The Achanakmar Tiger Reserve, located in the Mungeli district of Chattisgarh, is mostly inhabited by the Baigas, an indigenous community belonging to the particularly vulnerable tribal group (PVTG).
Out of the 25 villages inhabiting the core area of the tiger reserve, 6 forest Villages-Jalda, Kuba, Bokrakachhar, Bahud, Bakal, and Sambhar Dhasan, with around 249 families - 238 tribals and 11 from OBCs - were relocated from the tiger reserve during December 2009 [1,2]. In February 2009, the tiger reserve was notified under Project Tiger, with the condition of relocating all the villages from the core area of the reserve to make "inviolate space" for tigers. Villagers were promised a fixed compensation package of 10 lakh rupees (1 million) including basic amenities in the new settlement place like - 5 acres of agricultural land/household, accommodation, school, healthcare and better livelihood opportunities. But when this relocation was carried on, the alternative location was not made ready for the displaced population, the villagers had to stay in temporary huts built by the forest department and each household was given a petty amount of Rs.5000 cash and Rs.45,000 in the bank account, which was spent mostly in meeting the daily needs and housing arrangement [1,2].
The people felt cheated as they understood they would receive both land and 10 lakh rupees as promised earlier by the forest department . The explanation on how the compensation money has been distributed came out in a local newspaper reports which reported, ‘Rs 1 lakh goes for making 1 acre of land, Rs 2 Lakh for construction of the house, Rs 4 lakh for the construction of the community centre, Rs 2 lakh for the Davsthal (Deity house / temple), Rs 1 lakh for the playground, Rs 3 Lakh 50 thousand for the school building, Rs 1,050 for Anganbari (Kindergarden) and for ten tube-well Rs. 2-2 lakhs will be spent and a cash amount of Rs 50 thousand will be paid to these families’. In 2009, the sudden relocation of Jalda village in the winter to temporary camps also led to the death of one person due to starvation. The villagers were left with no proper house, no source of livelihood and had to survive the winter at the mercy of the forest officials .
The relocated families who are living at the edge of the forest have been strictly prohibited from collecting forest produce and fuelwood from the forests. The Baiga tribal argues that they have no alternative livelihood options outside forests and are working as contract labour at construction sites in urban areas. This relocation was done without considering the option of co-existence which is a violation under section-4(2)(c) of the FRA,2006. Baigas who are primarily dependent on the forest for livelihood have run out of livelihood opportunities in the area where they have been relocated. The land is of poor quality and away from the forest resources inhibiting them from practicing their livelihood activities.
As per guidelines of the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA), the relocation of the other 19 villages residing the core area of the ATR will be taking place soon, vis.: Achanakmar, Chaprwa, Katami, Atria, BadiAtaria, Surhi, JakarhBandha, Dagaria, Rajak, Niwaskhar, Bamhai, Tilaidubra, Bindawel, Lamni, Ranjaki, Sarasdol, Kiwalkhar, Danokhar, Chirhatta.
There is a plan to relocate all the villages outside the reserve. According to a TOI report, the government is ready for the relocation plan of 5 villages, namely Sarasdol, Rajak, Tilaidabra, Birarpani and Chirhatt . The villages of Ranjaki, Niwaskar and Chaprwaar have also been targeted by the forest department . The forest diversion process for relocation of Tilaidabra, Chirhatta and Birarpani has been submitted by the deputy director of the Achanakmar tiger reserve so as to relocate these families from the tiger reserve . Some of these villages are now fighting back and asking for the recognition of the Forest Rights Act. With the support of the Navraska NGO, a young group is starting raising awareness on FRA and organizing the local communities to fight back. Dilharn from the youth group says: “This is our jungle and we are not willing to move, there is nothing interesting in the cities, and we are happy living in our villages. Look at the stars here, do you think you will be able to see the same from Bilaspur?” [info from the field].
The only village that started the FRA process and submitted their claims has been so far Fulwaripara, a village located in the buffer area. However, these claims have been rejected, and the women, leaders of the movement, have been continuously facing lots of harassment and threats of eviction .
In the last 10 years harassment and pressure of relocation by the forest department have started to increase, and the villages living just on the limits of the core area are mostly affected. Indeed, as they live on the edge, they are not able to get into the patrolled core area to collect minor forest products for their livelihood. One story of harassment was shared by the Baiga Bupen in fieldwork. Bupen recounted that on 6 January 2017, he entered the forest together with a group of 26 to collect bamboo, an important source of livelihood. The group was seen by the patrolling forest guards who detained and tortured Bupen and two friends for one entire day. When the asked recompensation of 10.000 rupees was not given by the villagers involved for lack of resources, the FD entered the village taking whatever resources available such as chicken, food and other small items.