The Nagarhole National Park, also known as Rajiv Gandhi National Park, was originally constituted as a game sanctuary in 1955, and later declared a National Park in 1983. In 2007, the entire Nagarhole National Park was declared as a Critical Tiger Habitat (CTH), for a total area of 1515.59 sq. km. As per the MEE report 2014 in the CTH there are about 33 tribal settlements and 96 settlements in the periphery. There are 3 major tribal groups residing under the limits of the park, the PVTG group of Jenukurubas and Bettakurubaa, Yerawas, Soligas, and the sub-caste of Yerawas i.e.the Panjeri Yeravas and Pani-Yeravas.
The park has been a contested area since its inception, and the tribals living within its limits have a very long history of struggle. A high number of tribal people mostly belonging to Jenu Kuruba and Yerawa tribes were evicted from the park just after the implementation of the Wildlife Protection Act (WLPA), 1972, the first wildlife law that bans every activity within the park, denying the local communities access and use of their customary forest rights.
The movement started in 1984 under the banner of Bubakattu Krishekara Sangha (BKS). The creation of the movement was supported by the Coorg Organization for Rural Development (CORD), an NGO working for the welfare of the tribal communities. BKS is a movement born to save the forest, the water and the land, and against the hegemony of the forest department. Indeed at that time lots of forest landscape was converted into timber and eucalyptus plantation mostly used for commercialization, and highly planted in the western ghats .
They strongly condemn the forceful and massive displacement of the Adivasi from their ancestral land, taking up issues related to saving the forest while recognizing the rights of its people. In the eighties, they successfully protested against the TAJ group which was building up a 5 star hotel in the middle of the core area of the Nagarhole National Park . The project was stopped in 1996. This long protest was followed by the arrest of numerous Adivasi, hunger strikes and numerous protests against the project. BKS strongly and successfully opposed World Bank funding of 60 crores for the establishment of eco-development committees, accusing the World Bank of proposing the project without the involvement of the Adivasi community. All the eco-development committees were stopped in 1998.
According to a Report compiled in 2014, a number of 3,418 families were displaced between the 70s/80s . Today, the majority of these tribal communities displaced continue to be landless labourers. A new round of relocation started from 1999/2000, just after the park was declared a Tiger Reserve. From those years till 2010, a number of about 487 tribal families were ‘voluntarily’ moved out of the Park . Initially, 280 families were relocated in Nagapura and Sollepura between 2000 and 2007, for a compensation of 1 lakh rupees and 5 acres of land .
However, the rehabilitation site was not conforming to the needs of the tribal villages and drinking water and other basic facilities are still not available. In 2010, under the NTCA sponsored scheme of 10 lakh rupees compensation, a number of 147 families agreed to relocate to the new site of Shettalli-Lakkapatna and Hebala, in Hunsur taluk. However, all these relocations have been coerced by the forest department together with conservationists lobby, such as the Wildlife Conservation Society, that directly funds the relocation plan in these areas (Interview with local people).
This, in violation of the already implemented Forest Rights Act, 2006, that recognizes the rights of local communities to use, access and habit the forest areas. In response to the forced relocation, the tribals have been repeatedly fighting against the relocation drive and the numerous violations of human rights. Since 2009, the 54 villages inhabiting the tiger reserve have started constituting the Forest Rights Committee (FRC) to submit the forest rights claims demanding the legal recognition of their forest rights. In Kodagu district the mapping of the areas have been supported by the CORD organization however not a single community rights (CRs) have been distributed till date. In Mysore District, in the HD Cote Taluk, 14 CRs were distributed in 2010/11, however, in the official documents, a map sketched on the back of the land title shows an area that corresponds to about 2 km of extension around their settlement. This minimal recognition of land to access their traditional community rights denies the Adivasi from accessing forest resources necessary for their livelihood (info from fieldwork). However, the villagers asserted that although titles distributed they continue facing harassment by the forest department. The local community continues asserting their rights even without any legal recognition.
Because of this political action, many tribals have been criminalized. Indeed as per The Hindu report between 2001 and 2011, a number of 192 cases against tribal people have been registered . In 2015 it was seen that many people had settled in tents in fringe areas of Nagarhole and were considered an ‘encroachment threat’.
In 2016, the tribal forum asked for rehabilitation measures . In May 2017, after the NTCA order rejecting the implementation of FRA within the Tiger Core Areas , the Jenu Kuruba protested before the District Collector demanding the withdrawal of the unconstitutional order.
In December 2018, in a bid to draw the attention of the State government towards their long-pending demands, Adivasi of Mysuru district went into an indefinite dharna in Kakanakote forest of H.D. Kote taluk. As part of their demands, the agitating tribals asked for 12 hamlets to be declared as revenue villages; to give better education facilities for tribal children, and release funding to organize the self-help group (SHG) for women . In total there are 35 villages that come from Kakanakote to H D Kote. The 12 villages were never declared as revenue villages.