred to as Ramdegi): 240 families (2013)
Jamni: 200 families (2014)
Palasgaon Singru: 142 families (2019)
Prakash Bawane is one among others who got relocated to Bhagwanpur from Botezari in 2007 recalls and says, “Suddenly, the forest department appeared and told us, we need to leave back our village and everything we owned behind, our existence was declared illegal by the forest department, which was a very traumatising for us”.
We spoke to Prakash Bawane as part of our field work in Bhagwanpur. While these were not the sentiments that he or any of the other villagers conveyed to us, it is certainly possible that this may have been communicated to the writer. Even so, the statement “Suddenly the forest department appeared and told us we need to leave…” does not withstand scrutiny.
Our discussions with Bhagwanpur villagers, plus Beazley’s work-clearly indicate that they were aware of the relocation since at least 1997, i.e., 10 years before it was effected. In the same year, the Inquiry Officer of the revenue department submitted his preliminary report on the intended relocation of villages in Andhari Wildlife Sanctuary and the ‘acquisition of rights’ began as per section 24 of the Wildlife (Protection) Act (Beazley, K., 2009. Conservation-related displacement: interrogating notions of the powerless oustee. Department of Geography, University of Cambridge, UK). By early 2000, the Botezari villagers had come to a unanimous agreement to consent to relocation in an area of reserve forest near the Mul-Chandrapur road, where they are now settled. Following this, in July 2000, the process of Botezari’s relocation was formally initiated by the Maharashtra government. This is as per Beazley’s published research, affirmed by our study.
Secondly, the statement “our existence was declared illegal” also does not pass muster. At the time of Botezari relocation, two other villages- Palasgaon and Kolsa had given their written consent to move out. However, Palasgaon and part of Kolsa refused to move in 2007, and only did so in 2019 and 2022 respectively (Kolsa in particular moved out in stages between 2012 to 2016 and then finally in 2022 as explained in the previous section). This decision was conveyed verbally by village representatives to the forest authorities and was upheld. Given the context of these relocations, the narrative that their existence was “declared illegal” does not quite fit.
Since Botezari lay within the Critical Tiger Habitat, it would be true to say that certain activities such as NTFP collection for commercial use and grazing would have been regulated and at times illegal as per the Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972.
In 2017, the national forest policy mandated to maintain 33% of country’s geographical area under green cover. As a part of this Maharashtra government implemented a 50-crore plantation program and they planted 4 crore saplings in July 2017. The tree planting in this region has created a spread of biodiversity, providing a new habitat for the animals to migrate. As a result, some of these animals have started to venture into villages such as Bhagwanpur, which lies on the borders of the forest areas.
First, as per our information, there has been no major plantation exercise near the Bhagwanpur area after 2017, nor has any such exercise been conducted since 2017 in the Chichpali forest range under which Bhagwanpur village falls.
Second, I would question the statement that animals have started venturing into villages like Bhagwanpur as a result of sapling plantation in the landscape. This statement reeks of a lack of basic understanding of forests and wildlife, and human-wildlife conflict. It is well-established by multiple, peer reviewed studies that plantations cannot be equated with ‘forests’, and support significantly lower levels of biodiversity than natural forests do.
Chandrapur district has a significant number of tigers residing in and moving through remnant forest habitats outside Protected Areas. Conflict is a product of many complex factors. The loss, degradation and fragmentation of natural forests outside Protected Areas, which forces wild animals to move through human-use areas, is one. Scientifically planned restoration (not mere tree plantation), particularly in degraded wildlife migratory corridors to ensure safe passage, is one way to address conflict. Vaguely correlating an increase in conflict with a tree plantation exercise that the article says began in 2017 reflects a poor understanding of a nuanced issue.
It is also worth noting that the decision to settle relocated villages close to forest areas (while also having proximity to main roads connected to nearby urban areas) is usually driven in consideration of the dependence of communities on forest areas for fuelwood, grazing lands etc. and an identified need to preserve the cultural connection of forest-dwelling communities to the forest.
Mukund Kulkarni, a researcher and a social worker, said he began visiting these villages in Chandrapur in 1997 and noticed that they were living in a precarious situation. The only source of employment were activities such as collecting forest goods for their livelihood, which were considered illegal by the forest department.
It is a fact that people lived in a precarious situation when they lived inside TATR. The lack of basic facilities such as road connectivity, access to good medical care, education, markets etc resulted from wildlife and forest laws that restrict developmental activities within the Critical Tiger Habitat, which is supposed to be an inviolate area for wildlife. Besides this, administrative norms and at times, the reluctance of doctors and teachers to work in remote forest areas also contributed to the villagers’ difficulty. While not forming our core research question, it came up repeatedly in our conversations that lack of connectivity and access to facilities, and aspirations for quality education and opportunities, was a significant factor why people agreed to relocate.
A major source of employment (in the reserve) was, in fact, the forest department, with villagers employed as wage labour for making fire lines, fire watchers, temporary protection staff to assist forest guards etc. The loss of this mostly steady livelihood post relocation has been acutely felt by the villagers.
The other main source of livelihood was collection and sale of minor forest produce, and while this, mostly, continued for subsistence, commercial collection was restricted and regulated.
Bhagwanpur lacks basic facilities, and there is no proper public transportation to reach the village. It has limited educational opportunities with only a school up to Class 4. Higher education requires students to travel six kilometres to the school in Chiroli village. The village hospital operates only once a week with a medical officer from an outside town.
Education: The village has a school till the 4th standard, as per the provision of village development scheme under the Zilla Parishad. Provision of higher education is determined by distance. As per the Maharashtra government RTI rules (2011) and a July 2013 GR, an Upper Primary school must be available within 3km and a Secondary School must be available within 5km. Chiroli is approximately 4km from Bhagwanpur.
Health: Public Health Centres are determined by village population, as is the presence of resident doctors. Bhagwanpur has a sub-centre with nursing staff and a doctor visiting two to three times a week, as was informed to us by the villagers and the sarpanch of Bhagwanpur.
Public transportation: A bus service was provided at the time of relocation but was stopped when a new train route disrupted the service. A new asphalted road connecting the village to the highway is now being constructed and as per our conversations with villagers and the relevant authorities, the bus service to Chandrapur will be restored following the construction of this road.
Only the headman and his friends were rewarded with lands and they had convinced them to move first, while the rest of the villagers were not informed at earliest.
This again, does not pass muster. As explained earlier, the villagers had been informed of the relocation and provided collective consent to relocate through a gram sabha resolution.
At the time of relocation, land was given to everyone. Previously landless households (41) received two acres each. Landed households (35) received land comparable to what they had inside TATR, with a minimum of four acres and a maximum limit of six acres.
In 2014, all households, including those previously landless, were given additional parcels of land retrospectively, in line with the 2008 NTCA relocation guidelines and with this, most villagers now have five acres land. The exception was those who had already received six acres previously. They were not provided additional land.
The last village, Rantalodi, has now agreed to relocate after facilities were cut off.
The relocation of Rantalodhi is far more complex than is reflected in the sentence that “Rantalodhi has now agreed to relocate after facilities were cut off.” As per our research there are multiple reasons for the villagers’ willingness for relocation out of the Critical Tiger Habitat. These include (but are not limited to) lack of facilities including access to specialised healthcare, irregular electric supply, lack of road and other connectivity, limited capital expenditure, and aspirations for better education, jobs and other opportunities.
The problems associated with ‘cutting off facilities’ were discussed by us with concerned officers from both Forest and Zilla Parishad departments. According to our discussions, any village slated for relocation including those displaced for development purposes, capital expenditure and investment (such as for roads, new buildings etc.) is restricted. However, funds for water, school, electricity and maintenance of existing buildings etc is not stopped or curtailed. Village development is under the aegis of the Zilla Parishad, and the general thinking is “why to create assets if the village is moving out, funds should be reappropriated where the new village goes”. This is problematic, more so as there is usually a long-time lag between the time the village provides its consent to relocate till the time when the village actually moves out.
Talking about the government neglecting indigenous knowledge during the relocation process, Kulkarni says that when the relocated people suggested building an irrigation lake on the upper side for better irrigation, the contractor chose a lower and more convenient location, ignoring the suggestion.
The location of the village water body (the irrigation lake) is certainly a key problem at Bhagwanpur, as the lake is below the level of the agricultural fields. This has had disastrous consequences, constraining water availability and groundwater recharge, and led to depressed agricultural productivity and incomes. However, as per our discussions with the villagers, forest and revenue officers and staff involvement in the 2007 relocation, the villagers did not offer any suggestions for the location of the irrigation lake vis-a-vis the gaothan (where the village homesteads are located.) To this extent here was no “neglect of indigenous knowledge”. As per our information, the forest department followed the plan and advise of the land development authority (revenue department) and engineers of the irrigation departments as to the location of the lake.
Caption: The tribal communities, who have lived in and around the Tadoba Andhari reserve for many years, are being forced to leave their ancestral lands due to human-animal conflict.
We would question the above statement. Human-wildlife conflict was not the reason that people moved out or were relocated, unless the reporter meant it in the wide context of anthropogenic pressures conflicting with wildlife conservation. In which case, it needs to have more clarity. Plus, the village was slated for relocation after the respective gram sabhas gave their consent to move. Reading through conservation induced displaced literature and drawing from our conversations and discussions in the field (here in TATR, and in Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary), it is seen that the lack of facilities, amenities within remote reserves and aspirations for better education and livelihood opportunities present stronger drivers of relocation.
Additionally, it is unclear why the article elides basic facts and neglects to mention the facilities that were provided from 2012 onwards to Bhagwanpur village (which seems to be the main focus of the article). They are summarised as follows:
- Cash incentive for the relocation beneficiaries amounting to Rs 47,000 (as per the 10L relocation package; in 2011)
- Funds for cattle shed construction (Rs. 58,000 per household; in 2012)
- Additional land given to families who had earlier got land less than five acres (2014). Subsidy to make the said land suitable for agriculture.
- Funds for construction of toilets for each household (Rs. 13,000 per household) 5. Motor pumps with pipe units for irrigation purposes (2015)
- Construction and deepening of two lakes for irrigation, fishing and other village needs (2015- 2016)
- Lift irrigation system to meet the irrigation needs of the village, and funds for related maintenance work (2016-18)
- Funds from Dr. Shyamaprasad Jan Van Vikas Yojna (Rs 25 lakh) for village development and provision of water filters, LPG cylinders, trees and other facilities (2016-18)
Relocation is a complex, traumatic exercise, that has many degrees of varying outcomes on the displaced people, both foreseen and the unintentional. Certainly, lack of proper irrigation facilities and poor agricultural productivity has led to economic distress in Bhagwanpur. Other problems such as disrepair of houses as well as poor internal roads and sanitation in parts of the village persist. In addition, there is—understandable—angst among the villagers as they could not avail the Rs 10 lakh compensation package which was introduced in 2008, just a year after they relocated. It also needs to be stressed that in relocations, more so for villages like Bhagwanpur where the entire village is relocated and rebuilt, addressing village-level issues goes beyond the purview of a single overhead authority (in this case, the forest department). Responsibility also lies with the collectorate, and requires the convergence of several government line departments and institutions. This would ideally also include invested and unbiased third-party advocates.
Although the article raises some pertinent issues, we are sorry to say that it seems to elide certain facts, fails to treat a sensitive and nuanced subject with the rigour it deserves, and evidences shoddy reporting, inadequate editorial oversight, and a poor understanding of the subject and related issues.
Prerna Singh Bindra is an author, wildlife conservationist currently pursuing her PhD as St John’s Benefactor’s Scholar at the University of Cambridge, Department of Geography. Her research is supported by St John’s College, Geography Dept, Smuts Memorial Fund, The Rufford Foundation and The Royal Geographical Society.
Krithika Sampath is a researcher in conservation social sciences and has done her MS in Conservation Ecology from the University of Michigan.
Banner image: Image of trail in Tadoba taken in 2015. Photo by Arun Katiyar/Flickr under Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0) license.