In 2005 the Sariska Tiger Reserve was declared having 'No tigers' which was gruesome news of the failure of project tiger after the expenditure of a huge exchequer throughout 50 years of conservation efforts; the authorities put the blame on the traditional forest-dwelling communities, framing them as helpers and associates of poachers. The community is dominated by the Gujjars (approx. 86%), and other communities include Meena (7.6%), Meo (3.2%), Bawaria (1.7%) and others .
The enforcement of the tiger projects and the development of new environmental regulations were also partially due to this, which caused the set-up of new guidelines and the demarcation of ‘inviolate area’ for the breeding and viable population of tigers. In compliance with that, the Critical Tiger Habitat (CTH) was notified in Sariska TR on 28 December 2007, recognising a space of 881.1124 sq km.
In 2008 the NTCA drew a relocation plan to move around 750 villages located in the 28 Tiger Reserves in the country, that also included 29 villages located within the CTH area of the Sariska TR. All this happened when the Forest Rights Act (FRA) came into existence, which recognized the rights of the forest dwellers in their area, and determined rules for the establishment of inviolate zones and modification of rights for environmental purposes [1,2]
The forest dwellers of the Sariska TR immediately reacted and protested against the relocation plan, which was in violation both of the FRA rules and the Wildlife Amendment Act (2006) [2,3] ; the ‘voluntary relocation’ was indeed declared illegal, as carried on without the ‘prior informed consent’ of the Gram Sabha, which represents a precondition for the relocation to be legal. For the first phase of relocation were identified a number of 11 villages, vis. Kankwari, Haripura, Bhagani, Dabali, Deori, Kraska, Kundalka, Raikamala, Sukola, Umari and Lilunda. The first completely relocated village was Bhagani whose all 21 families were relocated to the new site at Bardod Roondh in 2008. Village Umri was shifted to Majupur reserved forest in 2011 and village Rotkyala was shifted in 2012-13. Relocation of Kankwari, Devri, Dabli, Sukola, Kraska and Haripura is in process. As per a Lokh Sabha question No 3405 on date 12/07/2019 a number of 650 families have been relocated from the core area.
Since its inception in 1917-18, when the Sariska was declared as a reserved forest, it has been hard for the community to assert their forest rights, such as grazing, cultivation and use of forest resources. Things got worse after the legal denial of these rights under the Indian Forest Act, 1927 .
New and stronger tensions arise just after the relocation plan for the tiger reserve was publicly disclosed. Since 2008 the communities have been protesting against the relocation plan, both, because they had not agreed upon the compensation package being offered , as well as because they do not consider their presence in the forest as harmful for the environment; on the contrary, the villagers think their presence prevents illegal activities like poaching or wood cutting by outsiders .
A case study on Sariska highlights different points of discordance between the two parties, such as the unequal distribution of tourism benefits and the lack of locals' involvement in tourism and development, etc. . Moreover another report highlights how the government has failed to take into consideration the role of the neighbouring urban centres and peripheral villages that are more responsible for the degradation of the habitat as compared to these traditional forest dwellers . Indeed, as reported by Torri (2011) when ‘sociopolitical, demographic and other pressures shorten the cycles land use and regeneration, traditional land management systems become unsustainable and produce a degradation of local biodiversity’. However this seems to not be taken into consideration by the Director of project tiger in Sariska administration which explicitly refers to the “displacement not only appropriate but also unavoidable”.
The resistance of the local communities against this form of conservation has been rising up during the last decade. On May 15th, 2012, just two months after the relocation of 350 people from the Umri village , hundreds of people blocked the main entrance of the Sariska tiger sanctuary. In March 2013, 2,500 villagers blocked again, for the third time, the main entrance of the Sariska tiger sanctuary impeding the entry of the tourists. At that time 50 mahanpanchayat gathered against the alleged cheating by the district administration. “We had called off the agitation in May last year when the district administration agreed on some of our demands including lifting ban on the registry of land, construction of a concrete road and earmarking a grazing area. But now they have backtracked on the promise citing the Supreme Court orders,” said Jaikishan Gujjar, a villager .
Again in a protest, a large number of villagers were sitting on Dharna between 21st and 27th of May 2018 against the non-implementation of FRA and various restrictions they have been facing. The protesters stressed the fact that the state government should give the right to panchayats to issue lease deeds of land in villages falling under Sariska where the ban of the Forest Rights Act 2006 was imposed. It was demanded that the state government should pay compensation to the villagers if their crop is damaged by wild animals [8,9]. Moreover, the villagers also alleged that the forest department is responsible for violence and many atrocities and that false criminal cases have been registered upon the locals causing serious damages to the youth involved. “We would intensify our protest if our demands are not met. The forest department is torturing villagers and registering false cases against them, as a result, the future of many youngsters will be ruined” commented Bhoopat Singh, one of the protesters .
While from one side the government continues to deny the forest rights to the locals, on the other side the locals continue to hold on refusing the relocation package imposed on them. Although the majority of villagers are against the relocation, a study revealed as well the will of some villages to move out because of the tough conditions inside Sariska TR. Indeed no school or health facilities are available in the area, not communication facilities and no other social services that for the forest department would be considered illegal as against the plan of relocation .