*SLIPPING ON THE GROUND*
*Without course correction, the village relocation drive may not secure our
best tiger forests.*
I met Foranti at her sisters' wedding sometime ago. Nanha and Moti were
getting married in a modest function around a few ramshackle tents Foranti
called her parental home near Roshanpura village, about 20 km from Sawai
Madhopur and possibly a few hundred yards inside Ranthambhore tiger reserve.
Unlike other encroachers there, Foranti's six brothers did not decimate the
dry forest vegetation. A hunting tribe, Moghiyas do not believe in farming.
So amid bushes of thorny juliflora separating the makeshift kitchen from the
'reception area', the celebration was a riot of colours. Foranti posed for
photographs with her husband Chotmal. She was proud he had come upon a
More recently, i met Foranti again. The proud eyes were hollow. She said her
husband got a compensation package -- Rs 10 lakh -- for leaving Hindwar, one
of many Ranthambhore villages being evacuated. He had demolished their
Hindwar hutment and now wanted to marry his brother's widow who had also got
the package. He beat Foranti because she refused to be dumped. Her last
resort was to move court to stave off destitution. Foranti's is not the only
case and gender not the only issue that threatens to backfire on the
Centre's milestone initiative to free core tiger forests across the country
from human disturbance through a voluntary relocation scheme.
The initiative is ambitious even on paper. Out of an estimated 65,000
families, so far, 40,000 have been identified for the scheme. At Rs 10 lakh
per family, the budget has already touched Rs 4,000 crore; Rs 267 crore has
been released to nine states.
Uprooting people is not easy, resettling them even more difficult. Little
wonder only 3,000 families could be relocated since the inception of Project
Tiger in 1973. So the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) has
enhanced the compensation package 10 times from Rs 1 lakh but it has no role
in ground implementation. The success of this mega-initiative depends, to
quote an NTCA guideline, "on performance by states".
But the early lessons are worrying. Under the Tenth Plan, beneficiaries
could take Rs 10 lakh each and move out on their own, or take up to 30 per
cent of the amount while the forest department used the rest for their
rehabilitation. But some states offer only the cash option of Rs 10 lakh,
which does not appeal to big landholders. In most revenue villages, the
70-80 per cent families moving out are mostly marginal landholders and
together own just 30-40 per cent of the fields. So a lot of money is being
spent to actually free very little land.
Even this may not be of any use to wildlife because the freed plots fall
between the fields of those staying back. It is a matter of time before
these plots are encroached by the latter.
A policy of equitable, rather than equal, compensation could avoid such
traps. For example, the Madhya Pradesh forest department is using the
central compensation funds as a common pool to settle the rights of families
as per the actual value of their property. If there is any money left, it is
distributed equally among beneficiaries or used for developing
infrastructure at relocation sites. If there is a shortfall, the state
finance department chips in.
Again, authorities are confused if unmarried girls above 18 are eligible for
compensation, like their brothers. In Ranthambhore, only boys above 18 are
getting the package in Sawai Man Singh sanctuary. In the same reserve's Kela
Devi sanctuary, officials maintain the cut-off age is 21, and that both boys
and girls are eligible.
Technically, the package is modelled on the National Rehabilitation and
Resettlement Policy, 2007, which does not recognise the right of unmarried
daughters for benefits. But the policy meant for project-affected people may
not be appropriate for those relocating voluntarily. The latter are
forfeiting their right over property through a deal. Since sons and
daughters have equal inheritance rights, the consent of only the men in the
family may not be legally tenable.
NTCA guidelines talk of 'handholding' after relocation through different
agencies, but such assistance has been sought in few places so far. Forget
skill development for alternative livelihood, families shifted from one
village are unwittingly settling down in another that is also due for
Lack of transparency, however, is the most crucial factor dogging this
scheme. In Ranthambhore, villagers have no access to the list of
beneficiaries. In some villages, there are 25-40 per cent more beneficiaries
than the tally on electoral rolls. While many allege outsiders are buying
their way into the list, others complain bona fide claims are ignored.
I recently visited Hindwar, 25 km from Sawai Madhopur, a seemingly war-torn
village where people neither discuss missing neighbours nor notice the
demolished houses they left behind. But one abandoned structure was drawing
a lot of attention. Madho Lal's three sons were rebuilding the house their
two brothers tore down. After Hanuman and Rameshar took the compensation and
left Hindwar, their brothers who were denied compensation because they had
moved to Sawai Madhopur a few years ago, returned to stake claim to their
ancestral property. Last heard, suspension of a forest guard who apparently
failed to report the reconstruction has been revoked.
The writer is a journalist.
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