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Simlipal National Park, conflict over conservation project, Odisha, India


Description:

The Simlipal National Park in Mayurbhanj district of Odisha, which is mostly inhabited by indigenous communities, has been a place of conflicts between the local communities and the forest department. The Park, which is spread over 2,750 sq. km, was declared a Tiger Reserve in 1973 and a sanctuary in 1979. In 1986 the central government marked 845 sq. Km of the reserve as a core area; the same was later expanded in 2007 to 1,194.75 sq. km, englobing 5 of the 65 villages that were living within the limits of the park. Since then the forest department has been relocating a number of about 453 families both from core and buffer zone. This has led to a series of conflicts between the indigenous communities and the forest department on different fronts.

Till now the forest department has mostly relocated all the villages (Jenabil, Uppar Bara Kamunda and Bahagar, Jamunagarh, Kobathoghai) situated in the core zone. Only one village, called Bakua, and about two families (the others have been relocated) of Jamunagarh village, have been resisting the relocation. The contradiction is that all these villages have received community forest resource rights under the Forest Rights Act (FRA) in April 2015. Local activists working in this area allege that the forest department has forcefully relocated these villages from the core zone in violation of the FRA; however, the forest authorities sustain that all the relocation has been voluntary. 

The forest department is also relocating villages from the buffer area; till now a village named Kiyajhar (inhabited by the particularly vulnerable tribes (PVTGs) communities of Kharia) has been already involuntarily relocated in December 2016. The last relocation on 24 January 2020, displaced 110 families from the Khejuri village in the buffer area, inhabited by the PVTs of Mankidia and Kharia. According to local sources, the move is not entirely voluntary as has been hailed by the Forest Officials. Reports suggest that more than 50 families have refused to move from the village and are still residing there. The villagers have suggested that they do not want to relocate from the village as it is their home and the whole process has been carried out by the Government taking into account the vested interests of some “local dalals” (local sources). The news also reports that on 16 November 2016 the district administration held a gram sabha meeting with wildlife officials and NGOs, and on that occasion, the villagers rejected the proposal which provided 10 lakh rupees and 10 decimal land and house under the Biju Kutir Yojna scheme [4,5]. There is also a plan to relocate from the buffer zone the village of Badakhasaira ( inhabited by Kolho and Kharia tribes), located at the proximity of the core areas. Cases of harassment and intimidation by the forest guards have been registered in this village. 

Under the banner of the Similipal Surakshya Manch (SSM), tribals and other traditional forest dwellers argued the relocation move was arbitrary and not in sync with the Forest Right Act, 2006. “Five villages have been forcibly relocated (….) outside the STR in violation of the Wildlife Protection Act and the Forest Right Act. Gram Sabha consents have not been taken while the families are being threatened to forgo their traditional right over the forest,” said Telenga Hasa of Jamunagad village [2]. Telenga, who still continues to live along with other two families in the core area, despite the move of other 35 families in September 2015, is leading his villages to struggle against official move to evict them. Because of this, he has been threatened several times by the police officers who have been saying things like, ‘If you try to stay we will lodge many police cases against you, we will say that you are Maoists and we’ll arrest you.’ [1]. 

Besides the relocation from the Tiger Reserve, the conflict over forest rights is being also fought by the particularly vulnerable tribes (PVT) living at the edge of the park, the Mankidia [3]. They claim to live in these forests since centuries and are now reclaiming their habit rights under FRA. The Mankidias are a nomadic tribe whose livelihood depends on the collection of siali fiber, which is found in the dense core area of the jungle. In 2017 there has been contestation over the habitat rights of the Mankidias, essential for the collection of their primary source of livelihood. According to the activists and the local people, the forest department opposed the decision of the district collector to recognize these rights on the core of the TR. This happened just after an order given on 28 March 2017 by the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA), which banned the process of distributing tribal rights in the tiger reserve across India. This order was highly criticized by the social societies, local communities and activists, as considered illegal; it was later put on halt, however, it created lots of violation of rights and harassment at the local level [6]. Such as in the case of the Mankidia in the Simlipal area. 

On the other front, the relocated families, who have been strictly prohibited to enter the forest areas, continue to protest against the poor living condition and the lack of primary sources of livelihood. Most of the families did not receive any land as promised, they have been building up their own houses, and stayed in winter under plastic tenths, violating the provisions of the FRA and WLPA, under which dwelling and houses should be already provided before relocation. 

Basic Data

Name of conflict:Simlipal National Park, conflict over conservation project, Odisha, India
Country:India
State or province:Odisha
Location of conflict:Mayurbhanj
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
Ecosystem Services
Tourism services

Project Details and Actors

Project details

The Simlipal Tiger Reserve, is a compact block of elevated plateau located in the central portion of Mayurbhanj district, in the northern part of Orissa. The Simlipal Reserve Forest spread over 2,750 sq. km, was declared as “Tiger Reserve” on 04.12.1973, under Project Tiger Scheme of India. On 31st December 2007, the Critical Tiger Habitat (CTH) was declared as per the Section 38V of the WLPA amended act, extending its core area over 1194.75 sq. km and a buffer area of 1555.25 sq. km.

The National Park consists of seven ranges with 39 protection camps. The buffer zone has three forest divisions with 12 ranges and 19 protection camps. There is a road network of 597 km within the Core, and 139 km in the buffer zone of Simlipal Tiger Reserve.

There are 1,265 villages inside the Simlipal Biosphere Reserve with a total population of 4.62 lakh, out of which 73.44% belongs to minority groups. Out of 1,265 villages, 61 villages are situated inside the sanctuary area of which 60 villages are in the buffer area and 1 village still exists in the core area. There are 3 Gram Panchayats inside Simlipal, viz. Gudugudia, Barheipani and Astakumar. According to Census 2001 the total ST population in Simlipal area is around 11,520 (91.77%). The buffer has a total population of 12,500 people.

Project area:275,000
Type of populationRural
Affected Population:24.020
Start of the conflict:1973
Relevant government actors:Odisha Forest Department
National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA)
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Vasundhara https://www.vasundharaodisha.org/
CREFTDA http://creftda.org/

Conflict & Mobilization

IntensityMEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
Reaction stageIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups mobilizing:Indigenous groups or traditional communities
Local ejos
Landless peasants
Ethnically/racially discriminated groups
Scheduled Tribes (Adivasi)
Forms of mobilization:Referendum other local consultations
Street protest/marches
Appeals/recourse to economic valuation of the environment
Refusal of compensation

Impacts

Environmental ImpactsVisible: Food insecurity (crop damage)
Potential: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover
Health ImpactsVisible: Malnutrition
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Displacement, Lack of work security, labour absenteeism, firings, unemployment, Loss of livelihood, Militarization and increased police presence, Specific impacts on women, Violations of human rights, Land dispossession, Loss of landscape/sense of place, Other socio-economic impacts
Potential: Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors, Increase in violence and crime, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Social problems (alcoholism, prostitution, etc..)

Outcome

Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Compensation
Criminalization of activists
Migration/displacement
Repression
Application of existing regulations
Development of alternatives:Some villages located in the buffer area, whose community forest rights (CFR) have been recognized, are constituting a forest management committee and 30 villages have already prepared a management and conservation plan for community forest resources. 21 villages have submitted a management plan to the Sub-divisional level committee and approved by the District collector. About 10 villages have already started implementing their management plan with the support of the Forest department. The process is being followed up by Vasundhara and CREFTDA, and a meeting is held with the concerned authorities every month to follow up the process.
However, the real implementation of these rights continues to be obstructed by the forest department, and the indigenous communities are continuously struggling to properly implement the law – a law which has the potentiality to bring out of poverty thousands of people and legalize their status in their forest reserved areas.
Legal Actions:
The first legal action has been taken on 15th December 2014, when the local indigenous activist Telanga Hasa from Jamunagar village, submitted an appeal to the Ministry of Tribal Affair requesting to stop the relocation from the Simlipal Tiger Reserve and provide the basic amenities to villages inside Simlipal. On 15th and 16th December 2016, a National Public Hearing was organized by the Human Rights Law Network, in New Delhi, in support of the Jamunagarh relocated villagers. It was argued that while community rights and titles received their rights were immediately deprived in the relocated site. It was also criticized that the two villagers inside the core areas were continuously denied of asserting their rights, although titles distributed and CFRs recognized.
Since the beginning of 2017 local activists led by Telanga Hasa, have started to get organized to protest against the ongoing eviction under the flag of Simlipal Surakshia Manch (SSM). An important meeting was organized at the state level on 6 January, 2017 in Bhubaneswar, Odisha to protest against the forcible eviction of the villagers from the STR. On that day the representatives of Simlipal Surakshia Manch (SSM) appealed to stop the relocation plan both in core and buffer area, asking to stop the continuous harassment and ensuring basic facilities to the communities of the Simlipal Tiger Reserve.
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:Not Sure
Briefly explain:Although the local communities of Simlipal Tiger Reserve and National Park have got their community forest rights recognized, this cannot be considered a success, as the law here has been instrumentalized to legalized the relocation from the protected reserved areas, which is in an ongoing status. The forest rights recognized under the law continue to get denied by the forest department, harassment and human rights violation continue to take place against the indigenous communities living within the limits of the tiger project.

Sources & Materials

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

The Scheduled Tribes and other traditional forest dwellers (recognition of forest rights) Act, 2006
http://www.tribal.nic.in/FRA/data/FRARulesBook.pdf

section 38V of the Wildlife Protectio Act (WLPA), Amendment 2006
https://indiankanoon.org/doc/1361712/

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

Madhulika Saho (2012), Anthropology of displacement: Case of conservation induced displacement and its impact on indigenous people in Simlipal Tiger Reserve, Odisha, Afro Asian Journal of Anthropology and Social Policy Indian, Vol. 3, No. 2, July- December 2012, pp- 45-52
https://www.researchgate.net/publication/263179559_Anthropology_of_displacement_Case_of_conservation_induced_displacement_and_its_impact_on_indigenous_people_in_Simlipal_Tiger_Reserve_Odisha

Vasundhara Report, 2016. Recognition of community forest rights under the forest rights act: Experience from Simlipal Tiger reserve.

Tribals present Forest Management Plan
https://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-national/tp-otherstates/tribals-present-forest-management-plan/article8382690.ece

The Ecologist, "India: tribes face eviction for "tiger conservation". may 13, 2014.
https://theecologist.org/2014/may/13/india-tribes-face-eviction-tiger-conservation

Business Line "Pushed out of the woods". Author: Bhasker Tripathi. January 12, 2018.
https://www.thehindubusinessline.com/blink/cover/pushed-out-of-the-woods/article9733528.ece

[3] Down to Earth 'Habitat rights of Odisha’s tribal group denied; their livelihood also at stake'. Author: Ishan Kukreti. January 4, 2018.
https://www.downtoearth.org.in/news/habitat-rights-of-odisha-s-tribal-group-denied-despite-district-s-approval-59428

[4] The Indian Express "PVTG families relocated to rehab colony", January 25, 2020
https://www.newindianexpress.com/states/odisha/2020/jan/25/pvtg-families-relocated-to-rehab-colony-2094386.html

[5] Update Odisha. "Villagers oppose forcible relocation from Similipal Tiger Reserve" January 6, 2017.
https://updateodisha.com/2017/01/06/villagers-oppose-forcible-relocation-from-similipal-tiger-reserve-35767/

[6] Down to Earth "Community forest rights in critical tiger habitats under threat" Authors: Shruti Agarwal, Soujanya Shrivastava. January 17, 2017.
https://www.downtoearth.org.in/news/forests/community-forest-rights-in-critical-habitats-face-hurdle-due-to-lack-of-legal-roadmap-57602

[2] The Hindu 'Tribals against shifting of villages from protected areas', June 9, 2017.
https://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-national/tp-otherstates/Tribals-against-shifting-of-villages-from-protected-areas/article17002794.ece

[1] Tribal leader targeted for resisting eviction from tiger reserve, Survival International, March 27, 2015
https://www.survivalinternational.org/news/10704

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

India: Tiger Reserve tribe faces eviction
https://www.survivalinternational.org/news/10488

Other comments:We are thankful for the information shared by the organization Vasundhara and its members.

Meta information

Contributor:Eleonora Fanari, [email protected]
Last update19/07/2018

Images

 

entry to Simlipal Tiger Reserve

Two women getting back to thei village adter having collected some mahua flowers from the forest. Main entry of Simlipal Tiger Reserve. Credit: Eleonora Fanari

Mankidia tribe debarking Siali fiber in Similipal Tiger Reserve. Down to Earh. Subrat Nayak

Image retrieved from: https://www.downtoearth.org.in/news/forests/habitat-rights-of-odisha-s-tribal-group-denied-despite-district-s-approval-59428

Relocated Camp of ex Kabathgai village

Provisory mud houses in the Manada colony, far about 60 to 70 km from the Kabathgai villages, in Simlipal Tiger Reserve, where the 40 relocated families used to live. Credit: Eleonora Fanari

Relocated Camp of ex Kiyajhar to Khonduador

relocation camp in Khoduador, where a number of about 47 PVTG families of Kharia tribe and 32 Kholo families live. Credit: Eleonora Fanari