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Monday, April 23, 2012

Tribal activist fails to impress Melghat villagers

Vijay Pinjarkar, TNN | Apr 23, 2012, 03.59AM IST NAGPUR: Melghat tribals on Friday failed to get carried away by a section of tribal activists from Pune against relocation of villages inside the Melghat Tiger Reserve (MTR) in Amravati. Last year, three villages - Amona, Barukheda and Nagartas - from the Wan wildlife sanctuary and this year, Dhargad (barring a few houses) - were relocated from MTR. In February, TOI had reported how villagers were better off post-resettlement. Pune-based Kusum Karnik, who works for tribal welfare and runs an NGO called Shaswat in Manchar near Bhimashankar, was in Kasod near Akot on Friday to meet villagers who were relocated from Amona in Wan. She was accompanied by some activists whom she introduced as villagers from the Bhimashankar sanctuary in Pune. Karnik raised the issue of water and bad roads in Kasod. She also asked people whether they were happy and why they opted for relocation. Villagers did not like it as it was like rubbing salt into their wounds. "The water problem has already been solved. Earlier, villagers used to walk three km to fetch water but now there are bore wells and wells in the village. Roads are being made under EGS," said honorary district wildlife warden of Akola Devendra Telkar. According to Telkar, people told Karnik that there was no point in staying in the tiger reserve as there were no education and better healthcare facilities. To this, Karnik said tribals don't need much education and health facilities. Talking to TOI, Karnik said that tribals have been living in the forests since ages. On education, she said that ashramshalas can solve the problem. She accused the officials of forceful relocation. "Tribals were never told about the third option of co-existence," she added. It implies that tribals should live in the tiger reserve only. Karnik didn't come out with any alternative package. As present, resettlement of Dhargad is on and NGOs from Akola and Amravati are busy helping tribals to resettle smoothly. NGO representatives Uday Waze, Amol Sawant, Nilesh Dehankar and Anant Gawande were also present during Karnik's visit. "Karnik's statement has shocked us. Tribals themselves are demanding resettlement as they know that they don't have a future in the reserve. Besides, they are getting a package of Rs 10 lakh per family," Waze said. After seeing that resettlement was not an issue in Kasod, Karnik left for Somthana, a village inside Wan which is in the process of being relocated. She was accompanied by Akot deputy conservator of forests VM Godbole and others. In Somthana, Karnik told villagers that she visited resettled village Kasod and saw their problems. Why do they want to rehabilitate? Villagers told her that Nagartas and Barukheda were remotely situated and were isolated from the outside world. "We too are not safe as we see tigers in the day time. Besides, wild animals damage our crops," they said. To this Karnik said all villages together should have been opposed rehabilitation like she did in Bhimashankar. "This is a conspiracy of the forest department to divide villagers. Amona, Nagartas and Barukheda were forced to leave. Now it's Somthana's turn," she said. When pointed out that villagers were keen to move out, Karnik said they were saying so because forest officials were present during the meeting. She gave examples of Churni, Pastalai and Vairat villages in MTR where villgers are co-existing. However, most families of these villages have already been relocated. In Somthana, some local tribals asked Karnik how can they get facilities like health, education etc. They also wanted to know how landless people get land inside in the forest and how can they save this land from wildlife? To this, Karnik reiterated that tribals don't need much education and health facilities. Karnik's response irked some women and they ended up having a heated argument with her. After the Somthana meeting, Karnik was asked by the officials to visit Dhargad to clear her doubts, but she left as the villagers favoured relocation. Vishal Bansod, honorary wildlife warden of Amravati, said NGOs should come to Melghat to help tribals in resettlement work and not misguide them.

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