Sept 5, 2014
by Divya Gandhi,
The State actively prosecutes but ‘Prosecuting them for using forest violates Forest Rights Act’
Between 2001 and 2011, as many as 192 cases were registered against tribal communities living in and around Nagarahole National Park. But their “offences”, which include trespassing forest land, collecting honey and growing ginger in the forest, are, in fact, their rights enshrined in the Forest Rights Act.
A report by a High Court-appointed committee on the status of tribal communities in and around Nagarahole, submitted recently to the Karnataka government, speaks of the “absurdity” of cases booked against tribal people for “trespassing” forests, which they have been living inside for generations.
Booking a large number of cases against tribal people is part of a historical culture of “violence” against the communities, which “takes on different forms,” says the report by the committee, chaired by political studies professor at the University of Mysore Muzaffar Assadi. In the 1970s, it took the form of multiple displacements for tribal families and also the destruction of their homes, crops and settlements “so as to erase their historical presence in the forest region”.
Prosecuting tribal communities for living in and using forests is a violation of the Forest Rights Act that gives them rights over land and forest resources, says Nitin Rai of Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment. “The Act was enacted to rectify the immense historical injustices reaped on Adivasis and forest-dwellers. Draconian conservation laws have criminalised everyday life of Adivasis, who have lived in these forests for centuries.” But ironically, these very laws are constantly bent for industrial and infrastructural projects, he said.
All pending cases against tribal people booked on “flimsy ground” should be withdrawn to help build trust between them and the political apparatus, says the report. An advocates’ collective should be appointed to fight cases of tribal people in different courts, it adds.
Cases booked also pertained to setting fire to the forest, to poaching wildlife and birds, and felling trees.
Some background on the Park:
The name Nagarahole is derived from the winding river which flows through the Park (In Kannada the word ‘Naga’ means snake and ‘Hole’ means stream). Nagarahole National Park is located in the foothills of the misty blue Brahmagiri mountain range and straddles the picturesque districts of Kodagu (Coorg) and Mysore. Initially constituted as a Sanctuary in 1955, it was subsequently enlarged and conferred the status of a National Park in 1974. The Southern end is drained by the Kabini river (a tributary of the Cauvery) which has now been dammed to create a large reservoir, much of which lies within the park and which today separates Nagarahole National Park from Bandipur Tiger Reserve.
Hunter-gatherer tribes have inhabited these forests for several centuries. Of the 1500 or so people that live within the park and an approximate 5 to 6 thousand on the fringes, most are tribals called Jenu Kuruba, Betta Kuruba and Yerava. These tribals later took to slash and burn farming and collecting non-timber forest products for sale to urban markets. Today, many of these people work as labourers in coffee plantations or farms and also engage in seasonal work provided by the Forest Department.
Between 1870 and 1980, 14% of the area of the present Park was clear-cut to raise monocultures of teak. Dense secondary forests now occur in places where these plantations failed. Until recently, both the moist and dry deciduous forests have been selectively logged.
The long term management goal of the British was to replace natural forests with the more profitable teak and they actively pursued this until Independence. Between 1947 and 1955, the new Indian Government’s policy turned to harvesting as much of timber as possible, and to grow more food. Tribal and non-tribal people were encouraged to occupy Nagarahole’s ‘hadlus’, they were encouraged to cultivate rice and in addition provided cheap logging labour. There were no wildlife protection laws and hunting of predators was actively encouraged. In 1955, hunting of large mammals became illegal, but logging and encroachments into the Park continued. It was only in 1974, when Nagarahole was declared a National Park and tough new wildlife protections laws came into force that the situation started to change. In a complete reversal of roles, the management now tried to curb poaching, livestock grazing and removal of illegal encroachments! Between 1970 and 1980 about a 1000 squatters were moved out of the Park into resettlements. Forest product exploitation was regulated in response to lobbying by wildlife conservationists and a core zone of 200sq. km. was demarcated to the exclusion of forestry activities and tourism.
Eviction Slip by Mark Dowie: http://www.guernicamag.com/features/post_1/
Interview with Jenu Kuruba tribal leader: http://wishbone.co.in/interview-with-jenu-kuruba-tribe-leader/
The Green Climate Fund’s Redress Mechanism: A cautionary tale from Nagarahole: http://jusharma.wordpress.com/2014/02/22/the-green-climate-funds-redress-mechanism-a-cautionary-tale-from-nagarahole/