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Relocation from Tiger Reserves under the NTCA Guidelines

Ujjal Kumar Sarma (uksarma.iifm@gmail.com) teaches at the Indian Institute of Forest Management, Bhopal. Indrani Barpujari (indranib22@gmail.com) works with the Atal Bihari Vajpayee Institute of Good Governance and Policy Analysis, Bhopal.

Relocation under the National Tiger Conservation Authority Guidelines for Voluntary Village Relocation in Notified Core/Critical Tiger Habitats of 2011, represents a paradigmatic shift from the previous history of displacement from protected areas. About a decade later, this article attempts an overview of the state of relocation under the Guidelines and seeks to throw light on the implementation challenges faced so far.

The authors would like to express their sincere gratitude to the anonymous reviewer whose comments helped in enhancing the rigour of the article.

The “protected area” network based on the logic of creating inviolate spaces for nature and wildlife free from human interference has often been at great cost to communities residing in and around these areas with a traditional dependence on forests. It is estimated that globally, the overlap between protected areas and the lands of indigenous people1 is about 50%–80% creating a “near constant state of confrontation and ongoing potential for conflict and violence” with the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples noting that conservation measures have resulted in forced evictions, disrupted links with spiritual sites and denial of access to justice and remedy (Tauli-Corpuz et al 2018: 6). Conservation induced displacement has engendered profound social costs particularly among the poorest and most marginalised (Borinni-Feyeraband et al 2004; Brockington 2002) subjecting them to what Cernea and Schmidt-Soltau (2006: 1824) refer to as the impoverishment risks of landlessness, joblessness, homelessness, marginalisation, food insecurity, increased mortality, loss of access to common property, and social disarticulation in the absence of “equitable planning for sustainable resettlement, compensation, and recovery.”

In India, conservation induced displacement has a long history dating back to pre-independence days. It gained momentum, as Lasgorceix and Kothari (2009) observe, during the 1970s with the enactment of the Wildlife (Protection) Act (WPA), 1972 and the launch of project tiger in 1973 leading to the creation of 50 tiger reserves till date. In their review of 28 cases of displacement from protected areas, they found that majority of the relocations have been forcible or induced and done in a non-transparent, conflic­tual, mismanaged and non-participatory manner. Relocation plans for the most part have been faulty owing to the lack of adequate provision of technical and financial inputs required for successful creation of agricultural livelihoods in the new setting (Rangarajan and Shahabuddin 2006).

A legal and policy vacuum has in large part been responsible for this state of affairs. As Shahabuddin and Bhamidipati (2014) observe, till 2006, there was no legal requirement in India for ensuring effective rehabilitation and there was only the largely inadequate Beneficiary-Oriented Tribal Development (BOTD) scheme for resettling people. The Protocol/Guidelines for Voluntary Village Relocation in Notified Core/Critical Tiger Habitats (CTH) of Tiger Reserves issued by the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) in 2011 positioned itself as a game changer in many ways. The Protocol/ Guidelines consolidate the earlier Revised NTCA Guidelines of 2008 for implementing the centrally-sponsored scheme of project tiger (which also included a format for preparation of village relocation plan from core/CTH) along with further guidelines issued. Self-evident from the name itself, these guidelines mandate the voluntariness of the relocations from identified core/CTH of a tiger reserve, thereby, representing a paradigmatic shift from the previous history of displacement to which the use of force is typically critical (Agrawal and Redford 2009).

With the avowed objective of ensuring that “in the process of conservation and protection of tigers and their habitats, the rights of forest dwellers are respected, and the process of recognition and
determination of rights is complete,” the guidelines are based on a rights approach seeking to give effect to the provisions of the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 also commonly known as the Forest Rights Act (FRA) and the WPA, 1972 as amended in 2006. These Guidelines also go beyond the National Rehabilitation and Resettlement Policy, 2007 which while seeking to ensure the adequateness of the rehabilitation and the active participation of the affected is based on the premise that provision of public facilities or infrastructure may cause involuntary displacement.

With these guiding principles in place, a new strategy for relocation from tiger reserves based on what Cernea and Schmidt-Soltau (2006) term as double sustainability approach (ensuring protection of biodiversity and peoples interests at the same time) was initiated. About a decade later, this article seeks to throw light on the implementation challenges faced so far in the various stages of relocation so as to circumvent the same through incremental changes to the guidelines and necessary policy interventions. As of 2017, 12,327 families in 173 villages from within tiger reserves have been relocated (NTCA 2017). There is, however, a dearth of literature on relocation in tiger reserves post the NTCA Guidelines though there are some isolated studies, documentation by advocacy groups and media reports. While deriving insights from existing literature, the present article draws primarily upon the first author’s observations and learnings gleaned from visits to relocated villages in Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh (MP) and Odisha and the second author’s insights based on her policy study of the implementation of the FRA in MP.

Rights Approach

The NTCA Guidelines strongly articulate the language of rights which is in tune with India’s international and national commitments.

Though silent with respect to conservation-induced displacement, the United Nations Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement (2001), particularly Principle 6 which prohibits arbitrary displacement in cases of large-scale development projects which are not justified by compelling and overriding public interests, may be amenable to a broad interpretation. Particularly relevant is Article 10 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) adopted in 2007 (to which India is a signatory) which expressly lays down that

indigenous peoples shall not be forcibly removed from their lands or territories. No relocation shall take place without the free, prior and informed consent of the indigenous people concerned and after agreement on just and fair compensation and, where possible, with the option of return.

Here, it may also be mentioned that along with UNDRIP, India is also a signatory to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948; and the International Labour Organization’s (ILO) Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention, 1989, all of which necessitate recognition of the rights of those to be displaced, particularly indigenous and tribal people.

Though not “a norm-making agency building general international law,” the World Bank has also been acknowledged to have “a special role in formulating a transnational epistemic culture on policies of displacement and relocation” (Lustig and Kingsbury 2006: 411) with its policies imposing certain obligations on borrowers (including national governments). The World Bank’s Operational Policy 4.12 (2001 revised in April 2013) extending to people displaced from protected areas recognises the need to address and mitigate the impoverishment risks arising out of displacement as defined by Cernea and Schmidt-Soltau (2006) and the need to meaningfully consult displaced people and assist them in their efforts to improve their livelihoods and standards of living or at least restore them, in real terms to pre-displacement levels.

In addition, the NTCA Guidelines also reflect the shifts in the international conservation discourse with a new paradigm for protected areas focusing on benefits to local people and their increased role having evolved largely through the initiative of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). In particular, the recommendations of the Vth IUCN World Parks Congress held in Durban in 2003 gave a great fillip to the rights-based approach which were adopted by the Conference of Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity in its Programme of Work on Protected Areas (Goal 2.2.5) in 2004. Parties are expected to “ensure that any resettlement of indigenous communities as a consequence of the esta­blishment or management of protected areas will only take place with their prior informed consent.”

The NTCA Guidelines seek to give effect to legal commitments under two national laws—the FRA and the WPA. Section 4(1) of the FRA, 2006 recognises and vests a host of individual and community forest rights in Scheduled Tribes (STs) and other traditional forest dwellers (OTFDs). Section 4(2) states that the said recognised forest rights in critical wildlife habitats (CWH) of national parks and sanctuaries may subsequently be modified or resettled outside subject to the satisfaction of a host of conditions, namely that the process of recognition and vesting of rights is complete in the areas under consideration; that it has been established by the concerned agencies of the state government, in exercise of their powers under the WPA, 1972 that the activities or impact of the presence of holders of rights upon wild animals is sufficient to cause irreversible damage and threaten the existence of said species and their habitat; the state government has concluded that other reasonable options, such as coexistence are not available; a resettlement or alternatives package has been prepared and communicated that provides a secure livelihood for the aff­ected individuals and communities and fulfils the requirements of such affected individuals and communities given in the relevant laws and the policy of the central government; the free informed consent of the gram sabhas in the areas concerned to the proposed resettlement and to the package has been obtained in writing; and that no resettlement shall take place until facilities and land allocation at the resettlement location are complete as per the promised package.

An amendment to the WPA, 1972 in 2006 incorporated Chapter IVB, which provides the legal basis for the constitution of the NTCA and for the notification of a tiger reserve by the state government on the recommendation of the former. The state government is to prepare a tiger conservation plan for the proper management of each tiger reserve and this has to be done taking into account the agricultural, livelihood, developmental and other interests of the people living in tiger bearing forests or a tiger reserve (Section 38V(4)). Explanation (i) to Section 38V(4) defines a tiger reserve as including core or CTH areas of national parks and sanctuaries (notified as such by the state government in consultation with an expert committee constituted for the purpose), identified on the basis of scientific and objective criteria to be kept inviolate for the purpose of tiger conservation without affecting the rights of STs or such other forest dwellers.

Tiger reserve also includes, as per Explanation (ii), the concept of buffer/peripheral area where a lesser degree of habitat protection is required to ensure the integrity of the critical tiger habitat, providing habitat supplement for dispersing tigers, besides offering scope for coexistence with human activity.

The limits of the buffer/peripheral areas are to be determined in consultation with the concerned gram sabha and an expert committee. Section 38(V)(5) expressly lays down that save for voluntary relocation on mutually agreed terms and conditions, no ST or other forest dwellers shall be resettled or their rights adversely affected for the purpose of creating inviolate areas for tiger conservation. It further lays down a stringent set of conditions which such voluntary relocation has to comply with; chief among them being the completion of the process of recognition and determinations of rights of STs and other forest dwellers and acquisition; their consent to the process of declaring an area inviolate; informed consent of the gram sabha and those
affected to the resettlement programme; and the provision of facilities and land allocation at resettlement location before existing rights are interfered with.

Despite some preliminary confusion on the compatibility of the concept of critical wildlife habitat (in the FRA) and core or critical tiger habitat (in the WPA), the guidelines have adopted the position, based on deliberations with experts and simulation results from scientific data that a minimum inviolate area of 800–1,200 sq km is required to sustain a viable population of tigers
(20 breeding females). As such, the NTCA Guidelines lay down that identification/notification of the core/CTH is to be done under Section 38V(4)(i) of the WPA while establishment of the core/CTH for creating inviolate area for tiger involving relocation of families/villages from such areas is to be done as per Sections 4 and 6 of the FRA and Section 38V(5) of the WPA.

Preparation for the Relocation

Following the notification of the core/CTH as per process laid down in the WPA, as per the Guidelines (6.1.2.1), the field director of a tiger reserve must identify the village/villages situated with such area and a prioritisation of villages to be relocated on the basis of human–tiger conflicts, presence of tiger den sites, grazing areas of wild ungulates and other attributes. A meeting of the concerned gram sabha should be convened with the active participation of the villagers to be relocated where they are to be informed about the necessity for relocation, the relocation/rehabilitation options available to them and grievance redressal system, following which it is obligatory to take free informed consent of the gram sabha and affected villagers in writing regarding the proposed resettlement package/option.

At the same time, the process of recognition/settlement of rights of those to be resettled must be initiated under Section 6(i) of the FRA with the gram sabha initiating the process of determining rights (community and individual) by receiving claims, consolidating and verifying them and forwarding them to the Sub-Divisional Level Committee (SDLC). This is further scrutinised by the SDLC which then forwards the list to the final authority—the District Level Committee for approval. It is noteworthy to mention here that in case of rejection of claims, there is also a mechanism for appeal under the FRA for a specific period of time.

The guidelines expressly lay down that no relocation can be effected before the process of recognition and settlement of rights (including appeal) under the FRA is complete. Though meriting an independent discussion altogether, it may be mentioned that forest dwellers may find many of their claims rejected owing to inability to provide the requisite or adequate evidence/documents in support of their claims and many failing to assert their right to appeal against the rejections owing to illiteracy and ignorance about the process as well as their rights (Barpujari 2019).

While the basis for providing the resettlement options is the settlement (or surrender) of individual rights, there is another category of rights—community rights provided in the FRA. These have usually been enjoyed customarily by a group of villagers as a whole such as nistar rights, rights to minor forest produce, uses or entitlements over fish, waterbodies, grazing, etc, which are central to the sustenance and well-being of forest dependent communities. Such rights also need to be recognised and settled; however, as the experience bears out, the percentage of community rights recognised across the country has been quite low (mere 3.8% of total rights recognised as per the Ministry of Tribal Affairs 2018).

There have been a number of reports (largely from advocacy groups) stating that there have been many instances across the country where forest dwellers have been displaced out of tiger reserves without settling their rights (Equations 2010; Vasundhara 2016). Further, what has created considerable consternation among rights-based groups is a relatively recent letter of the NTCA dated 28 March 2017 to tiger range states asking them not to confer forest rights in CTHs in the absence of guidelines for notification of CWHs as envisaged in the FRA (Agarwal and Shrivastava 2017). The legal tenability of such an order as well as the jurisdiction of the NTCA to issue such an order with a bearing on forest rights is being questioned and being perceived as a “surreptitious move” amounting to “a denial of rights” to tribals and other forest dwellers (Hindu 2017).

Along with the settlement of rights under the FRA, free informed consent of the gram sabha and the affected villagers is required to the relocation/rehabilitation package, with the NTCA Revised Guidelines of 2008 providing a new package2 (in line with the National Rehabilitation and Resettlement Policy, 2007) with the following two options:

Option A: Payment of the entire package amount (`10 lakh per family) to the family in case the family opts so, without involving any rehabilitation/relocation process by the forest department.

A monitoring process involving the collector of concerned district(s) is provided for to ensure that the villagers rehabilitate themselves with the package money provided to them.

Option B: Carrying out relocation/rehabili­tation of village by the forest department.

In thed case of Option B, the following package is offered at the rate of `10 lakh per family (Table 1).

Where the value of the assets (as per valuation done by the collector) is much higher (exceeding 30% in the case of Option B) as well as in Option A, the balance amount is compensated through funding support from the state government.

Though technically, the eligible families have free choice between the two options, procuring land for relocation has become a major constraint for the forest department in providing Option B. While the standard practice has been to resettle the eligible families in degraded forestland (after being cleared), this has been a limiting factor too as these forest compartments will have to be sooner or later denotified and transferred to the revenue department. Thus, while the two options should be available as a matter of fact to every eligible family, it may not always be possible to go forward with Option B.

Though Option A appears to present an efficient solution, it may not always be so as the package may no longer be adequate to buy two hectares of agricultural land at market price. Thus, the only solution could be to increase the monetary component and make it at par with the market rate or link it with the collectorate rate with an inbuilt mechanism for self-correction. Then again, the golden handshake like Option A which expects the eligible families to be, in Foucauldian terms “autonomous entrepreneurs” with full responsibility for their own investment decisions (Lemke 2001) may not be able to have the desired objective for vulnerable forest dwellers with low levels of literacy. The guidelines (6.3.3.3) seek to ensure, at a minimum, that the amount is used only for the creation of fixed assets; however, there is need for greater hand-holding and expert support, especially in the purchase of new land. There are examples where relocated families have not got the best deal while trying to purchase land on their own near towns and they have been subject to “exploitation by touts, fixers and crooks of the vicinity” (Vasundhara 2016).

At the epicentre of the relocation package is the definition of family; the guidelines of 2011 through a clarification (as per order No 3-1/2003-PT) have defined family as including a person, his or her spouse, minor sons, unmarried daughters, minor brothers, unmarried sisters, father, mother and other relatives residing with him or her and dependent on him or her for their livelihood; includes nuclear family consisting of a person, his or her spouse and minor children. This definition (same as the definition of family in the National Rehabilitation and Resettlement Policy, 2007), thus, makes every adult male above the age of 18 years eligible for the package and this has led to a situation in many relocated villages where every adult son of a family has been provided with agricultural land, homestead and pucca house (as part of Option B) with the latter’s houses lying unused as they prefer to stay as part of their extended joint families. This is but to be expected considering that despite considerable changes, rural family structures in India continue to remain largely of joint/extended nature characterised by strong kinship bonds reinforced further by the demands of agriculture as a profession with its requirement for more resources and manpower (Saggurti and Nair 2005). In such a context, some flexibility in combining the two options within a joint/extended family may contribute to the enhanced well-being of the relocated families as seen in the case of relocations from Satpura Tiger Reserve, MP (field observation in New Khakrapura, New Bori, New Ratibandar and other relocated villages). There have been instances here where two–three eligible families (usually adult brothers or father and son/sons) have tried to pool in the individual packages received. For example, where one adult male member of the family has opted for Option A and invested the money in a monthly income scheme, thus, ensuring a steady income for the whole family, the other two adult male members have opted for Option B respectively and have been able to build a relatively larger house with the aggregate amount of `4 lakh and have received 4 hectares of agricultural land in total. Such aggregation of resources, largely typical of rural and agrarian family structures seem to provide an ideal solution for relocated villagers (if they do so desire) and the guidelines and the implementing agencies should be flexible enough to accommodate this.

Further, the accepted definition of family is problematic for not being in consonance with the principle of gender equity considering that an unmarried daughter over 18 years of age is not eligible for the package. There are also instances where members of extended family stake a claim even though they have not stayed in the reserve. Another contentious issue is the cut-off date for ascertaining who can be considered as an eligible family particularly compounded when proof of birth is not available. Also, when there is a time lag between the cut-off date and the actual date of relocation (the process of relocation may take years), it leads to an unfair situation where many individuals who have attained 18 years of age during this period are left out.

Relocation

Voluntary relocation of villages from tiger reserves can be effected only after the proposal for relocation of a village is submitted to the NTCA and approved by it. The assessment, vetting and transfer of money from NTCA may take a few months or even more if the proposal is incomplete or some clarifications are sought from the tiger reserve.

Where the eligible families have chosen Option B, a group of villagers are usually taken by the department to a few locations where land is available for de-notification (usually degraded forest compartments) for site selection. The villagers consider various factors in making this choice, often guided by their aspirations as well as proximity to a village or community with whom they share close ties. For instance, the people of villages like Khakrapura, Bori, Sakot, Sirdhana, Churna within Satpura Tiger Reserve chose to relocate to sites which were closer to villages inhabited by their own community (Gond/Korku/Yadav).Likewise, a number of families from Jami village of Kanha Tiger Reserve who opted for Option A (cash) bought land in Chhattisgarh near their extended family members who got separated when Chhattisgarh was carved out of MP (field observation). As Cernea (2000) observes, the risk of marginalisation is better addressed when the new neighbours of the relocated people speak a similar language or belong to the same ethnic group.

Once the site is selected and the money has been sanctioned by the NTCA, the process of relocation begins. A date for relocation is determined by the state forest department in consultation with the villagers. Relocation is usually not planned during the monsoon, harvest season, etc, as it is a humongous and complex exercise. The process is carried out not by any certified/trained personnel but by some committed hardworking front-line staff of the forest department who are not formally trained to carry out such exercises, but have learned from their past successes and mistakes. In the absence of any direct tangible incentive, leadership skills of the senior officials play a huge role in keeping them motivated in this back-breaking exercise. The atmosphere is always charged during relocation with a build-up of stress, anxiety and sadness at the prospect of leaving behind one’s roots and the familiar for the unknown though evidently tinged with hopes for the future. The prospect of better access to education for their children as well as to job opportunities, healthcare; proximity to markets and towns; freedom from the endless crop depredations by wild animals are some reasons motivating people from inside tiger reserves to relocate, as also attested to by other studies (Ghate and Beazley 2007).

Both the FRA and the WPA lay down that no relocation can take place until provision of facilities and land allocation at the site is complete. While ideally the pucca houses and the agricultural fields should be ready before relocation, this has often not been the case leading to a really trying period ahead for the relocated people, particularly the old and infirm, children and women. The incentive amount of `50,000 is usually released at this time to enable the relocated people to tide through this phase. While the pucca houses are being constructed (mostly by the villagers themselves in villages relocated from Satpura Tiger Reserve like New Khakrapura), families go about the task of building a temporary shelter using materials from their old house which also acts as a storehouse for their last harvest on which their next few months precariously depend. The general health support is minimal, children are out of school, and it is usually a chaotic time for everyone. In the initial phase of relocations, there have been some terrible mistakes when entire families were temporarily housed in tiny compartments made of corrugated tin sheets in the blistering hot summer in an eastern Indian state (Vasundhara 2016; Bera 2015).

Another important aspect of the relocation process is the preparation of a community development plan (CDP) for each relocated village (to be prepared in consultation with the district collector while ensuring integration of other ongoing district-level schemes, as per point 6.2.1.10 of the guidelines).

Though only 10% of the package is earmarked for community facilities, namely access road, irrigation, drinking water, sanitation, electrification, places of worship, community centre, etc, in practice, almost 70% of the total package is channelised into this (after deducting the 5% incentive and 25% for construction of house). This plan is very critical for the future of the village as a whole and it is imperative to exercise prudence in its preparation and execution as once budget outlay for it is exhausted, the
relocated families are largely on their own. Roads, levelling agricultural fields, street lights, drinking water, irrigation, school building, village electrification, community hall and many other community facilities usually find place in this plan. Thus, it is critical to make the plan preparation broad-based, involving all the relocated families (including women) and in consultation with speci­alists and experts. Then again, options must be explored for shifting the burden of many of these activities from the newly relocated families and the package they have received—the CDP budget can be separated from the package amount or the package amount can be increased overall.

Convergence with existing government schemes while finding mention in the guidelines is not resorted to in many cases; doing so would ensure that money from the package is not being spent on electrification, village roads, anganwadi building, school building, solar pumps, etc. Arguing further, it has been observed that there are some families in village New Dhai relocated from Satpura Tiger Reserve in the pre-NTCA guidelines era (that is, whose package amount was `1 lakh) who are doing better than many relocated later (with the enhanced package) because they could take advantage of other schemes due to support from some far-sighted officials.

Rebuilding Livelihoods

According to Cernea and Schmidt-Soltau (2006), people displaced from parks are not only vulnerable but very poor across the world as displacement from protected areas deprive them of access to forests on which they have traditionally depended on for catering to a major part of their livelihood and sustenance needs prima facie, communities relocated from tiger reserves under the NTCA guidelines appear to hold robust net-worth post the settlement of rights and package; however, in reality, the communities are highly vulnerable owing to absence of secure and sustainable livelihoods, financial illiteracy, lack of access to other government schemes, breakdown of sociocultural cohesiveness, redundancy of traditional skill-sets, etc (Shah and Kumar 2015). Thus, while the risks of landlessness and homelessness are effectively mitigated (people in relocated villages take great pride in now residing in pucca houses and being owners of land), the risks of joblessness (loss of productive work, income and subsistence), food security, marginalisation, social disarticulation need to be effectively addressed in more imaginative ways to ensure overall well-being of the relocated families. The guidelines (6.3.7.) provide that the collector must provide each beneficiary a certificate indicating their eligibility for all schemes applicable to relocated people. This should be provided prior to the relocation; in addition, the families should be facilitated to obtain Pan card, Aadhaar, ration card, voter ID, etc, so that they can stake claim to all their entitlements under food security legislation as well avail benefits under various schemes and assert their citizenship rights in the new setting.

Rebuilding livelihoods is a challenge; the families immediately after relocation have to address themselves to the almost herculean task of transforming the two hectares of agricultural land provided to them respectively (which is usually degraded forestland) and making the land yield a harvest adequate for their sustenance. Such land has to be developed adequately (including levelling, provision for irrigation, enhancing soil fertility) for it to sustain agriculture which usually takes a few years. As a result, the relocated people go through a very difficult time in the first years after relocation as observed in many relocated villages which can be circumvented if this process could be initiated much before the actual relocation takes place. While the amount earmarked for procurement of agricultural land and its development (excluding irrigation covered under community facilities) is 35% of the total package, in most cases, the agricultural land is available free of cost-degraded forestland. As such, in most instances, the standard practice, also supported by the guidelines (6.2.1.9) has been to use the 35% earmarked for the same along with the stipulated 10% of the package for community facilities. A case may be made for delinking the agriculture component of the package from community facilities and utilising the same strictly for levelling, soil testing, purchase of agricultural inputs and implements and other activities for enhancing the productivity of the land which would go a long way in securing the livelihoods of the affected families both in the short and long run.

The guidelines are sensitive to the fact that livelihood support and handholding are crucial for the success of the relocation process and form part of the village relocation proposal format and also provide that the assistance of competent civil society organisations having the domain expertise may be obtained (6.3.8). This can be best achieved by involving trained specialists, civil society actors and partnering with other government agencies like the State Rural Livelihood Missions which are already making positive impacts in rural India in ameliorating rural poverty as found in a joint study involving the first author (Tambe et al 2017). CSR initiatives like that of the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) Foundation (and other players like Reliance Foundation, Indian Grameen Services) in supporting resettlement and rehabilitation activities in a number of villages relocated from tiger reserves across the country targeted at building a community governance mechanism, providing a livelihood portfolio with capacity building and linkages, enhancing financial literacy, and provision of access to government programmes and public utilities have yielded reach dividends (Shah and Kumar 2015).

Securing livelihoods, creation of robust community governance mechanisms and building capabilities of the relocated people would go a long way in ensuring long-term sustainability and community takeover (Rogers and Macías 2004). This also requires, at the implementation level, enhanced record maintenance and documentation of the entire relocation process, establishment of the baseline for various critical parameters as well as defining criteria and benchmarks for successful disengagement and fixing time frame and stakeholder responsibilities. An exit-strategy (with a separate budget head) should be part of the initial proposal to NTCA and there should be effective monitoring and midterm evaluation designed to assess progress towards the criteria for exit (thus, strengthening the monitoring mechanism provided for in the guidelines).

The Way Ahead

In about a decade of implementation, the NTCA guidelines have tried to achieve a balance in the imperatives of conservation and protected area management with social justice to achieve double sustainability and has ensured voluntary relocation in a manner that takes cognisance of the rights of the relocated in tune with commitments under international and national laws and policies. Relocation should aim, in the words of Patrick Geddes, the renowned Scottish socio­logist, geographer, and town planner, to give people in fact the same care that we give when transplanting flowers instead of harsh evictions (cited in Balasubrah­manyan 1993). To ensure that the relocated people from the tiger reserves get the requisite measure of care which enables them to cope with the impoverishment risks arising out of displacement and realise their aspirations and capabilities in the new setting, a number of incremental changes to the guidelines and policy interventions have been discussed. Chief among them are enhancing the overall package amount (taking due account of inflation); combining options where feasible; delinking the agriculture component of the package from community facilities; preparation of agricultural lands before relocation; greater handholding on livelihood, financial literacy, investment decisions (purchase of land); dovetailing with existing government schemes to provide community facilities; involvement of livelihood experts, CSR, civil society among others. At the same time, a broad interpretation of the existing laws and guidelines in the interest of the relocated communities is necessary; attempts at curtailment of legally endowed rights may prove counter­productive to the cause of conservation and violative of the principles of social justice and equity.

Notes

1 ILO Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention, 1989 uses the terms indigenous and tribal peoples as a common denominator for more than 370 million people found in more than 70 countries worldwide and in an inclusive fashion recognising that they are often known by national terms such as Adivasis, mountain dwellers, hill tribes, hunters–gatherers, etc (ILO 2013). The ILO uses a set of subjective and objective criteria to identify these people in a country. In India, there is no official recognition of “indigenous” people as a legal category; Article 342 of the Constitution of India lays down that the President may “by public notification specify the tribes or tribal communities which shall for the purpose deemed to be Scheduled Tribes …” At present, there are 705 notified STs in India constituting 8.6% of the total population of the country (Ministry of Tribal Affairs 2013). The Forest Rights Act, 2006 recognises the rights of forest dwelling STs and OTFDs, with the latter defined under Section 2(o) of the act as “any member or community who has for atleast three generations prior to the 13th day of December 2005 primarily resided in and who depend on the forest or forests land for bonafide livelihood needs.” The Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 as amended in 2006 recognises the rights of STs and “other forest dwellers.”

2 The new package provided by the revised NTCA Guidelines of 2008 reflects a marked increase from `1 lakh (under the previous beneficiary-oriented scheme for tribal development) to `10 lakh as compensation.

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Updated On : 28th Jul, 2020

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