This appeared in a news story in the Times of India that said the people
had happily moved out. It sounded like a fairy tale impossible in
post-independent India’s history of the wildlife department which is
marred by numerous cases of atrocities and forced evictions of forest
dwellers. After years of hearing stories of how elephants were used by
the Forest Department to demolish villages, the story of Jenabil happily
relocating itself sounded unbelievable.
So we hit the modern four-lane steel barricaded national highway number
5 on 15th March 2010 to meet the displaced families in the new
resettlement camp. The forest dwellers are for the first time in their
lives now connected to the rest of the world by a road. These roads were
not built for them but for the infamous extractive industries of Orissa.
On our way to the resettlement camp we crossed Chandikhol, a major
junction on the road connecting Sukinda, the biggest chromite mine in
the country with the port town Paradip and it crossed our minds how the
government has signed away thousands of hectares of forest to mining
companies. Is that not bringing the tiger as well as several other rare
and endangered species of flora and fauna closer to extinction than the
forest dwellers? Is it not a paradox that the forest dweller, the one
who lives in the forest, has to pay for the destruction of the forest by
those who live outside the forest?
But the Times of India report popped back into our consciousness, after
all, had not the forest dweller happily left the forest? We reached
Ambadiha at 10:30pm, a village in Udala block of Mayurbhanj district
where the families were resettled from simlipal tiger reserve 8 days
ago. If first impressions are to be considered as the sign of things to
come then the sight that was waiting for us was the sign of a tragedy in
making. Biting heat, dust and for miles together no sighting of the
colour green. Just a long shiny tin shed divided into about a dozen tiny
compartments that from a distance looked like a modern day cattle-shed.
Hard to imagine how anyone would manage to live through the piercing
tropical summer heat in this tin oven. Even harder is to imagine people
who have lived in an evergreen rainforest for generations to survive in
this heat chamber.
But indigenous people have indigenous survival skills and therefore the
tin shed has been extended with a green shade, a roof made of leaves
under which we sat and spoke to the displaced villagers. When asked why
and how they were removed from Jenabil, we received several angry mixed
reactions and reasons that had together compounded into the
displacement. Nobody said they had happily moved out as the newspaper
report had claimed. Rather people said forest officers and the police
would regularly visit villages in Simplipal and book innocent tribals in
false cases for sheltering Maoists. The Simlipal forest is supposedly a
safe haven for the armed guerrillas of the CPI-Maoist who last year had
attacked forest guards and tourists in the forest. The villagers were
threatened that the men folk would be arrested if they did not agree to
The dejection and fear among the displaced families was apparently not a
new one. Life in the Simlipal Sanctuary area was full of strict
restrictions by the wildlife department.
There was restriction on collecting and selling forest produce, free
movement in the jungle, no healthcare and education facilities, so on
and so forth. Every moment their basic human rights were being violated
and they were denied a life of dignity. Always living in fear of the
forest guard but not as much as of the last few tigers of Simlipal
sanctuary. Despite the repressive conditions the people had abided to
all these unlawful restrictions all these years because for them the
forest was their home.
Fear and coercion of the forest department and the police was balanced
with the promise of a better tomorrow. The people were shown a pretty
picture of Ambadiha where they were promised they would get all the
facilities and comforts which they did not have in their villages like
power and water supply, health and education facilities etc. The
rehabilitation package verbally promised by the tiger project to each
displaced family is farming land, land to build houses and monetary
compensation in total amounting to Rs10 lakhs. The collector promised to
provide cooked food for 2 months. Water facility from the river through
lift point would be provided. Every displaced family would be given an
allowance of Rs2000/- for a temporary period.
But rude awakenings came in early. The people were distressed to not see
a single tree or a stray bush in the vicinity. They said back in Jenabil,
around this time of the year, the jungle and natural streams gave them
an extremely cool and comfortable environment unlike Ambadiha. That day
the tiger project authorities had stopped providing cooked food after 8
days of doing so. Also, there was just one water tanker provided
everyday which was just enough for their drinking needs. People had not
bathed ever since. Many have fallen ill especially the elderly and the
children. The tin sheds were needless to say unbearable but the people
were unable to start constructing their houses as the tiger project
authorities were not allowing them to get their old wood from Jenabil.
The displaced villagers are essentially farmers with secondary reliance
on forest produce. On both counts it seems unlikely they will be able to
make a living in Ambadiha. Land has been demarcated for them to
cultivate but not yet formally handed over to the displaced. Even if it
were done immediately it will be of little use as there is no irrigation
available for the land earmarked for them. Then the closest forest from
the resettled colony is 15 kms away which is being protected by another
village and it is not possible for these people to have access to this
jungle for their everyday fire wood collection, forget about other
forest produce. The only option that remains is daily wage labour in the
NREGA and if that does not work out then end up as migrant labour.
If ignorance were bliss then the displaced lot from Jenabil would have
been happy as the newspaper report claimed. But ignorance of one’s
rights being violated by the law keepers can never bring in the joy. The
displacement of the Jenabil tribals is a blatant violation of the Forest
Rights Act 2006 and the Wildlife (Protection) Amendment Act 2006.
Section 4 (2) (d) of the Forest Rights Act 2006 states the following as
one of the conditions to be met prior to any relocation from a critical
wildlife habitat –
A resettlement or alternatives package has been prepared and
communicated that provides a secure livelihood for the affected
individuals and communities and fulfills the requirements of such
affected individuals and communities given in the relevant laws and the
policy of the central government.
Further, Section 4(2)(e) requires that,
The free informed consent of the Gram Sabhas in the areas concerned to
the proposed resettlement and the package has been obtained in writing
While Section 4(2)(f) provides that,
No resettlement shall take place until facilities and land allocation at
the resettlement location are complete as per the promised package.
And, Section 38 (V) 4 of Wildlife (Protection) Amendment Act 2006 states
Subject to the provisions contained in this Act, the State government
shall while preparing a Tiger Conservation Plan, ensure the
agricultural, livelihood, developmental and other interests of the
people living in tiger bearing forests or a tiger reserve.
During interaction with government departments, it was claimed that they
have proof of consent given by the gram sabha but the villagers said the
Gram Sabha had not given any formal consent.
The sub collector said the land has been demarcated but allocation will
take some more time. Houses were not built prior to relocation, rather a
temporary shed arrangement was provided. This arrangement is not
sufficient to stay and survive for the displaced families.
Section 4(5) of the Forest Rights Act 2006 states –
Save as otherwise provided, no member of the forest dwelling Scheduled
Tribe or other traditional forest dweller shall be evicted or removed
from the forest land under his occupation till the recognition and the
verification procedure is complete
There are a large number of cases where forest officials have turned
down FRA claims saying they are not applicable in the wildlife
sanctuaries and national parks. In Simlipal the forest department went a
step further and barred NGOs and other organizations to intervene and
help the tribals of jenabil to file their FRA claims. The Village Level
Worker (VLW) once managed to give the claim forms to the villagers but
later there was no proper follow up. Hence, there was no filing of
claims, verification and recognition of rights prior to the displacement
of the tribals which is a clear violation of the Act.
38 (V) 5 (vi) of Wildlife (Protection) Amendment Act 2006 states –
The facilities and land allocation at the resettlement location are
provided under the said programme, otherwise their existing rights shall
not be interfered with.
We were shown some 30 varieties of indigenous seeds of pulses, millets,
crops, vegetables, and roots used or grown by the villagers in their
village inside Simplipal. It was evident that it would be very difficult
for them to practice the same kind of farming that they used to do in
the new location. This time of the year, they could have prepared for
the second crop on their original land. Now, however, they are not only
jobless but have lost this season’s harvest as well. It was clear that
the Project Tiger authorities had not ensured the basic amenities
required for ensuring a secure livelihood before relocating the forest
dwelling tribal families of Jenabil to Ambadiha.
The displaced from Jenabil have new neighbors who were once their old
neighbors belonging to tribal families (23 families from Bathuri
community, jenabil and 8 families from kharia community, Kabataghai)
displaced in 1998 from the same Simlipal core area and settled here.
When we met them, they were not at all surprised to hear the tall claims
and hollow promises that the govt had hardly fulfilled before displacing
the families from Jenabil. They had faced the same problems, the same
disappointment and disenchantment 12 years back.
The forest department and the block administration in Udala say it is
the responsibility of the Project Tiger director to look into all the
problems and promises of the displaced people. Since the resettled
colony falls in their administration, they were trying to provide
whatever facilities they could. On confronting the Forest Secretary U.N
Behera in Bhubaneswar with the findings from the visit to Ambadiha and
after highlighting the violations that the Project Tiger authorities
have made during the relocation and rehabilitation process as well as
the difficulties faced by the people relocated in Ambadiha, he promised
that the FRA and WPAA will be followed properly from here on. There are
plans of moving out the remaining villages in Simlipal. Now they are
planning to displace Jamunagarh village in the core area. The question
is if the authorities will displace more villages without first
recognizing all rights of the tribals conferred by the FRA 06 and first
ensuring that proper facilities in the resettlement area have been
provided, or if the rights of the displaced will be recognized now.
Tigers are an apex species and deserve the highest protection. But are
the tigers being poached by tribals living in sanctuaries or rather by
the powerful nexus of hunters and traders that cater to the ever
demanding Chinese market for tiger products. Then, can tigers be
protected by displacing tribals from the forest while signing off tiger
habitats to mining companies like in the case of Niyamgiri hills where
Vedanta Aluminium is proposing to undertake open cast bauxite mining in
an area known to be a tiger and elephant corridor? Be it Niyamgiri or
Simlipal, these are cases of open violations of the FRA ’06, the only
difference being that in Niyamgiri the Act is being violated for the
greed of mining companies while in Simlipal it is for the protection of
the tiger from human greed. In both cases tribal communities are
marginalized, livelihoods are destroyed and a way of life in the forest
and associated indigenous knowledge is lost forever. If tribals were the
real enemies of the tigers then the only tigers left would not have been
in tribal areas. Time can only say if the Simlipal tigers will be saved
or not by the displacement of the tribals leaving only government
forestry staff in-charge, but it is already evident that the tribals
cannot be saved by relocating them in this manner.
To have the latest update, in the last one week, one middle aged man has
died of heat stroke
while fetching firewood from the nearest forest located 15 km away. Also
a little child passed away from heatstroke in the village.