BHUBANESWAR, India (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A wildlife official in central India on Wednesday rejected claims that tribes living in a tiger sanctuary inspired by Rudyard Kipling’s “The Jungle Book” were being forced from their ancestral land to protect the endangered animals.
Indigenous rights group Survival International says the Baiga tribes in the Achanakmar Wildlife Sanctuary in Chhattisgarh state are being harassed by forest guards to leave the land where they have lived for generations.
B.N. Dwivedi, principal chief conservator of forests and chief wildlife warden in Chhattisgarh, said there were plans to relocate some tribal villages that are inside the sanctuary, but that no force was being used.
“When we evacuate some villagers from the tiger reserve, it cannot be done without their permission, without their acceptance, without their saying ‘yes’,” Dwivedi told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone from Raipur, the capital of Chhattisgarh.
“The allegation that they are being relocated forcefully is not correct and entirely incorrect.”
Achanakmar covers an area of 552 sq km (213 sq miles) and is home to numerous flora and fauna, including endangered animals such as leopards, wild bison and the Bengal tiger.
It forms part of a tiger corridor to the neighboring Kanha National Park, which provided the inspiration for “The Jungle Book”, Kipling’s novel about an abandoned boy who is raised by wolves in the jungle in India.
London-based Survival International said the Baiga people were told they will have to move from their villages to a muddy clearing outside the reserve, even though there is no evidence their presence in the reserve is harming tigers.
In fact, it said, the number of tigers in the reserve has reportedly risen to 28 in 2015, from 12 in 2011.
“It’s illegal and immoral to target tribes, who have co-existed with the tiger for centuries, when industrialization and mass-scale colonial-era hunting are the real reason the tiger became endangered,” said Survival’s Director Stephen Corry.
“Big conservation organizations should be partnering with tribal peoples, not propping up the forest departments that are guilty of brutalizing them. Targeting tribal people harms conservation,” Corry said in a statement on Monday.
Despite a slew of “pro-poor” policies, activists say India’s economic boom has bypassed many tribal communities, who make up more than 8 percent of its population of 1.3 billion people.
Many live in forest villages, eking out a living by farming, rearing cattle, collecting and selling fruit and leaves.
The Forest Rights Act, a law recognizing the right of indigenous tribes to inhabit forests where their forefathers had settled centuries earlier, came into force in 2008.
But some environmentalists fear it has hindered conservation efforts and encouraged the poaching of animals such as tigers.
Dwivedi said there were plans to relocate 250 Baiga families from four villages, but all were happy to leave the reserve.
“They are in fact very much willing to go out of that place,” he said. “They want to come out from the area so that they get schooling, hospital as well as road facilities.”
Reporting by Jatindra Dash, writing by Nita Bhalla, editing by Alisa Tang. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit news.trust.org