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Eviction from Manas National Park, Assam, India


Description:

Manas Wildlife Sanctuary is a National Park, a Tiger Reserve and a UNESCO heritage site. It is located on the Himalayas foothills of the North East state of India, Assam, and it is contiguous with the Royal Manas National Park of Bhutan. The Manas National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage (WH) site is a part of the Himalayan biodiversity hotspot [8]. It also forms the core of the Manas Tiger Reserve, which is recognized as an important tiger habitat. In 1985, when Manas was listed as a WH site, not only had a large tiger population, but also other large carnivores as well as diverse and abundant populations of wild ungulates to sustain them [8]. 

Soon Manas was engulfed in the politico-ethnic disturbance that started in and around the landscape in the late 1980s, whereby the Bodo community, the largest tribal group of Assam, was demanding greater political rights and powers. The violence that followed caused large-scale damage to Manas, with the habitat, wildlife, and management and protection activities suffering immensely. It also led to the local extinction of the great Indian one-horned rhino (Rhinoceros unicornis) and the swamp deer (Cervus duvauceli rangitsinhi). In 2003, after a long and strenuous period of political negotiations, the Bodo Territorial Council (BTC) was established within Assam, which provided the local Bodo community legislative, administrative, executive and financial autonomy in the Bodo-dominated areas of north-western Assam. [8]

The protected area is mostly inhabited by the Bodo indigenous community. During the military conflict, the wildlife was highly damaged, and restoration projects started taking place just after the declaration of the Independent Bodo Land territory, called Bodoland Territorial Area Districts (BTAD) [1].

In the last years, the conservation projects, the expansion of the park, and the entrance of international conservationist NGOs such as IFAW and WTI in the area, have generated a new kind of conflict around the park. Several eviction drives carried out by the forest department, have been reported in the local newspapers. The first eviction took place in December 2016 in the Betbari area, under the Bhuyanpara Range, where permanent huts belonging to the Bodo communities were destroyed. The eviction aimed to clean up the territory of 700 encroachers [2]. As per notification No. FD/TP/WHS/3339-48 submitted to the Principal Chief Conservator of Forests, Wildlife and Chief Wildlife Warden of Assam, the area of Betbari, Kohirabari and Dihira Panda, which correspond to an area of about 16.00 sq km was cleaned up of encroachers on 22 December 2016 [3]. According to the notification, the eviction was successful and carried out with the assistance of 350 police and armed personnel for the destruction of about 550 hutments.

Moreover, as per field reports and secondary data reports another eviction drive took place between January and February 2017. The eviction was confronted by a strong protest which forced the forest department to leave the eviction after 11 am. The protest was held by over 2000 people coming from the nearby villages [4]. According to a report released in 2017 by Housing and Land Rights Network,  700 houses were demolished and all families evicted from the Manas National Park [5]. Earlier in 2016, the area under Chirang district had also been a territory of conflict, and eviction was faced by a number of 1.000 Adivasis living in the area [6 ]. According to the reports these are Adivasis that have been settled in the area around 15/20 years back as victims of the conflict. No solutions and no alternative housing have been suggested by the Assam administration.

More generally the fights over forest resources and access to the natural spaces continue to be a source of conflict around Manas National Park. The declaration of the park as a Tiger Reserve in 2008, brought new regulations and more restrictions into the area. The forest dwellers have only started the process of claiming the Forest Rights under the Forest Rights Act, and till now no forest rights have been yet recognized (info shared by .

It is also interesting to note the discriminatory character towards the forest dwellers by the forest department and its support by the conservation INGOs. This was observed in a poster which bears the logo of IFAW and WTI, which represents the Adivasis to be expelled from the park in dark skin, and it is written in the poster: 'Trespassers, Encroachers, Hunters, Loggers if found in the reserve will be prosecuted, fined and jailed'[7]. 

Basic Data

Name of conflict:Eviction from Manas National Park, Assam, India
Country:India
State or province:Assam
Location of conflict:Barpeta
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:Biological resources
Tourism services

Project Details and Actors

Project details

Manas National Park was declared a sanctuary on 1 October 1928 with an area of 360 km2. In 1973 was declared as a Manas Tiger Reserve with an area of 2837.10 sq km. It was declared a World Heritage site in December 1985 by UNESCO, and a MAB Biosphere Reserve in the same year. The core of the Tiger Reserve was declared as a National Park in September 1990, for an extension of 500 sq km. In 1992, UNESCO declared it as a world heritage site in danger due to heavy poaching and terrorist activities.

In May 2008 the Department of Environment and Forest notified the limits of the area, declaring the National Park as a Tiger Project, and creating a core area of 526.22 sq km and a buffer of 2310.88 sq km, for a total of 2837.10 sq km. There is a proposal that has been filed in August 2016, to expand the limit of the core area up to 880 sq km (data from the field). The park is divided into 3 range: Bansbari, Bhuyanpara, Panbari. The National park follows under the district of Chirang and Baksa, and the Buffer area of the entire Tiger Reserve follows on the west under the district of Udalguri and on the West under Kokrajhar.

The core zone of the park is not highly inhabited. There are about 57 villages living in the buffer area of the Manas National Park. It is dominated by the Bodo people, and the National Park is part of the Bodo land territorial area. However, there are also many Adivasis, brought from central India to Assam from the British in the pre-independent period for the purpose of tea labour. There are many Conservationist NGOs working for the biodiversity conservation of the Manas National Park, such as Aaranyak, WPSI, WWF. The forest villages located inside the limits of the core area are considered encroachers.

Project area:315,092
Type of populationRural
Affected Population:2.250
Start of the conflict:01/12/2016
Company names or state enterprises:Assam Project on Forest and Biodiversity Conservation Society Vision & Mission (APFBCSV) from India
Wildlife trust of India (WTI ) from India
Relevant government actors:Assam Forest Department.
National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA)
International and Finance InstitutionsUNESCO - United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) from France
International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) from United States of America
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:All Assam Adivasi Students Association (AASAA)

Conflict & Mobilization

IntensityLOW (some local organising)
Reaction stagePREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)
Groups mobilizing:Indigenous groups or traditional communities
Landless peasants
Bodo indigenous community
Forms of mobilization:Street protest/marches
Refusal of compensation

Impacts

Environmental ImpactsPotential: Food insecurity (crop damage)
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Displacement, Increase in violence and crime, Lack of work security, labour absenteeism, firings, unemployment, Loss of livelihood, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Militarization and increased police presence, Violations of human rights
Potential: Land dispossession

Outcome

Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Land demarcation
Migration/displacement
Repression
Development of alternatives:Some locals are starting claiming their individual and community rights on their forest land under the Forest Rights Act, 2006.
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:Not Sure
Briefly explain:In Manas the conflict over natural resources has developed over several levels. People are resisting against the different plans of eviction by the government. There is no much-organzied resistance and locals continue to be victims of conservation restrictions.

Sources & Materials

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

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

[8] Rajkamal Goswami. 2011. 'Conservation amidst political unrest: The case of Manas National Park, India' in Current Science.
https://www.researchgate.net/publication/230554586_Conservation_amidst_political_unrest_The_case_of_Manas_National_Park_India

Manas National Park: Those Living in the Fringe Areas. in Sahapedia. Author: Sayantani Chatterjee
https://www.sahapedia.org/manas-national-park-those-living-the-fringe-areas

[5] Conservation Watch. 'India: Almost 40,000 people were evicted in the name of conservation in 2017'. Author: Chris Lang. March 3, 2018.
http://www.conservation-watch.org/2018/03/08/india-almost-40000-people-were-evicted-in-the-name-of-conservation-in-2017/

[7] The Wire. 'Are Conservation Organisations Complicit in Ethnic Discrimination?' Author: Trishant Simlai and Raza Kazmi. Nov. 13, 2017.
https://thewire.in/environment/conservation-organisations-complicit-ethnic-discrimination

[2] The Telegraph. 'Eviction in Manas begins today'. Author: Roopak Goswami. Dec. 22 2016
https://www.telegraphindia.com/states/north-east/eviction-in-manas-begins-today/cid/1403867

[4] Assam Time. 'Eviction at Manas National Park'. Feb. 18, 2017
https://www.assamtimes.org/node/18474

[1] Mongabay. 'India’s Manas National Park illustrates the human dimension of rhino conservation'. Author: Bikash Kumar Bhattacharya. Feb. 13 2017.
https://news.mongabay.com/2017/02/indias-manas-national-park-illustrates-the-human-dimension-of-rhino-conservation/

[6]The Telegraph. 'Eviction heat builds up in Chirang'. Author: Sumir Karmakar. Sept. 29, 2016.
https://www.telegraphindia.com/states/north-east/eviction-heat-builds-up-in-chirang/cid/1420258

Other documents

[3] State of Conservation Report of Manas Wildlife Sanctuary (India) (N338) Official Government Report
https://file.ejatlas.org/docs/3940/7B_-_India_-_Manas_20161201_public__2_.pdf

Other comments:We are thankful for the information shared by Arnab Bose, wildlife researcher around Manas area.

Meta information

Contributor:Eleonora Fanari. ICTA. [email protected]
Last update11/01/2019

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