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Melghat Tiger Reserve, Maharastra, India


Description:

The Melghat forests are situated in Satpuda hills of central India in the Vidarbha region of Maharashtra. Apart from being host to a rich diversity of wildlife, the region is also home to a diversity of communities such as Korkus, Gonds, Gawlis, Balai, Halbi, Wanjari, Nihals, Burads and Rathiya. It was declared a Tiger Reserve in 1973/74, and later with the new regulations under the Wildlife Protection Act (WLPA) 2006 amendment, an inviolate area, or critical tiger habitat (CTH), was notified in 2007. 

The conflict started to arise since the project was notified. There were 181 villages living around and within the Tiger Reserve, out of which 39 were coming under Multiple Use Area since 1994. These 39 villages were  threatened with relocation since the beginning and they were not anymore allowed to use the natural resources available in the forest area for their sustainability [1]. 

The first relocation plan started in 2000/2001 when Bori, Koha and Kund were relocated from the core area; later in 2003 started the relocation of other 3, Vairat, Churni and Dhargad, which got completed by 2012. Since the 2007 notification, relocation process is ongoing and a number of 16 villages corresponding to 2,952 families have been relocated from the CTH (Lok Sabha, 12/07/2019). The tension escalated since May 2007, when a government resolution demanded the relocation of 84 villages from the core area of the tiger reserve [4].  After the implementation of the Forest Rights Act the villagers started to reclaim their rights under FRA,  but in many cases, the rights have been rejected and villagers were forcibly relocated as considered encroachers [3]. In 2015, the Forest department tried to remove settlements from the Melghat Tiger Reserve (MTR), which were considered encroachers. There were settlements over 300 hectares of land in the villages of Dhakna, Sawrya, Bhandum, Borikheda, Gadgabhandum, Dabhiya, Dolar and Gadgamalur. Villagers who could define their land status and give proof were given the land, but those who couldn't, were removed with the help of Special Protection Forces (SPF) called from Pench and Tadoba reserves [6]. 

According to Sanjay Ingle, the president of People's Rural Education Movements, 'people don't want the relocation but the government is forcing them to move out' [2].  The tension was visible again in 2017 when a number of 600 families got relocated from the Rokhinkidi village in Akot Wildlife division of the MTR [4]. A group of 1,200 tribals from 8 villages, which were relocated 5 years ago from MTR, re-entered in the core area and occupied the place for 36 hours, asking for better rehabilitation facilities and better compensation. It was alleged that in the new relocated place there were no health facilities, no education and no water supplies [5, 9]. Again on Jan. 23, it was reported that a group of tribal people affected by the MTR project has been protesting for better relocation facilities. In the protest, about 40 forest guards were injured [7].

All this has brought to high distress in the life of the locals whose livelihood has been highly affected with numerous incidence of malnutrition registered in the areas, where a number of at least 98 children died of malnutrition [16]. 

Besides all this being documented, the relocation process continues. In the WCS-India website, we read that a relocation project called ‘voluntary rehabilitation’ is being carried on with the support of the NGO in Melghat Tiger Reserve led by Vinod Shivakumar, DCF, Gugamal Wildlife Division, Chikaldara. The article adds that WCS-India has signed a MoU with the Melghat TR Conservation Foundation and social mobilizers have been recruited to carry on voluntary relocation activities [13]. However, as point out in a March 2020 report [14], the so called ‘voluntary relocation’ continues to be illegal as they do not follow the due guidelines of recognition of rights under the Forest Rights Act, 2006; compensation being offered is incomplete and even after voluntary relocation package is rejected, the villagers continue to face pressure to be relocated. 

While villagers continue to be evicted, the area continues to expand its limits, and land diversion also granted in and around the protected area [11,12]; this includes forest land diverted for solar panel projects for which more than 1760 trees would be cut causing high loss of biodiversity [12]. In August 2018, a proposal from MTR asked to add 467 sq km of buffer area. This will be expanded both in forest and forest land which will include 118 villagers. It will then become the 4th largest TR in India [10]. 

In the meantime, local people mostly belonging to Korku indigenous communities are getting criminalized under the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, and charged to alledly destroying the wildlife as reported as Kavita Yier that recount the story of the brothers Raju and Gahu arrested by the police on September 1, 2020 [18].

In Melghat Tiger Reserve a minimal number of forest rights claimed under the Forest Rights Act, 2006 has been recognized but the process has been very low and with many illegalities. In 2014, a report published by Kalpavriksh documents that 12 community forest resource rights (CFRs) were recognized in the buffer areas. [Letter dated June 5, 2013 by SDLC, Dharni, received by Gram Sabha on November 15, 2013, as in Forest Rights Act in Protected Area, a Status Report, Kalpavriksh, August 2014]. However it does also document the many CFRs were still pending and many rejected. A recent report of March 2020 does document a similar process, however as per the information shared by Purnima Upadhyay from the organization KHOJ, 3 villages out of 9 have got their CFRs recently recognized in the core area. One of these is Madizadap which after a long struggle, finally got its CFRs recognized in September 2019 [14]. Many more have been recognized in the buffer areas. Although the process is still slow some successful cases seem to emerge from this area, and several villages previously relocated are now asking for the recognition of their CFRs rights [16]. This shows a major resistance by the local people and positive support from organizations such as KHOJ. 

Moreover, a recent article published in June 2020 by Purnima Upadhya reports a positive story on the recognition of community rights in Rahu village, situated at the fringe of the TR, which got its CFRs recognized in 2016 for an area of 1300 hectares; the community is looking after 4.500 hectares of forest land and harvesting bamboo and other resources for their livelihood; the activities are coordinated by a CFR management committee [15].

Basic Data

Name of conflict:Melghat Tiger Reserve, Maharastra, India
Country:India
State or province:Maharastra
Location of conflict:Amravati
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

Project Details and Actors

Project details

Melghat was declared a tiger reserve and was among the first nine tiger reserves notified in 1973-74 under the Project Tiger. It lies at the northern extreme of the Amravati District on the border of Madhya Pradesh, in the southwestern Satpura mountain ranges.

The initial expanse of the area was 1571.74 sq. km. comprising Gugumal and Melghat Sanctuary. In 1994, the Govt. came out with its final notification declaring Melghat as Wildlife Sanctuary with an area of 1150.03 sq.km leaving out an area which was preoccupied by human settlements.

After the WLPA 2006 amendment, the Critical Tiger Habitat was notified in 2007, followed with the notification of a buffer in 2010. With the 2007 notification in effect, the inviolate area has increased from 361.28 sq km to a critical inviolate area of 1500.49 sq km, comprising of Melghat WLS and Gugamal National Park (1150.03 sq km.), Narnala WLS (12.35 sq km), Ambabarawa WLS (127.11 sq km), Wan WLS (211.sq km). Later in 2010, the State Government declared 1268.03 sq km as buffer of the Melghat TR comprising area of territorial divisions of Akola 1, Buldhana, East and West Melghat.

At present, the notified core and the buffer of the tiger reserve together cover a total area of 2768.52 square km spanning over the districts of Amravati, Akola and Buldhana. Located in the catchment area of the River Tapti, Melghat, a water harvesting forest, supplies 30 per cent of all the freshwater available to the people living in the vicinity.

Project area:276,852
Type of populationRural
Affected Population:60,000
Start of the conflict:1994
Relevant government actors:Maharastra Forest Department
National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA)
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:KHOJ NGO
People's Rural Education Movements (PREM)

Conflict & Mobilization

IntensityLOW (some local organising)
Reaction stagePREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)
Groups mobilizing:Indigenous groups or traditional communities
Forms of mobilization:Land occupation
Official complaint letters and petitions
Street protest/marches
Refusal of compensation

Impacts

Environmental ImpactsVisible: Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover
Potential: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Soil erosion
Health ImpactsVisible: Malnutrition
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Displacement, Lack of work security, labour absenteeism, firings, unemployment, Loss of livelihood, Militarization and increased police presence, Violations of human rights, Land dispossession
Potential: Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Loss of landscape/sense of place

Outcome

Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Compensation
Migration/displacement
Repression
Development of alternatives:Khoj and other organizations are pushing for the community rights, under the Forest Rights Act, to be recognized in their forest land. This to bring the community to control and manage the natural resources and the biodiversity of the area.
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:As a result of the tiger reserve project a number of 2,952 families have been relocated. The majority have not been consulted.

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

[15] The Quint 'How Forest Rights Made this Maharashtra Village ‘Atmanirbhar’'. Author: Purnima Upadhyay and Aditi Pinto. June 5, 2020.
https://www.thequint.com/news/environment/forest-rights-rahu-village-maharashtra-melghat-tiger-reserve-sustainable-community-women-empowerment

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

Community Forest Rights under the Forest Rights Act. Citizen Report by Kalpavriksh and Vasundhara. May 2015. Pg. 62/63
http://fra.org.in/document/Citizen%20Report%202015.pdf

[1] Down To Earth. 2005. 'Melghat Malaise'. Author: Nidhi Jamwal.
https://www.downtoearth.org.in/coverage/melghat-malaise-9861

[4] Down To Earth. 'Tension over relocation at Melghat sanctuary'. Author: Nidhi Jamval. July 4, 2015.
https://www.downtoearth.org.in/news/tension-over-relocation-at-melghat-sanctuary-6229

[6] The Indian Express. 'Relocated tribals protest at Melghat reserve, return'. Author: Vivek Deshpande. Sept. 12, 2017.
https://indianexpress.com/article/india/relocated-tribals-protest-at-melghat-reserve-return/

[5] The Times of India.'Nagpur' s Rohinkhidki village in Melghat to be relocated in 15 days'. Author: Vijay Pinjarkar. june 2, 2017.
https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/nagpur/nagpurs-rohinkhidki-village-in-melghat-to-be-relocated-in-15-days/articleshow/58967156.cms

[17] The Times of India. '98 Melghat infants died of malnutrition in September'. Author: Vaidehi More. Oct. 17, 2010.
https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/nagpur/98-Melghat-infants-died-of-malnutrition-in-September/articleshow/6762016.cms

[8] Marathi Times. वन अतिक्रमणांचा गडद धोका. Jul. 19, 2015.
https://maharashtratimes.indiatimes.com/editorial/ravivar-mata/forest-encroachment/articleshow/48135123.cms

[9] The Indian Express. Relocated tribals protest at Melghat reserve, return. Author: Vivek Deshpande. Sept. 12, 2017.
https://indianexpress.com/article/india/relocated-tribals-protest-at-melghat-reserve-return/

[2] TIGER CONSERVATION IN INDIA AND VOLUNTARY VILLAGE RELOCATION FROM CRITICAL TIGER HABITAT OF TIGER RESERVES. National Tiger Conservation Authority.
https://ncst.nic.in/sites/default/files/2017/Presentation/NTCA.pdf

[3] Times of India. 'Encroachers Evicted from Melghat Tiger Reserve'. Author: Vijay Pinjarkar. July 5, 2017.
https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/nagpur/encroachers-evicted-from-melghat-tiger-reserve/articleshow/59447859.cms

[7] NDTV. 'Over 40 Injured As Forest Guards, Tribals Clash In Maharashtra Village'. Author: Saurabh Gupta. Jan. 23, 2019.
https://www.ndtv.com/india-news/over-40-injured-as-forest-guards-tribals-clash-in-maharashtra-village-1982271

[13] WCS India 'Voluntary Relocation is a win-win exercise for human-wildlife coexistence'.
http://wcsindia.org/home/2020/06/01/vinod-shivakumar-voluntary-relocation/

[16] Times of india 'Grant of CFR in Melghat tiger reserve in contravention to rules, says DyCF'. Author: Vijay Pinjarkar. Dec 5, 2019.
https://m.timesofindia.com/city/nagpur/grant-of-cfr-in-melghat-tiger-reserve-in-contravention-to-rules-says-dycf/amp_articleshow/72374319.cms

[18] Article 14. "India’s Man-Tiger Conflict & The Trauma Of Illegal Relocation".Author: Kavita Iyer, 19 Feb. 2021
https://www.article-14.com/post/india-s-man-tiger-conflict-the-trauma-of-illegal-relocation

[10] Times of India "Melghat to be 4th largest tiger reserve in country". June 15, 2018. Author: Vijay Pinjarkar
https://m.timesofindia.com/city/nagpur/melghat-to-be-4th-largest-tiger-reserve-in-country/amp_articleshow/64593301.cms

[11] Times of India. "NBWL asked to reconsider Melghat rail line decision". Feb.1, 2019. Author Vijay Pinjarkar.
https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/nagpur/nbwl-asked-to-reconsider-melghat-rail-line-decision/articleshow/67780638.cms

[12] Times of India. "State okays felling of 1,760 trees in tiger path for grenade unit". April 17, 2019. Author: Vikay Pinjarkar.
https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/nagpur/state-okays-felling-of-1760-trees-in-tiger-path-for-grenade-unit/articleshow/68912664.cms

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

[14] Ensuring a Fair and Sustainable Process in Critical Wildlife Habitat (CWH) identification in Melghat Wildlife Sanctuary: Interim report on Forest Rights Recognition and Ongoing Relocation. Submitted to Tribal Development Department, Government of Maharashtra. Committee for Monitoring of CWH process under FRA in Melghat Wildlife Sanctuary. March 11, 2020.

Other comments:We are thankful for the information shared by Purnima Upadhya from KHOJ organization.

Meta information

Contributor:Eleonora Fanari, ICTA (UAB), [email protected]
Last update24/05/2019

Images

 

Melghat Tiger Reserve entrance

Photo retrieved from: https://amravati.gov.in/tourism-melghat/

Relocated tribals protest at Melghat reservr

Photo retrieved from: https://indianexpress.com/article/india/relocated-tribals-protest-at-melghat-reserve-return/