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Buxa Tiger Reserve, West Bengal, India


Description:

Buxa Tiger Reserve is situated in Alipurduar Sub-division of Jalpaiguri District, at the north-eastern edge of West Bengal, India. It was declared a Tiger reserve in the year 1983 in Jalpaiguri District when it became the 15th Tiger Reserve of the Country. The struggle over forest rights date back to colonial time. However, wth the declaration of the area under tiger project, the restrictions imposed on collection of natural resources and the menace of relocation became a real threat for the local villagers.  

The territory is inhabited by 38 forest villages of which 10 in the Critical Tiger Habitat and 28 in the buffer area, while 49 are living at the fringe of the park. The population is composed of scheduled tribes such as Rabha, Garo, Mechia, Modesia (tribals originally belonging to communities with a Central Indian origin) and other indigenous people such as Rajbanshi, Nepali, Bhutia etc., and the majority are either forest workers/farmers or tea garden labourers. Since the enactment of the Wildlife Protection Act (WLPA) in 1972, the restrictions over the use of minor forest products, grazing and firewood collection became more stringent and the people have found themselves fighting for the reclamation of their traditional rights and the use of their natural resources mainly for subsistence. 

The relocation of Bhutia Basti forest village (the only village relocated from Buxa Tiger Reserve) was carried on at the beginning of 1993, in a quite arbitrary way. Contrary to the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) guidelines on relocation, families were made to sign relocation ‘agreements’ with the Forest Department which promised them about 1.4 acres of land per family, and a school and community hall for the village [4, 1]. According to a WIRE newspaper report, most villagers are now dependent on wage labour and migrate to cities in search of work. Another plan of relocation was announced in 2008 following nationwide relocation efforts launched by the National Tiger Conservation Authority and by the Gov. of West Bengal and it was declared that 10 villages within the core limits would be moved out. However, according to local sources, most people never agreed to relocate. The authorities came to the villagers proposing a rehabilitation plan based only on monetary compensation (contrary to the law which offers the possibility of entire relocation). Till date relocation has not yet started in the area, because it is being resisted by a people's movement active in the area , and the people are asking for the full implementation  of the FRA.

The conflicts between the villagers and the park managers  go  back to the colonial times when these forests were declared as ‘reserve forests’ [5, 6]  denying all the rights over the natural resources to the local communities [1, 2, 3]. The creation of ‘forest villages’ in the colonial times turned  these communities into indentured slave labour who had to work without wages for the british and were forced to sign agreements with the forest department to that effect [4]. However things did not change much after independence and till today, the forest department creates significant hurdles in the livelihood activities of the villages including stopping people from collection of non-timber forest products (NTFP) and grazing, collection of firewood and timber for house repairs, cutting off access roads to villages and razing crops to the ground [4]. 

According to a fact-finding report, compiled by the local organization Uttar Banga Ban-Jan Shromojivi Manch (UBJSM) in 2011, at least 10 cases of death by murder were registered between 1995 and 2005. Among these 8 belonged to the Rabha tribe, and six were picked up from a single village: North Poro. Among them were two brothers; Sadharan Rabha (14) who was beaten to death in broad daylight in 2000; and Hradong Rabha (24) who was beaten and garrotted in 2005. According to the State Forest Department, the number of deaths has risen to 13 since 2007[1]. The forest officials have allegedly claimed that the deaths caused were of timber  mafias, but the opinion of the local communities were that they were from the community and not part of any mafia chain. 

A Public Hearing organised by the National Forum of Forest People and Forest Workers, NESPON and Disha in April 2005 concluded that shootings, torture and sexual violence against women by forest staff were routine phenomena in these villages. Additionally, a large number of villagers who have spoken out against the FD have charges pending against them [4].

Many other incidents have also been registered after the Forest Rights Act came into force in 2008, and these happened while the forest dwellers were going into the forest to collect firewood or to search for their cattle. The Forest People Program reports an encounter on 8 Feb. 2008 between 4 young boys (btw 20-25 years old) of North Poro village and the Forest patrolling guards; in this encounter one of them, Samuel Rabha, died on the spot [2].  The members of UBVJSM have been asking for a high-level enquiry into the killings and other atrocities committed by the FD.  However, none of the culprits responsible for these deaths has been punished so far,  and no departmental action has been taken. 

As Karlsson (1999) wrote in the EPW:  "The Rabhas who live in the Buxa tiger reserve's buffer zone must see some irony in their officially acknowledged status of partners in wildlife conservation. The tiger project has so far meant only curtailed employment and access to the forest for them" [3]. 

The villagers continue protesting and demanding for their forest rights to be settled and recognized. According to the information shared by Soumitra Ghosh of NESPON, 36 Gram Sabhas have submitted their claims on common forest resource rights at the Sub Division Level committee (SDLC). However no further information has been shared with the villagers and no further action has been taken by the authorities, leaving these claims still pending.

Basic Data

Name of conflict:Buxa Tiger Reserve, West Bengal, India
Country:India
State or province:West Bengal
Location of conflict:Alipurduar
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)

Source of Conflict

Type of conflict. 1st level:Biodiversity conservation conflicts
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Establishment of reserves/national parks
Specific commodities:Tourism services
Timber

Project Details and Actors

Project details

The total area of the Tiger Reserve is today of 757,90 sq km ( as per Notification 6027, dated 18.12.2007), of which 390.58 sq km constitutes the core area of the park, and the other 367.32 the buffer area. The limits of the core area have been expanded since 1990 when the National Park, which constituted the core area of the park, was 117.10 sq km.

In 1996 Buxa Tiger Reserve was one of the 7 Protected Areas chosen for the implementation of the Indian Eco Development Projects (IEDP), a project financed by the World Bank with the aim to protect biological diversity by implementing an eco-development strategy. The estimated total cost of the project, which was approved in 1996 and closed in 2002, was of about $ 67 million, of which the IDA share was of US$ 28 million, GEF US$ 20 million, the national and the state government US$ 14.42 million and local communities US $4.5 million. Although this project’s aim was the involvement of the communities into the conservation management, it gave only more power to the forest management department creating programmes which were excluding the idea of the use of natural resources by the local people, and criminalizing whoever was adventuring into the forest.

In 2007 the National Park and the Wildlife Sanctuary were notified as a critical tiger habitat (CTH). About 10 villages are residing inside the new inviolate core area. The other 28 are residing in the buffer forest area.

Project area:75,790
Type of populationRural
Affected Population:18,000
Start of the conflict:16/02/1983
Relevant government actors:West Bengal Forest Department
International and Finance InstitutionsThe World Bank (WB) from United States of America
World Wildlife Fund (WWF) from Switzerland
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Uttar Banga Ban-Jan Shromojivi Manch (UBJSM)
All India Forum of Forest Movements (AIFFM)
Association for the Protection of Democratic Rights (APDR)
NESPON

Conflict & Mobilization

IntensityMEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
Reaction stageIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups mobilizing:Indigenous groups or traditional communities
Social movements
Rabha indigenous group
Forms of mobilization:Boycotts of official procedures/non-participation in official processes
Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Development of a network/collective action
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Street protest/marches
Refusal of compensation

Impacts

Environmental ImpactsVisible: Food insecurity (crop damage)
Potential: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover
Health ImpactsVisible: Deaths
Potential: Malnutrition
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors, Increase in violence and crime, Lack of work security, labour absenteeism, firings, unemployment, Loss of livelihood, Militarization and increased police presence, Violations of human rights, Other socio-economic impacts
Potential: Displacement, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Specific impacts on women, Land dispossession, Loss of landscape/sense of place

Outcome

Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Corruption
Criminalization of activists
Deaths, Assassinations, Murders
Land demarcation
Migration/displacement
Violent targeting of activists
Fostering a culture of peace
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:The people are resisting, but the militarization is still very high in the area and people have not the freedom to access their due resources. However, thanks to the union of the local people and their resistance, the violence seems to decrease in the last 7 years.

Sources & Materials

Juridical relevant texts related to the conflict (laws, legislations, EIAs, etc)

Legislations

The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers Act, 2006
http://extwprlegs1.fao.org/docs/pdf/ind77867.pdf

Wildlife Protection Act, 2006 Amendment
http://www.indiaenvironmentportal.org.in/files/THE-20WILD-20LIFE.pdf

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

[3] B.G. Karlsson. "Ecodevelopment in Practice: Buxa Tiger Reserve and Forest People". Economic and Political Weekly. Vol. 34, Issue No. 30, 24 Jul, 1999.
https://www.jstor.org/stable/4408233?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents

[4] G.U, Guha, Tatpati (2018) COMMUNITY BASED CONSERVATION AMIDST CONFLICT IN THE DOOARS REGION OF NORTH BENGAL. Kalpavriksh Report.
https://kalpavriksh.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/12/Community-Based-Conservation-Amidst-Conflict-in-the-Dooars-region-of-North-Bengal_FINALDRAFT_3rd-December-2018.pdf

[5] Soumitra Gosh (2016) 'Selling Nature: nature of Coercion, Resistance and Ecology' in Business Interests and the Environmental Crisis. Ed. Kohli Kehi, Manju Menon
https://books.google.it/books?id=gz4RjwEACAAJ&printsec=frontcover&dq=editions:ISBN9351508617

The Tiger Game
https://vimeo.com/128360603

B.G. Karlsson. "Contested Belonging: An Indigenous People's Struggle for Forest and Identity in Sub-Himalaya, Bengal". 2000. Curzon Press.
https://books.google.es/books?id=r4UfAgAAQBAJ&dq=buxa+tiger+reserve+incidents&hl=it

[1] The Hindu Business Line, Tribals falling victim to fire from forest guards, 27 August 2012
https://www.thehindubusinessline.com/news/national/tribals-falling-victim-to-fire-from-forest-guards/article20490007.ece1

[2]Killing of tribal youth at the hands of the Forest Department in Buxa Tiger Reserve, North Bengal, condemned by NFFPFW. Feb 8 2008.
http://www.forestpeoples.org/en/region/india/publication/2010/killing-tribal-youth-hands-forest-department-buxa-tiger-reserve-north-

The Wire, 27 May 2017, Criminalising Forest-Dwellers Has Not Helped India's Forests or Wildlife. It's Time for a New Deal.



Instead of evicting forest-dwelling communities for engaging in traditional activities in protected areas and reserved forests, the government should use them for co-management. By Meenal Tatpati and Sneha Gutgutia (Kalpavriksh)
https://thewire.in/environment/forest-rights-dwelling-communities

Aljazeera, 'Saving tigers, killing people'. Author: Souparna Lahiri. July 6, 2018
https://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/saving-tigers-killing-people-180703110004941.html

Rehabilitation package for Buxa Tiger Reserve villagers
https://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-national/tp-newdelhi/Rehabilitation-package-for-Buxa-Tiger-Reserve-villagers/article16245796.ece

Wikipedia aticle, with description of threats to the park (including dolomite mining, fires, cattle grazing etc)
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buxa_Tiger_Reserve#Threats_to_the_reserve

Aljazeera: Saving tigers, killing people. 6 July 2018. Author: Souparna Lahiri.
https://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/saving-tigers-killing-people-180703110004941.html

Other comments:We are thankful for the information shared by Soumitra Ghosh of NESPON and the interview and discussions shared by the local activists and members of the Uttar Banga Ban-Jan Shromojivi Manch, in particular to Sundarsingh Rabha.

Meta information

Contributor:Eleonora Fanari, ICTA. [email protected]
Last update14/12/2018

Images

 

Buxa Tiger Reserve

Entry of the Tiger Reserve.

Rabha women

Rabha women praying in Buxa. Retrieved from https://globalforestcoalition.org/community-conservation-can-cool-the-planet/