Monday, November 18, 2013

Field Visit to Sariska Tiger Reserve - Alwar, Rajasthan, India

Three team members from the NJ India office (Arpitha Kodiveri, Revati Pandya and Vaneesha Jain) visited the offices of the NGO Krapavis, Rajasthan, and also several villages inside Sariska Tiger Reserve. 

On 13th November, 2013, Arpitha, Revati and Vaneesha discussed the following issues with Aman Singh, who is running the NGO Krapavis based out of Alwar, Rajasthan:

  • The status of relocation in 5 villages in Sariska Tiger Reserve as per the Relocation plan prepared by the Chief Conservator of Forests and Chief Wildlife Warden, Jaipur, in November 2009. It appears that relocated communities are not given adequate ownership rights over the new land, which needs further looking into. Further, it has come to light that in the relocation process of the village Kiraska, residents were forced to surrender any land they owned outside Kiraska to the Government as well, which is in complete violation of both enacted law and basic principles of fairness. 
  • The main barrier to the relocation process for local communities in view of the declaration of Sariska as a Critical Tiger Habitat appears to be that the offer of land for land is not being placed before communities as required by law. The community seems to be divided on the issue of relocation, which remains a sensitive topic of discussion. Meanwhile, local communities inside Sariska are becoming increasingly aware of their rights under the FRA. 
  • The problems faced by the Umri village which was recently relocated to Mojpur. We will shortly be analyzing a petition filed before the local authorities by Krapavis on behalf of the erstwhile residents of Umri. 
  • The status of illegal mining which is still ongoing in the southern part of Sariska and the ensuing problems faced by local communities. Such mining is primarily open-cast mining done for dolomite extraction by big businessmen and politicians. 
  • The problem of lack of proactiveness by the local administration –the statutorily mandated Forest Rights Committee has not been set up in many villages, and where it has, the constant changing of the Forest Officer leads to the villagers being unable to have their concerns redressed. Different Forest Officers have varying levels of sympathy with local communities. 
  • One of the main problems the villagers seem to face is that their cattle is often ‘arrested’ by Forest Department officials when they overstep the grazing boundaries and taken to a cattle prison, locally known as ‘Kalighati’. The community, which is pastoralist and dependant on these cattle for their livelihood, then have to pay heavy fines for the release of their cattle. 
  • FRA claims are not being filed, due to the Government’s denial of its applicability in Sariska on the claim that it is not a ‘Scheduled Area’. This issue needs our immediate attention. 
  • Discussion and review of a proposal to experiment with the implementation of the FRA in the villages in the buffer area. 
On Day 2, the NJ team was taken to visit 5 villages inside the core area of Sariska Tiger Reserve by Krapavis. These were the villages of Benak, Bera, Loj-Nathusar, Bakhtpura and Kalikol. We interacted briefly with the residents of each of these villages. Our conversations were often mediated by Aman Singh from Krapavis. These visits served as a useful introduction to the field, to get a sense of the local dynamics and environment. Amongst other things, we were told of how villagers have, on several occasions, been beaten up by Forest Department officials on false charges of poaching. On this day, we also visited the field station of Krapavis in Bakhtpura. 

On Day 3, we met a local resident from Haripura village inside Sariska, Nanak Ram, who took us inside the reserve to his village. We spent the rest of the day and the night in Haripura, talking to the residents about their daily lives, the issues they face with the Forest Department, their rituals and beliefs, their relationship with Nature, and concerns around the FRA. We were witness to the importance of cattle in the lives of this pastoralist community. Over the coming few weeks, we hope to write about our experiences in more detail, and also share some of the stories we were told by the community members. 

On the following day, we trekked up to the village of Lilunda, which has a maximum of 20 houses. We spoke to Dadkali Tai, who is a village elder there. Conversations with the residents of Lilunda suggest that while there has always been trouble with the Forest Department, pressures seem to have escalated over the last couple of years, and it appears that the need for implementation of the FRA is more urgent than ever. 

The final day on the field in Rajasthan saw spent visiting the site where a village has been recently relocated. There was a stark contrast in the experience of relocation between the Gujjar community and Meena community who previously inhabited the tiger reserve. While the Meenas seemed satisfied and happy to have been relocated as it has brought with it access to schools and better medical facilities, the Gujjars, whose livelihood has traditionally depended on the sale of milk, are unhappy at having been forced into agriculture as their primary source of livelihood. We are now looking at how to strategize around this issue and seeing how legal action on behalf of the Gujjars can be taken. 

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