New Delhi: The core areas of tiger reserves may soon become human habitation-free as the people living there have to move out after they lost their right to live there.
A letter from the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) has asked for references from the field directors of all the 50 tiger reserves, looking ahead to abolish rights of the tribals and forest dwellers as ensured by the Wildlife Protection Act.
The NTCA letter dated March 28 says, "In the absence of guidelines for notification of Critical Wildlife Habitats, no rights shall be conferred in Critical Tiger Habitats which is duly notified under Section 38 V(4)(i) of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 under the Act cited under subject".
The step is aimed at better conservation of the tigers in India -- home to over 2,500 or about 70 per cent of the world's tiger.
In 2016, at least 50 tigers and 127 leopards are said to have been poached -- highest in the last 10 years.
Based on scientific studies, the Section 38 V(4)(i) of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 says that the core or critical tiger habitat areas of national parks and sanctuaries shall be kept as "inviolate" for tiger conservation.
However, this section also lays down that this should be done "without affecting the rights" of the Scheduled Tribes or such other forest dwellers.
The Forest Rights Act (FRA), which defines the rights of the tribals, gives them options to either continue living in the core zone or move out "voluntarily".
Under the voluntary shifting option, the forest dwellers are offered two packages -- Rs 10 lakh per adult of a family, or grant of equal land mostly situated in the forest revenue villages situated outside the reserves or national parks.
Experts, however, say the new NTCA proposal would give offer them only one choice -- accept one of the two packages and move out. So, the right of choice to continue living would not be there.
"Under FRA, tribals or the forest dwellers, whose families had been residing in the core region for at least 75 years, are entitled to claim the rights on land in their villages and on the minor forest resources.''
"The FRA is, however, subject to change in case dwelling continues in the Critical Wildlife Habitats...and the same is now being applied to the Critical Tiger Habitats as well," a senior forest official told IANS preferring anonymity.
The total land under the tiger reserves is over 37,761 sq.km, as per the official data. This is, however, only one per cent of the total land mass of the country.
According to a 2005 report, as many as 3,80,535 people in 66,516 families were living within the 29 tiger reserves. Of this, about 1,01,077 lived in core areas of tiger reserves.
About Rs 20.7 crore was spent by the government over the relocation of families from five tiger reserves in 2005. This cost did not include land grants.
The relocation saw a rise with the passage of time.
According to a forest official, over 1,400 families from at least ten villages of Baiga and Gond tribes were moved from the core forest area of Kanha Tiger Reserve in Madhya Pradesh between 2010 and 2016.
Despite nearly 36 villages being shifted gradually since 1969, seven villages still exist in the core zone of Kanha. The number of people relocated remains uncertain.
(With IANS inputs)