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Thursday, December 13, 2012

1.4 lakh trees felled to save tigers!

By Vijay Pinjarkar, TNN | Dec 13, 2012, 03.07 AM IST NAGPUR: Call it ultimate irony of conservation. The state forest department earlier this year felled an unbelievable 1.4 lakh trees to resettle two villages from Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve (TATR) in Chandrapur district. To relocate Jamni and Navegaon (Ramdegi) villages in Tadoba forest department used around two densely forested compartments over 500 hectares, an area roughly equal to 450 football fields. Together they had over 1.4 lakh trees that had to be felled. The shift will free roughly same sized patch inside the forest reserve over which these villages were situated for wildlife. The action has triggered a debate among conservationists whether relocation of villages from sanctuaries needs fresh guidelines. While one school considers it essential price to be paid, another section thinks the damage done is much more than conservation benefit derived. Some 226 families in the two villages have been settled at new location. The remaining 236 families (128 from Navegaon and 108 from Jamni) availed Rs10 lakh cash option. Jamni villagers are being relocated near Amdi around 14km from Tadoba in the north and Navegaon near Khadsingi adjoining the reserve. State principal secretary for forests, Praveen Pardeshi claimed that the approval under Forest Conservation Act (FCA) from the Centre to divert 250 hectare land each for Jamni and Navegaon came way back on February 14, 2002, and April 21, 2003, respectively. However, a similar proposal to relocate Fulzari village in Pench reserve during the same period was rejected by MoEF as the relocation site was situated in reserve forest in Deolapar. The site was later changed. Officials also claimed no other suitable site for relocation acceptable to villagers were available. Tiger population in Tadoba remains stagnant at 43 due to lack of space. The spillover population is dispersing into the landscape resulting in conflicts. Outside the reserve they become vulnerable to poaching and hence relocating the villages was a dire necessity. Conservationists say loss of habitat and shrinking forest cover has led to dwindling tiger numbers. They have also been fighting to stall forest land diversion for mines and and irrigation project. Against this backdrop, destroying dense forest and mass tree felling for conservation purposes seems specially jarring. The government has already spent Rs50 crore on relocation of these two villages. The money is gone and the ecology has also been damaged. On the flip side, the wildlife got more space and the space freed up can accommodate 6-7 tigers and good herbivore population. This is assuming the forest regenerates in freed areas, which is not a given. The sites of villages shifted years ago are still meadows. It may take decades, even centuries, for dense canopies to form there. Moreover, the resettlement sites are themselves in wildlife corridor. Cutting down trees and settling people there may only mean more man-animal conflict. That would truly be regressive as these villages had been living with tigers without any conflict. Pardeshi says Union government granted FCA clearance because it also knew that when we give forest land to these villages, we get equivalent non-forest land which has higher ecological value. "The relocation cannot be compared with industrial or irrigation projects. From mines, we don't get non-forest lands as in case of Jamni and Navegaon. Besides, the land so selected was as per the choice of villagers," Pardeshi explained. "It is on record that there is no revenue land available in Chandrapur. Besides, people's consent matters. Under such circumstances, this was only option," said Kishor Rithe, member of high court-appointed monitoring committee for relocation work in TATR. "You cannot compare trees felled for relocation and that for mining. In relocation, you get prime strategic land for re-forestation and wildlife even if you lose tree cover elsewhere. In mining you lose forest without getting any forest. The new sites are close to existing villages," said Rithe. Even Kalyan Kumar, deputy conservator of forest (DyCF), Tadoba (buffer) and member-secretary of district rehabilitation committee, felt the land allotted to the two villages was on the edge of the forests. This was the only viable option. "If you don't give a good deal, villagers won't agree to move out. In case of Navegaon and Jamni, we achieved twin objectives of wildlife conservation and people's livelihood security," he said. Infografx The Rationale * Forest dept chopped 1.4 lakh trees to relocate two villages Jamni and Ramdegi out of Tadoba * This was done as revenue or degraded forest land was not available * Proposals for forest land diversion were cleared in 2002 and 2003 and are being implemented now as funds came last year * Forest department achieved twin objectives of tiger conservation and livelihood security of villagers * People cannot be forced to leave and the new places were selected with villagers' consent The Way Forward * Revenue or degraded forest land must be found to resettle villages. * More villagers must be encouraged to take Rs10 lakh cash option * Need for cash incentives beyond the package money to save forest land being diverted for relocation * Melghat could reap benefit of relocation as several pieces of 'E Class' land are available. Zudpi jungle lands could be made available

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