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(IN): Slipping On The Ground

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  • azam24x7
    http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/home/opinion/edit-page/Slipping-On-The-Ground/articleshow/6111797.cms *SLIPPING ON THE GROUND* * * *Without course
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 1, 2010


      * *

      *Without course correction, the village relocation drive may not secure our
      best tiger forests.*

      * *

      *Jay Mazoomdaar*

      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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