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Jaldapara National Park, West Bengal, India


Description:

Jaldapara National Park is situated in the Alipurduar district of North Bengal, an area mostly inhabited by the indigenous community of Rabha (or Rava). It was declared as a Wildlife Sanctuary in 1941, and its habitat supports populations of one-horned rhinoceros, gaur, leopard, elephant, wild boars, sambar, spotted deer and other rare varieties of animals, birds, reptiles and amphibians. Since then it has been extended up to an area of 261.51 sqkm in 1998, and officially recognized under the category of National Park in 2014 (Envis, 2019).

Since 2009 twelve villages of about 2,150 households have been demanding recognition of the Community Forest Resource (CFR) rights under the Forest Rights Act, 2006. The FRA recognizes the rights of forest dwellers and scheduled tribes (indigenous communities), to use and inhabit the area.However, till date not a single CFR have been recognized. Since  2008, the conflicts between forest communities and the forest department started to escalate, when villagers laid a siege to the departmental timber depot at the Kodal Basti forest village and stopped outsiders and departmental stuff from extracting timber from the Chilapata forests which form a crucial part of the Jaldapara NP. In 2010, more than 500 forest dwellers from Kodal Basti Gram Sabha got organized to reclaim their forest rights and put up a board asserting their authority over their CFR, which was self-proclaimedThe action resulted in  harassment and repression against the local  and activists fighting for their due rights; criminal cases were lodged against many

However, it is important to recognize that the struggle for Forest Rights in West Bengal goes back to colonial times when the colonial state declared these are ‘reserve forests’ [3], which meant the denial of all rights of the tribal communities living in these forests, as well as the eviction of these communities from these reserved areas [2]. 

Moreover, the villages are continuously subjected to a gross violation of their various forest rights by the forest officials, including obstruction from exercising their rights to enter their forest and graze their cattle, collection of firewood and fishing and intercropping in the forest. Besides, villages like Holapada Titi and North Khairbari in Madarihat forest range live in constant fear of eviction [2].

Since 2013, hundreds of gram sabha members of North Khairbari forest village in Madarihat Range of Coochbehar Forest Division have resisted repeated attempts by the forest department to carry out a clear-felling coupe (CFC) in the forest which they assert as their Community Forest Resource (CFR). This happened after the formation of the Joint Forest Management Committee (JFMC), which on the one hand was carrying out development activities (such as the construction of roads among others), and on the other hand, it was deliberately cutting the trees around the village [1]. Involvement of JFMC members from outer villages makes the North Khairbari attempt for clear felling unique: this is the first time forest department could directly use JFMC members against any gram sabha. Another point of concern is the involvement of police in what should purely be a departmental operation. Indeed, according to the law, section 21 of Indian Penal code and sec. 9 of FRA 2006, the gram sabha has the duty to protect  their community forest resource area, and cannot be prosecuted for carrying out their duties [1]. 

In this protest women have been at the forefront of the resistance, organizing peaceful demonstrations and activities such as hugging their trees and hence protecting them from being felled. In 2014, a strong protest participated by hundreds of gram sabhas and supported by the Uttar Banga Ban-Jan Shromojivi Manch, lead to the filing of criminal cases against five members of the North Khairbari gram sabha, namely Rabi Rabha, Subhas Rabha, Kutin Rabha, Sarbat Rabha and Bipin Rabha under sections 34, 186, 341 and 353 of IPC viz. case no 514 dated 18 January 2014.

From this protest, the movement has acquired confidence and authority in their struggle, and they are now managing their community forest resource area with determination. A testimony is a letter dated 18 January 2017(should be 2014--please check) by the FD requesting the permission to the North Karbari gram sabhas for tree cutting operation (shared by Sundarsingh Rabha, a member of the community and of UBBJSM) .

Basic Data

Name of conflict:Jaldapara National Park, West Bengal, India
Country:India
State or province:West Bengal
Location of conflict:Alipurduar District
Accuracy of locationMEDIUM (Regional 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
Timber
Tourism services

Project Details and Actors

Project details

Jaldapara National Park is a national park situated at the foothills of the eastern Himalayas in the Aliparduar District of northern West Bengal. It was declared as a Wildlife Sanctuary in 1941 by the English Colonial to protect the fauna and flora of the area. It was extended up to an area of 261.51 sq km in 1998, and officially recognized under the category of National Park in 2014.

The area is mostly inhabited by the indigenous community of Rabha. Others include Oraons, Mundas, Kharia, Chik Baraik brought in from Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh and settled in these villages during the colonial rule to form a captive labour pool for forestry operations. Holapada Titi is home to communities from Nepal namely Chetri, Sharma, Mangar, Biswakarma, Majhi and Tamang. North Khairbari inhabitants include, besides Rabhas, Pradhan and Mech/Bodo communities. Predominant religions are Hinduism and Christianity. Languages spoken in the region are Rabha, Nepali, Bengali, Hindi, Kuduk, Sadri, Bodo [4]

The nearby Chilapata Forest is an elephant corridor between Jaldapara and Buxa Tiger Reserve, and it is mostly in this area that the cut felling coup (CFC) is taking place.

Project area:26,151
Type of populationRural
Affected Population:2,150 households
Start of the conflict:01/01/2010
Relevant government actors:West Bengal Forest Department
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Uttar Banga Ban-Jan Shromojivi Manch
North Karbari gram sabhas
All Indian Forum of Forest People (AIFFP)
NESPON

Conflict & Mobilization

IntensityMEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
Reaction stagePREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)
Groups mobilizing:Indigenous groups or traditional communities
Women
Ethnically/racially discriminated groups
Rabha Indigenous Group
Forms of mobilization:Boycotts of official procedures/non-participation in official processes
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 ImpactsPotential: Food insecurity (crop damage), Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover, Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity)
Health ImpactsPotential: Malnutrition
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Militarization and increased police presence, Violations of human rights
Potential: Displacement, Lack of work security, labour absenteeism, firings, unemployment, Loss of livelihood, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Specific impacts on women, Land dispossession, Loss of landscape/sense of place

Outcome

Project StatusPlanned (decision to go ahead eg EIA undertaken, etc)
Conflict outcome / response:Criminalization of activists
Environmental improvements, rehabilitation/restoration of area
Land demarcation
Strengthening of participation
Violent targeting of activists
Development of alternatives:8 January 2014. Press release. [1]. Uttar Banga Ban-Jan Shromojivi Manch demands that:
1. Forest department must immediately suspend their CFC operations in Khairbari forests and do not start new CFCs in any other forests over which communities have a claim.
2. Government of West Bengal must ensure that community rights of forest dwelling tribals and other traditional forest dwellers over their forests are duly protected, and initiate due official process to recognize and record forest rights including rights over Community Forest Resource.
3. That legal proceedings according to Section 7 of FRA are started against all forest department staff, and others who tried to cut tress in Khairbari forests.
Lal Singh Bhujel
Sundar Sing Rava
(Conveners)
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:Not Sure
Briefly explain:I would not consider this a complete success, but a partial success. The communities continue to be under threat by the forest department, violation of human rights continue to happen, and the forest rights have not been officially recognized. However, the community have started asserting their rights over land and forest in a successful manner, organizing patrolling activities, planning conservation strategies and mapping their own area to create their own model of community conservation.

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

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

[3] 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

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

Links to general newspaper articles, blogs or other websites

[1] Press Release by Uttar Banga Ban-Jan Shromojivi Manch
https://www.fra.org.in/document/Press%20Release%20by%20Uttar%20Banga%20Ban-Jan%20Shromojivi%20Manch%20_1_.pdf

[2] The Wire "Criminalising Forest-Dwellers Has Not Helped India's Forests or Wildlife. It's Time for a New Deal'. Authors: Meenal Tatpati and Sneha Gutgutia work at Kalpavriksh, Pune. 23 May 2017.
https://thewire.in/environment/forest-rights-dwelling-communities

Times of India: Gramsabha members in Cooch Behar forests protest clear felling in elephant corridor. Jayashree Nandi, 8 Jan. 2014.
http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/articleshow/28553429.cms?utm_source=contentofinterest&utm_medium=text&utm_campaign=cppst

Other comments:We are thankful for the data shared by Soumitra Gosh of NESPON and by Sundar Sing Rava, the convener of the Uttar Banga Ban-Jan Shromojivi Manch.
Some data have been collected directly from the field through survey discussion with the community members and leaders of the movement.

Meta information

Contributor:Eleonora Fanari, UAB, [email protected]
Last update25/03/2019

Images

 

A Raba woman living at the fringe of the park

Credit: Eleonora Fanari

Sundar, one of the leaders of the movement, in front of the forest

credit: Eleonora Fanari

Banner of Uttar Banga Ban-Jan Shromojivi Manch, February 2014

The banner that represents their movement and their struggle. It was held in the village of North Khairbari as a symbol of their successful struggle. Credit: Eleonora Fanari