The Tadhoba Andhari Tiger reserve is Maharastra´s oldest and largest national park, and one of India´s 50 Tiger Reserve. There are about 79 villages located in the buffer area of the park with a total population of 66,298. In the core area there were originally 6 villages namely Kolsa, Botezari, Jamni, Navegaon, Palasgaon and Rantalodi, which have been now relocated for a total of 992 families.
The present Tadhoba Andhari Tiger Reserve was established in 1995, and since then, the restrictions over the use of natural resources were strengthened, creating a burden in the life of the local people.
The intention to relocate the 6 villages located within the core area was manifested since 1986 – when the forest was notified as a wildlife sanctuary -- but the attempt intensified again in 2000. Indeed since 2000, every development work in the village area was stopped and the villagers were not anymore allowed to collect bamboo or other resources from the forest . Later in 2007, the critical tiger habitat was also declared.
In 2006 the relocation process started and Botezari was the first village to be relocated with a number of 140 families, plus 48 families relocated from the nearby village of Kolsa. The relocation was considered a "model relocation" [1,10,11] however the contentious issues were numerous; first of all the villagers received only 1000 rupees per family as compensation; although land was distributed, land titles were not given, despite the fact that Botezari was a revenue village and many people hold titles to the land in the original village; moreover, the land distributed lack in irrigation facilities, thus not suitable for agriculture. No help was given by the FD besides the repetitive request from the villagers of a water tank to facilitate the irrigation .
As per Down to Earth report, in 2009 just after two years of relocation, the starving villagers entered the forest area to cut some bamboo and patta leaf in order to sell and earn a few rupees to survive, however, these 16 people were arrested . In the same year, 19 families returned to their original Botezari meadow and staged demonstrations asking to receive at least the 10 lakhs of rupees as compensation according to the new relocation package . While the villagers continue to protest the failure of their relocation process, the government continues to clear development work within the protected area. Indeed in 2010, the villagers of Kolsa sued the FD for mining sand and gravel from their community land. Later in the year, the High court dictated that all the villages from the core area be moved out within a year .
While from one side the Government claims that the relocation of Botezari was a ‘model relocation’ on the other side the residents of Kolsa refused to relocate and demanded their forest rights to be recognized under the Forest Rights Act. While they were awaiting their community forest rights to be recognized (CFR titles), an activist fighting for their cause, Sarang Dhabekar of the Gurudev Sewa mandal, was arrested a day before some money cheques were distributed to some of the villagers to urge them to relocate .
In May 2010 a buffer zone was notified, but the officials publicly announced that the 79 villages residing in the buffer zone would not lose their land rights . Besides the numerous protests and the evidence of the relocation failure, in June 2014 Maharashtra government was prepared to create a special fund of Rs 217 crore to relocate villages . After Kolsa and Botezari, in 2014 the relocation process was carried out also for the villages of Jamni and Navegaon and with a package of 10 lakh rupees per family, a number of more than 400 families were moved out . The struggle for forest rights continues to be carried on amidst the local people; for example, we read that in 2012 a group of 20 families have been applying for their community forest rights .
Since 2006 till now things have been changing, after years of pressure even the last two villages Ranthalodi and Palasgaon though initially hesitant to relocate, they have now come up with a charter of demands before relocation [10,15]. Protests and marches continue to take place both from the relocated core area villages from the buffer villages who do also face the restrictions. For example, in Feb. 2013 an agitation was held in front of the Tadoba gate by 150 tribals who were protesting for not being allowed to enter the forest to worship their Tadova Dev, their deity with whom the PA takes its name .
It is important to note that while the villages have been almost all relocated, the tourism industry is increasing in the area. The pressure has become so high that the Field Director in an exasperation moment admits “Why are we relocating? These villagers, tribal people, have been living there for years. Their population has increased just like the population outside. It is becoming destructive for the forest, that is true, but they are not to be blamed for that. You’re saying that they are a threat to the Tigers, a threat to their habitat, and removing them. Why? So that you can bring busloads of people from outside who have money and cameras so they can move around in those areas? There is no point in relocating them. This [the forest] is also an enclosure. In a zoo the area of enclosure is smaller, this is larger. We are providing them [animals] with food, water and, in addition, bringing busloads of tourists.”.
Beside relocation and violence, some good news is also coming from this area. The villagers got organized under gram sabhas (village council) and the process of filing community forest resource rights (CFRs) claims under the Forest Rights Act (FRA) has started since March 2013; by now 26 gram sabhas submitted the CFRs claims. In the beginning, these claims were rejected on the ground that the area claimed bordered the Critical Tiger Habitat. However, after legally appealing against it, in 2016 CFRs were recognized for 5 villages in the buffer zone . Other 4 CFRs were recognized in 2020; however, the process of managing the forest resources in a communitarian way is far from being implemented, with continued harassment from the Forest Department (information shared by Pravin Mote). This case shows how these rights under FRA are recognized just on paper with a poor implementation on the ground.
At the same time, we read that in 2017 a dam project was planned to be built up in the buffer area of the tiger reserve diverting 1925.55 acres of dense forest area ; same for a clearance of limestone mine project falling between TATR and Kawal TR . According to the TOI report, the Limestone mining will cause loss of native species, forest areas, wildlife corridors and habitat fragmentation. Also, the continuous vehicular movements and the machinery drilling will also cause a rise in air, water and soil pollution. However other mining activities are already visible in the close vicinity of the buffer area. According to a Greenpeace report, the government has already allowed diversion of 2,558 hectares of forest for coal mining in Chandrapur district since 2000, which is only about 12.25 Km from the TATR .