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Kaziranga conflict: rhinos and poachers, Assam, India


Description:

The Kaziranga National Park is one of the oldest wildlife conservation reserves of India, first notified in 1905 and constituted as Reserve Forest in 1908 with an area of 228.825 Sq. Km. It was specially established for conservation of the Greater One Horned Rhinoceros (Rhinoceros Unicornis) whose number was estimated to be twenty pairs at that time. Kaziranga was declared a Game Sanctuary in 1916 and it was opened to visitors in 1938. It was declared a Wildlife Sanctuary in 1950, and notified as Kaziranga National Park in 1974 under the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, with an area of 429.93 Sq. Km. which has now extended to 899 Sq. Km. subsequently.

Home to two-third of the world's one-horned rhino population, Kaziranga has received just in 2016 about 170,000 Indian and 7,843 foreign tourists — one of the highest footfalls of tourists in recent years. Kaziranga earned a total revenue of Rs 5.4 crore last year and it is one of the highest earnings ever.

Poaching of wildlife, mostly rhinos, is a serious problem here. Between 2006 and 2016, 141 rhinos were poached. Coming under pressure from conservation organisations in 2013, the then Congress-led Assam government amended the provisions of Section 197 CrPC (Code of Criminal Procedure) law in India. This amendment grants forest officials immunity from prosecution if they attack poachers without taking prior consent from the government. Following the amendment, the forest department shot 22 and 23 suspected poachers in 2014 and 2015 respectively [1]. 

Meanwhile, in 2012, the Guwahati High Court had suo motu registered a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) (No.66 /2012), following wide media coverage on poaching of rhinos in Kaziranga. It was based on news published in three English dailies ~ The Telegraph dated 28th and 29th September, 2012, The Indian Express dated 27th September, 2012, and The Hindu dated 27th September, 2012 , and it was registered to inquire into poaching and killing of wild animals at Kaziranga. Along with this another PIL (Number 67/2012), filed by one Mrinal Saikia on the same subject matter with an additional relief of removal of human habitation and encroachment in the animal corridors in and around Kaziranga was also admitted. 

On October 9, 2015, the court issued direction to evict the human inhabitants from Kaziranga, and from adjoining villages--Deurchur Chang, Banderdubi and Palkhowa. The court asked the district administrations to carry it out within one month. The bench in its judgement also observed that the individual claims for a handful of persons is in conflict with the public and national interest. And that it can be inferred that the habitants in the park fall in the suspected group because they are aware of the animal movements, and therefore they would alone be in a position to do poaching successfully or abet poaching by others. Following the directive, eviction drive was carried out on September 19, 2016. During the eviction drive, two people were killed and seventeen were injured [2] In the evening on September 19, the Assam government (coalition of three political parties led by the Bharatiya Janata Party) announced a compensation of Rs 2 lakh for each of the families of the victims who died, and Rs 50,000 for those who were grievously injured. Next day, the Gauhati High Court refused to interfere in the eviction drive after hearing a writ petition filed by one Mohammad Jalal Uddin against the eviction drive. In response, student-led organisations and Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti (a farmers body) have been protesting on behalf of the evicted people. They demand better rehabilitation for the evicted people, and investigation into killing each of the poachers. However, in contrast to the court’s order to improve the habitat, development projects have been granted clearance around the National Park. In 2016, construction activities in the eco-sensitive zone of the park by Patanjali Herbal and Mega Food Park led to the death of an elephant and left two others injured [12]

 

Beside this eviction drive, other small and invisible evictions continue to go on in the 6th addiction of Kaziranga. The Wire reported that on February 28, a bulldozer was breaking the Kuthis (temporary bamboo huts) and the sheds for cattle. Indiscriminate eviction took place in the eight-nine kilometres stretched from Kathanibari up to Silamari [3] The local communities alleged that the high militarization employed in the park is violating the human rights of the local people and that immunity had led the Forest Guards to use their power in an arbitrary way. In the last 9 years, it has been documented that a number of 62 people were killed as alleged poachers [1]. Moreover, in 2016 in an accident, the forest department shot a 7 years old child, which brought the local organization to Delhi to campaign against the 'green militarization' used in the park [9]. Indeed since 2010, the park has highly intensified the number of forest guards and the use of arms for wildlife protection [10]. Organisations such as Survival International have also advocated against the 'legal immunity' given to the guards, the human rights violations such as tortures and harassments against the local communities, and the involvement of the WWF in funding militarization for conservation in the park [11]. 

Other conflicts are related to the construction of an embankment around the Brahmaputra river that will displace numerous villages belonging to the local Mishing tribes, Dalit and other communities living in these areas. The Embankment funded by the ADB has been highly contested by the organization Jeepal Krishak Shramik Sangathan (JKSS) [5]. The same organization also opposed an Oil exploration carried on by state-owned Oil India Limited (OIL); and against a biorefinery proposal [4;6]. This last protest brought the arrest of the activists Pranab Doley and Soneshwar Narah who were charged with Section 307 (Attempt to murder), and Section 353 (Assault or criminal force to deter public servant from discharge of his duty) and later released on bail. The same activists, leaders of the JKSS, have been falsely charged while raising their voices against these conservation policies and to advocate for the rights of the people living around the park [5,6,8]. In June 2020 under Covid19 the Mishing forest people in the Agoratoli range were harassed by the forest department, and 5 people were later falsely charged by police for ‘obstructing police patrolling’ in the aftermath of a protest against the harassment [13] (info documented in local newspaper Axomiya Pratidin, by Dhruba Jyoti Saha on date 9th June) 

Basic Data

Name of conflict:Kaziranga conflict: rhinos and poachers, Assam, India
Country:India
State or province:Assam
Location of conflict:Nagaon, Golaghat and Biswanath Chariali Districts
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:Land
Tourism services
Conservation of rhinos
Biological resources

Project Details and Actors

Project details

Kaziranga is a major source of revenue for the Assam government because domestic and international tourists visit the park every year. On November 3, 2017 when the park was opened, the revenue generated from the park was Rs 1.58 lakh on that day itself.

Kaziranga was declared a Wildlife Sanctuary in 1950, and notified as Kaziranga National Park in 1974 under the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, with an area of 429.93 Sq. Km. which has extended to 899 Sq. Km. In 1985 it was declared a UNESCO Heritage site, under the criterion (ix) and (x) for harbouring one of the most unique flora and fauna in the world and also home to the one horned rhinoceros and other important wildlife species. The extension of the park continued since 1999, and today the park covers an area of 1,173 sq. km.

It was declared a Tiger Reserve on August 3, 2007 (vide notification No FRW - 6/2007/23). The core (or critical tiger habitat) constitutes an area of 625.58 sq. km, and comprises the original National Park along with the first, second, third and fifth addition. The buffer extends to 548 sq. km and comprises the still proposed fourth and sixth addition, and is part of Kukunata, Panbari, Bagser, Laokhowa and Burhachaperi Reserve Forests. However, except for the 1st and 4th Additions, the other additions have not been handed over to the Kaziranga authorities.

Project area:117,358
Type of populationRural
Affected Population:Between 1500 to 3000 people
Start of the conflict:19/09/2016
Company names or state enterprises:The Assam Tourism Development Corporation Ltd (ATDC) from India - No
Relevant government actors:Assam Environment and Forest department,
Assam tourism department,
Assam Tourism Development Corporation,
Assam Home department,
Assam finance department,
National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA)
International and Finance InstitutionsWWF from Switzerland
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti, a farmers group based in Assam.
The left political parties, CPI and CPM raised voice for the evicted people, Student Organisations,
The Opposition political parties in the Assam government, the Congress and the AIUDF protested these evictions.
Jeepal Krishak Shramik Sangathan (JKSS)

Conflict & Mobilization

IntensityMEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
Reaction stageIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups mobilizing:Farmers
Indigenous groups or traditional communities
International ejos
Local ejos
Local government/political parties
Social movements
Forms of mobilization:Blockades
Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Development of a network/collective action
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Media based activism/alternative media
Public campaigns
Street protest/marches

Impacts

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

Outcome

Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Criminalization of activists
Deaths, Assassinations, Murders
Court decision (failure for environmental justice)
Migration/displacement
Repression
Strengthening of participation
Development of alternatives:Coming under pressure from the protesters and various civil society groups, the Assam government has offered to resettle and rehabilitate the evicted people who have land document.
On the issue of shooting of poachers, civil society groups like Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti ( a farmers body) have demanded an impartial investigation, monitored by the High Court into each incident of killing of the poachers.
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:The number of rhinos has increased but at the cost of repression against neighbouring populations.

Sources & Materials

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

Verdict of the Gauhati High Court related to PIL(suo motu) 66/2012, 67/2012, and WP(C) 648/2013 and 4860/2013, which directed eviction in Kaziranga
http://ghconline.gov.in/Judgment/PIL662012.pdf

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

[10] Rhino Task Force, 2015
https://ercindia.org/files/otherresource/report-of-the-rhino-task-force.pdf

Replies in the parliament on Kaziranga
http://164.100.47.194/Loksabha/Questions/QResult15.aspx?qref=49308&lsno=16

DETAILED REPORT ON ISSUES AND POSSIBLE SOLUTIONS FOR LONG TERM PROTECTION OF ONE HORNED RHINOCEROS IN THE KAZIRANGA NATIONAL PARK, PURSUANT TO THE ORDER OF THE GAUHATI HIGH COURT
https://www.osservatoriodiritti.it/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/Diritto-terra-indigeni-India-2.pdf

Riding the Rhino: Conservation, Conflicts, and Militarisation of Kaziranga National Park in Assam. Sanjay Barbora, Antipode, Volume 49, Issue 5, November 2017, p. 1145–1163 DOI: 10.1111/anti.12329
http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/anti.12329/abstract

[2] Kaziranga eviction turns violent
https://www.telegraphindia.com/1160920/jsp/frontpage/story_109204.jsp

[1] BBC "Kaziranga: The park that shoots people."February 10, 2017. Author: Justin Rowlatt
https://www.bbc.com/news/world-south-asia-38909512

[3] The Wire. "As Kaziranga Expands, the Fate of Grazing Communities Hangs in the Balance" Author: Eleonora Fanari and Pranab Doley.
https://thewire.in/environment/contested-boundaries-eviction-in-the-sixth-addition-of-kaziranga-national-park

[4] The Wire "Oil Exploring Survey Near Kaziranga Cancelled After Locals Chase Away Firm". 08 Dec. 2028. Author: Rajeev Bhattacharyya
https://thewire.in/rights/kaziranga-seismic-survey-oil-cancelled-protest

[5] ADB Embankment subproject in the Brahmaputra river of Kaziranga, Assam, india
https://ejatlas.org/conflict/adb-embankment-subproject-in-the-brahmaputra-river-of-kaziranga-assam

[6] The Wire "Assam: Activists Arrested Day After Complaining Against Theft of 800 Quintals of PDS Rice". April 08, 2020 Author: Gaurav Das
https://thewire.in/rights/assam-soneswar-narah-pranab-doley-arrested-rice

[8] The Wire. "Upon Release, Jailed Activists Allege Being Targeted Over BBC Documentary on Kaziranga Excesses". May 6,2017. Shazia Nigar
https://thewire.in/environment/kaziranga-bbc-documentary

[9] The Ecologist. "Adivasi boy shot at by guards of ‘shoot-first’ Kaziranga national park" 22 July, 2016
https://www.ecologise.in/2016/07/22/adivasi-boy-shot-at-by-guards-of-shoot-first-kaziranga-national-park/

[11] Boycott Kaziranga National Park, by Survival International
https://www.survivalinternational.org/petitions/boycott-kaziranga

Guwahati HC Refuses to Intervene in Kaziranga Eviction
https://www.northeasttoday.in/guwahati-hc-refuses-to-intervene-in-kaziranga-eviction/

Militants poaching rhinos in Kaziranga
http://www.downtoearth.org.in/news/militants-poaching-rhinos-in-kaziranga-49227

Assam has such a law, difference is rhino poachers carry firearms
http://archive.indianexpress.com/news/assam-has-such-a-law-difference-is-rhino-poachers-carry-firearms/954949/

[13] Axomiya Pratidin, Author: Dhruba Jyoti Saha, 9th June 2020
https://assam.nenow.in/assam-state-child-right-commission-write-to-golaghat-dc/

[12] The Quint "Elephant Dies at Ramdev’s Patanjali Project While Rescuing Her Kid". Author: Manon Verchot. Nov. 26, 2016
https://www.thequint.com/news/environment/deadly-baba-how-ramdevs-patanjali-project-in-assam-killed-an-elephant-on-an-animal-corridor

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

Press Conference on the clampdown of farmers voices in the state of Assam.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JADxAbtdCpA

News Broadcast on the Eviction Drive
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RHh1dbP3nvM

Kaziranga: The park that shoots people to protect rhinos

By Justin Rowlatt. South Asia correspondent. 10 February 2017
http://www.bbc.com/news/world-south-asia-38909512

What the controversy over BBC documentary on Kaziranga reminds us about models of conservation
https://scroll.in/article/830845/what-the-controversy-over-bbc-documentary-on-kaziranga-reminds-us-about-models-of-conservation

Other comments:We are thankful for the information shared by Pranab Doley and Soneshwar Narah of Jeepal Krishak Shramik Sangathan (JKSS).

Meta information

Contributor:Land Conflict Watch, [email protected], Eleonora Fanari (ICTA).
Last update29/12/2017

Images

 

 

 

 

Rhino Poached

Photo of a Rhino Poached at the Kaziranga National Park, and its horn taken away

Eviction at Kaziranga

Eviction being carried out at on September 19, 2016