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Relocating tribals from sanctuary

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Denwa river flows through the Bori-Satpura sanctuary in Madhya Pradesh. Kishor Rithe
Denwa river flows through the Bori-Satpura sanctuary in Madhya Pradesh. Kishor Rithe

P. Devarajan

Bori Sanctuary (Madhya Pradesh), Jan. 11

BORI Wildlife Sanctuary is the country's first reserve forest declared in 1867 after Captain James Forsyth surveyed the area. The dry deciduous forest is well packed with teak, charoli, ain, bamboo, arjun, mango and other trees, and largely resembles, for anyone caring to visit, the Melghat Tiger Sanctuary and others in the Satpura range.

Captain Forsyth in

The Highlands of Central India

puts down a dainty piece of history about Satpura. He writes: "In the local Sivite Mythology, the Narbada is the maiden Mykal-Kanya, daughter of the Mykal Mountain, from whose brow she springs.

"Resistless in her divine might, at her first birth she overflowed the earth in a destructive flood, till, in answer to the prayers and sacrifices of men, the Great God sent the Vindhya Mountain and his seven stalwart sons (thence the name Sat-pura, applied to these highlands, Sat pura meaning literally the Seven Sons) to restrain her, when she shrank into her present channel, leaving behind her the Ganges and other rivers, as pools are left by the receding tide.

"Hence, the sanctity of the Narbada is superior to that of all other rivers, though the gods gave the preference for the first five thousand years of the Kali-Yug to the Ganges."

For Captain Forsyth, tigers were as common in Bori as grazing cattle is today. Bhaura and Churna form the two ranges of Bori and we hit the rest house at Churna around 9 in the night.

Heading towards Churna, we were waiting at a railway crossing when that fine forester P.M. Lad came on the mobile.

"In the period 1980-84, at Churna, one could spot tigers, leopards, chitals, sambhars and the rest easily. Today there is nothing with poachers from Katni having killed them off," Lad

saab

told us. We dismissed the old forester's warning.

When we touched Churna and settled down, Lad

saab

proved to be on dot. It is long since a tiger has been sighted here though on our runs we did spot scats and a few pugmarks of tigers, wild dogs, leopards and bears. Kishor Rithe did not expect Lad

saab

to be so sure of his facts.

In 1994, Kishor along with Valmik Thapar and Bittu Sahgal had parked themselves at the same guesthouse, in Churna, when tigers were sure sightings.

In the night, one did hear a few alarm calls of the chital as we warmed ourselves over a wood fire and nothing else... Advait Edgonkar, a researcher working on leopards and Vinata Vishwanathan, studying the greater racquet tailed drongo, said they had not seen a tiger for quite some time, while K.S. Bhadauria, Assistant Director, Satpuda National Park, had not yet come across a tiger in the area. A tiger census by Project Tiger will start in the area from January 16 and one hopes the researchers stick to facts.

In the morning, we drove down to Mhadai on the Denwa river and saw a couple of green pigeons, sand grouse, white backed vultures, common grey hornbills and surprisingly a few stray black bucks. It is not black buck habitat and a forest guard informed us they attract leopards.

A senior retired forester, whom we met, was trying to get a black buck to decorate his home across the river when the animal is an endangered species. "

Hum chief wild life warden ka permission le lenge

(I will take the permission of the chief wildlife warden)," he told us, when informed that a black buck cannot be kept as a pet.

While moving around we heard about the relocation and resettlement of the Dhain village in Bori sanctuary to New Dhain in Hosangabad district outside the reserve.

Talking to a few villagers one learnt the M.P. model could be one way of helping the tribals lead a better life. Between October 2004 and April 2005, some 97 families have been shifted out with the old Dhain village in Bori now free of cattle and humans.

K.S. Bhadauria told us the villagers were given Rs 37,000 per family (to build homes) plus five acres of land free for every male and unmarried female above 18 years of age. Thus, a family of four could get 20 acres of land free in the resettled New Dhain village and going by reports other villages inside the sanctuary are keen on the idea.

Some organisations are protesting and at different workshops, speakers have talked of the Forest Department behaving harshly, particularly in the Bori-Satpura Tiger reserve.

A petitioner based in Bhopal has got a stay from the M.P. High Court on any fresh resettlement of villages.

Tribals living off the forests will continue to denude the forests of its produce and its animals at a paltry price with traders in the cities making a killing.

They do not have access to modern facilities inside the forests and the attempt by the Madhya Pradesh Government needs to be appreciated, as it brings tribals closer to your and my way of living for free. It looks the better option, if one goes by the record of three villages shifted out of Melghat Tiger reserve .

The total cost of the resettlement process in New Dhain village has been placed at Rs 107 lakh with Rs 72 lakh spent as of now.

"The villagers are themselves pressing for lands to be allotted away from the forest, closer to the main roads and markets," says Bhadauria. Tribals are not experts at farming and some are leasing out a portion of the free lands given to them by the Government for cultivation.

Another irritant is the concept of Net Present Value (NPV) set down by the Supreme Court. Under NPV, the State Government has to pay to the Centre the net present value of forestland lost to mining and other projects, including resettlement.

There is a move now to waive the concept for rehab of tribals.

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated January 12, 2006)
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