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Struggle for community rights in the Protected Areas of Biligiri Ranganatha Swami Temple (BRT), India


The Biligiri Rangaswamy Temple Wildlife Sanctuary (BRT) is located in the southeast corner of Chamarajanagar district in the state of Karnataka. The Wildlife Sanctuary (WLS) was established in 1974, and later was declared as a tiger reserve in 2011.The tiger reserve was notified without prior communication and consent of the indigenous Soliga tribals who have been living in the Bilgiri hills for generations [2,6].

In 1974, the area was declared a WLS, without any information passed on to the Soliga tribals living in and around the area. This led to forceful displacement of some of the tribals without any proper relocation process being carried out. Traditional practices, such as shifting cultivation were completely banned within the declared WS [2, 8]. However gathering non-timber forest produce from the BRT (including honey, gooseberry and lichen) continued to remain the main source of their native food system and their economy. In 2006, after the amendment of the Wildlife Protection Act (WLPA), the forest officials restricted the access and collection of non-timber forest produce (NTFPs). Just after this, in 2008, the Soliga decided to go to court and used the recently implemented Forest Rights Act (FRA) to reclaim their rights over their forest land and their resources. “We campaigned rigorously and informed the entire tribe of our traditional rights,” said Shivmallu, a 55 years old Soliga man, recalling their advocacy efforts to gain community forest rights. “We distributed pamphlets in Soliga dialect to every household in every settlement.” [7,5].

With the court ruling in their favour, in August 2010, about 1,200 families received pattas  (land titles) that established their rights over the land [7]. Just at the same time, the forest department in order to create more restrictions in the areas declared the area a Tiger Reserve, in violation of the WLPA and the FRA, as no prior informed consent (as declared by law), was given by the community for its notification. 

Nevertheless, the Soligas have been able to challenge t the forest department thanks to the support of organizations such as Vivekananda Girijana Kalyana Kendra (VGKK) and Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment (ATREE), which have fought for the recognition of the tribal rights [8,4,3]. In October 2011 the Soliga community, which include of 6,000 people living in the core areas and 10,000 people living in the buffer area of the tiger reserve, for a total of 61 podus (villages) got recognized their community rights under the FRA. “The forest department initially coaxed and coerced our people, especially the youths, for relocation from the reserve,” says C. Made Gowda, secretary of Zilla Budakattu Girijana Abhivrudhi Sangh (Soliga Peoples’ Collective). “But we resisted.” [9,4,3] Today, Soliga settlements are spread across all the five ranges of the reserve. The story has been of multiple successes. Indeed it has been recognized that the number of tigers has been highly increased, from 35 in 2010 to 68 in 2014, showing the positive impacts of the community conservation management upon the conservation and management of wildlife [1].

However, as testimony by Made Gowda, the reclamation of their forest rights upon the forest areas have not been an easy process and many accidents and cases of repression have carried on against the Soliga, to coerce them to relocate and leave the forest [8, 5].  Under the Forest Rights Act, the Soliga will now have legal rights to use and protect as much as 60 percent of the reserve, including parts of the core area. The Soligas are now working on a proposal to manage the tiger reserve jointly with the Karnataka state authorities, using their traditional knowledge. About 20,000 Soligas live in Karnataka state, and have been inextricably linked to the Biligirirangan Hills for generations. 

Basic Data

Name of conflict:Struggle for community rights in the Protected Areas of Biligiri Ranganatha Swami Temple (BRT), India
State or province:Karnataka
Location of conflict:Chamarajanagar
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:Ecosystem Services
Tourism services

Project Details and Actors

Project details

The Biligirirangana Hills, commonly called BR Hills, is a hill range situated in south-eastern Karnataka, at its border with Tamil Nadu (Erode District) in South India. The area is called Biligiriranganatha Swamy Temple Wildlife Sanctuary or simply BRT Wildlife Sanctuary. It is a protected reserve under the Wildlife Protection Act of 1972. Being at the confluence of the Western Ghats and the Eastern Ghats, the sanctuary is home to ecosystems that are unique to both the mountain ranges. The site was declared a tiger reserve in January 2011 by the Karnataka government, a few months after approval from India's National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA).

The hills are located at the easternmost edge of the Western Ghats and support diverse flora and fauna in view of the various habitat types supported. A wildlife sanctuary of 322.4 sq km was created around the temple on 27 June 1974, and enlarged to 539.52 square kilometres (208.31 sq mi) on 14 January 1987. In 2011, with the declaration of the Critical Tiger Habitat, the reserve got expanded for a core equal to 359.1 sq km, and a buffer of 215.72 sq km.

The sanctuary derives its name Biligiri (Kannada for white rock) from the white rock face that constitutes the major hill crowned with the temple of Lord Rangaswamy or from the white mist and the silver clouds that cover these hills for a greater part of the year. The hills are in the Yelandur, Kollegal and Chamarajanagar taluks of Chamarajanagar District of Karnataka. They are contiguous with hills in Sathyamangalam Wildlife Sanctuary in Erode District of Tamil Nadu to the south. By road, they are about 90 kilometres (56 mi) from Mysore and 160 kilometres (99 mi) from Bangalore. The road leading to the village on top of the hills may be approached either from Yelandur or Chamarajanagar.

Project area:57,482
Type of populationRural
Affected Population:16,000
Start of the conflict:2006
Relevant government actors:National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA)
Karnataka Forest Department
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Vivekananda Girijana Kalyana Kendra(VGKK)
Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment (ATREE),

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
Social movements
Soliga tribes
Forms of mobilization:Community-based participative research (popular epidemiology studies, etc..)
Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Development of a network/collective action
Development of alternative proposals
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Street protest/marches
Refusal of compensation


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


Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Environmental improvements, rehabilitation/restoration of area
Court decision (victory for environmental justice)
Strengthening of participation
Development of alternatives:The Soligas indigenous community have reclaimed the community rights under the Forest Rights Act, to manage their forest area and conserve the biodiversity.
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:Yes
Briefly explain:For the first time in India, the Community Forest Rights have been recognized in protected areas and inside a Tiger Reserve. This has been possible thanks to the movement of the Soliga community and the support of the NGOs working for the recognition of their rights. Now the protected area is co-managed by the community with the Forest Department.

Sources & Materials

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

[8] REPORT. Community Forest Rights under FRA Citizens Report 2013. Case study: BRT WILDLIFE SANCTUARY. pg. 50

Uma Shankeer (2009). Ecological Consequences of Forest Use: From Genes to Ecosystem - A Case Study in the Biligiri Rangaswamy Temple Wildlife Sanctuary, South India. Conservation and Society, Vol. II, issue II, pag. 347-363;year=2004;volume=2;issue=2;spage=347;epage=363;aulast=Shaanker

[1] Down to Earth. 'Tiger population doubles after tribals allowed to coexist in tiger reserve'. Dec. 11, 2015.

[3] 'Village Square. 'Soligas in tiger reserve win battle over forest rights'. Author: Amoolya Rajappa. Oct. 1, 2018


[7] Scroll. 'How a tribe in Karnataka fought and won a legal battle to stay in a tiger reserve'. Author: Amoolya Rajappa. Oct. 5, 2018

[6] Down To Earth. 'Court upholds Soliga tribe’s community forest rights'. Author: Aparna Pallavi. July 4, 2015.

[5] Down To Earth. 'Defiant: The Bilirangan Temple Sanctuary in Karnataka bristles with angry Soligas. Their sustenance denied, the tribals deliberate their next move'. Author: Nitin Sethi. June 7, 2015.

[9] Earth Journalism Network. 'What happens when the needs of endangered tigers and endangered people collide?' Author: Moushumi Basu. Aug 2, 2016

[2] Sierra. 'Can Tribes and Tigers Coexist in India's Nature Reserves?'. 2017

Other comments:We are thankful for the information shared by Madegowda from the Soliga community and ATREE member.

Meta information

Contributor:Eleonora Fanari, ICTA, UAB. [email protected]
Last update28/05/2019



Soliga tribes in the BRT wildlife Sanctuary

Retrived by:

Soligas Children enjoying the Forest Trees

Retrieved from:

Achugegowda, who has been at the forefront of the Soligas’ legal battle, says the tribe should be integrated into conservation efforts than be alienated.

Retrieved by: (Photo by Amoolya Rajappa)

A soliga paying his obeisance at Devaru Sacred Natural Site in Bilgiri Rangaswami Temple Widlife Sanctuary

REtrieved by: (Source: Nitin D. Rai)