Families that voluntarily opt to move out of forest areas nowadays get a rehabilitation package and the attention of the Forest department for some years which monitors their relocation. But several tribal families evicted from the Bandipur and Nagarahole forests after the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 came into effect allege that they got a raw deal without any rehabilitation measures after they sacrificed their lands.
Hundreds of these tribal families spread across Hunsur and HD Kote, both in Mysuru, and in Virajpet in Madikeri, who now stay on the edges of these forests, say that their lives have been miserable due to the lack of a suitable rehabilitation package. The tribal communities claim they were “forcibly” sent out and demand rehabilitation on par with the present rehabilitation package.
“I was very young when my family lived in Seeguru Hadi (now renamed Kere Hadi), a tribal hamlet inside Nagarhole forest near Udboor gate. We were driven out by Forest department officials, who told us that we could no longer stay inside the forest areas. After being evicted, we made a living on the border of the forest,” recounts Sannappa, who belongs to the Jenu Kuruba tribal community. He adds that when they lived inside the forest area his family had lands for cultivation but after being driven out of the forest, they were not provided any benefits.
To make a living, Sannappa works as a daily wages labourer whenever the Forest department engages him and moves to Kodagu with the rest of the tribal men to work as a labourer in coffee plantations. Other residents of the tribal hamlet share a similar story to that of Sannappa.
Activist Ashok says that the Forest department hasn’t come to the rescue of these evicted tribal families so far. In the past, Janata houses were constructed for them under some government scheme. Now, these kachcha houses constructed out of mud are in a dilapidated condition while basic amenities are a mirage for the evicted families.
Offering hope for the tribals, Shailendra Kumar, a member of the Yalava tribal community from N. Begur Chamayyana Hadi near the Bandipur National Park, says the evicted families can be rehabilitated under some clauses of the Forest Rights Act, 2006.
Tribal leaders say that the Forest department demands to see documents that prove they lived inside the forest but none of the tribal families have any such document. As it has been 40 years since the eviction took place, Shailendra Kumar says the area where the tribals resided earlier in the forest is now full of thick vegetative growth making it impossible for individual families to even locate the lands used by them.
Shailendra wants a report submitted by Prof Muzaffar Assadi on the tribals to emulate the model of the Basavanagiri Hadi rehabilitation, wherein about 154 families evicted from Bandipur National Park were relocated after the intervention of the National Human Rights Commission, to be considered for rehabilitation of forcibly “evicted” tribals.
Activist Ksheera Sagar who has been observing the living conditions of the tribals in HD Kote taluk for three decades says they live a pathetic life with none of the social security measures reaching them. It is time that the state government opened its eyes to their problems and came to their aid, he says.
A meeting to discuss rehabilitative measures took place between HD Kote MLA Anil Kumar, Nagarahole National Park officials, among others a few days ago. Nagarahole National Park director Mahesh Kumar says the implementation of the Muzaffar Assadi report is pending before the state government.
If the evicted tribal families are seeking rehabilitation under the Forest Rights Act, Mahesh Kumar says, they have to contact the Integrated Tribal Development Project (ITDP).
Ksheera Sagar says that the Muzaffar Assadi report covers all tribal families evicted from forests and urges its implementation.
Puttabasava, a tribal man who is fighting for the cause of the evicted families, says several meetings have taken place in the past between elected representatives and forest officials but nothing substantial has happened to help the families get a rehabilitation package that will help improve the quality of their life.
While a wildlife conservationist says some evicted families got agricultural lands to support their livelihood, Ksheera Sagar says not all were lucky to get the lands given some years ago.
According to the wildlife conservationist, the evicted families can still get rehabilitation from the state government if they wage a legal battle.
Girisha is a freelancer who writes on wildlife and the environment.