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Eviction in Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary and Muthanga Adivasi agitation, Kerala, India


Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary was constituted as a separate entity in 1985. There are about 107 settlements comprising 2,613 households within the boundary of the Wildlife Sanctuary. The total population of these households is of 10,604 (info from the WWS Plan). These households comprise different tribal communities, OBCs and others. The PVTG adivasi of Kattunaikar and Mullu Kuruma, are the majority in the area, and they are considered the “real” forest dwellers of the sanctuary as they have a closer relationship to the forest. The Adivasis of this area have been struggling to reclaim their land since decades; one of the most important struggles took place in 2003 under the name of ‘Muthanga’ where thousands of Adivasis occupied the Muthanga range of the WWS to occupy the land considered by them ancestral territories[1] .

In an article in Febr. 2019 [9] Kora Abraham writes: "Nestled amidst the silence and the towering trees, inside a forest, near the Mananthavady area of Wayanad district, it wasn’t an easy task to reach the house of CK Janu, one of the leaders of the Muthanga agitation and leader of the Adivasi Gothra Maha Sabha (AGMS)... Janu doesn’t waste any time with small talk as she starts recapping the infamous Muthanga Adivasi agitation. The Muthanga agitation in 2003 can be said to be one of the landmark protests in the history of the tribal communities in the country in their fight to obtain cultivable land“. It all began in 2001 after 30 tribals died of starvation. "Following their deaths, thousands of tribals, led by the AGMS, took to a kudil kettal samaram (protest tents) outside the Chief Minister’s office in Thiruvananthapuram", the Adivasi leader told Kora Abraham. [9] According to Janu, the agitation in Muthanga gave the Adivasis the courage to fight for their rights. “It was following this agitation, that the whole concept of ‘bhoomi samaram’ (protesting for land) was formed, where Adivasis would enter the land, set up tents and start cultivating as a sign of protest.” [9]. On 19 February 2001 a policeman and a tribal died. Since then, the tribals of Wayanad get together in Muthanga to pay tribute to Jogi, the Adivasi who died during the clashes [9]. 

After the implementation of the Forest Rights Act in 2007 the situation did not change much; although Wayanad has been considered the district in India where the majority of IFRs have been distributed, this has become more an administrative work rather than a real distribution of land. Indeed, as an indigenous Paniyar of Wayanad says: “What help will the FRA bring? They are not giving us extra land. Only a paper for the house that we already own.”[10].

In contrast, while Individual Patta (land title) were distributed, an eviction plan started in 2012, when the Kerala Forest Department proposed to convert the sanctuary in a Tiger Reserve, but the plan got contested and opposed. This led to waves of protests and agitations against the ‘move’ to turn the Wayanad WLS as a Tiger Reserve, as there was a genuine worry on new restrictions on the area, such as displacement and no freedom of activities within the core area [2] . Although the wildlife sanctuary has never been converted into a Tiger Reserve displacement has started to be carried out. In the major national and local newspapers, the relocation has been called as ‘voluntary’[3] , however as per local discussions with the community the people have been induced to move out under a compensation plan which was not properly respected. Indeed the community rights under the Forest Rights Act have been denied to the communities and the ‘free informed consent’ for relocation not properly taken. Instead of cultivable land, only a homestead land has been distributed leaving people in the same chain of poverty.

About 4 villages, vis. Goloor, Ammavayal, Arakunchi, Kottangara have been already relocated for a number of 182 families  and there is a plan to urgently relocate other 14 settlements from the forest area. According to the FD the settlements recognized to be relocated are equal to 110. According to the MoEF official data, from 2011 to 2014, the MoEf allocated an amount of 17.8 lakh rupees for the relocation project [4]. On September 2017, a report in The Hindu states that Kerala Government is seeking 100 crore rupees for the relocation of families from protected areas[5]. In 2013, 16 families that got relocated protested for the poor conditions of rehabilitation saying they did not receive the 10 lakh rupees which were promised, and hence decided to come back to their land [6].

Drawing from the negative experience of the already relocated families, new families which are now planned to be relocated, have started to protest inside the sanctuary asking for a fair compensation before relocation starts [7]. However, another TOI article of the same year, 2018, documents that 56 families out of the 234 families have been relocated from Chettiyaur village, at the core of the sanctuary. This move will help the sanctuary to add over 200 acres to the core of the WWS [8].  

However, land distribution continues to be an issue in the Wayanad territory. The community continues struggling for the recognition of their community forest rights under FRA. Individual forest Rights (IFRs) have been distributed to almost every family, however, the same families are also planned to be evicted in contradiction with the FRA law. Moreover, false cases continue to be filed against tribal activists to silent their struggle for rights [11]. 

Basic Data

Name of conflict:Eviction in Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary and Muthanga Adivasi agitation, Kerala, India
State or province:Kerala
Location of conflict:Sultan Bathery
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
Biological resources
Tourism services

Project Details and Actors

Project details

Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary was notified in 1973 by carving areas out of the Wayanad and Kozhikode Territorial Divisions. A separate Wildlife Division, the Wayanad Wildlife Division was constituted in 1985. There are 13 Reserved Forests in this sanctuary. The Sanctuary is a part of Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve and Project Elephant Reserve No. 7. It is contiguous with Mudumalai Wildlife Sanctuary of Tamil Nadu and Bandipur and Nagarahole National Park of Karnataka.

It is an animal sanctuary and it has an extent of 344.44 km² with four ranges namely Sulthan Bathery, Muthanga, Kurichiat and Tholpetty. A variety of large wild animals such as Indian bison, elephant, deer and tiger are found there. The area is divided into a core and a buffer zone. The Core Zone, including an area of 111 sq. km, comprises natural forests including areas contiguous to interstate boundaries. Forestry and managing intervention activities are only allowed in the buffer zone. It is also identified as a tourism zone, which lies in the area of Muthanga and Tolphetty ranges. It has been proposed to develop this area to provide adequate facilities for the tourists.

Project area:34,440
Level of Investment:20,000,000
Type of populationRural
Affected Population:10,600
Start of the conflict:01/09/2001
Relevant government actors:Kerala Forest Department
International and Finance InstitutionsWorld Wildlife Fund (WWF) from Switzerland
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Adivasi Dalit Action Council – which later became the Adivasi Gothra Maha Sabha (2003)

Conflict & Mobilization

IntensityHIGH (widespread, mass mobilization, violence, arrests, etc...)
Reaction stagePREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)
Groups mobilizing:Indigenous groups or traditional communities
Landless peasants
Ethnically/racially discriminated groups
Indigenous group of Kattunaikar and Mullu Kuruma. Adivasi woman leader C.K. Janu
Forms of mobilization:Blockades
Development of a network/collective action
Development of alternative proposals
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Media based activism/alternative media
Street protest/marches
Occupation of buildings/public spaces


Environmental ImpactsVisible: Food insecurity (crop damage)
Potential: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation
Health ImpactsPotential: Health problems related to alcoholism, prostitution, Malnutrition
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Displacement, Lack of work security, labour absenteeism, firings, unemployment, Loss of livelihood, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, 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, Social problems (alcoholism, prostitution, etc..)


Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Criminalization of activists
Deaths, Assassinations, Murders
Violent targeting of activists
Project temporarily suspended
Development of alternatives:Local people supported by the forest department ae failing individual and collective forest rights.
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:Not Sure
Briefly explain:The protest of people since 2003 led to promises of land allocation and later led to suspend the plan and trying to convert the Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary into a Tiger Reserve. However displacement is carried out by the Forest Department although it is not a Tiger Reserve yet, and the communities have been induced to move out of the forest place, often with a false promise of land and money.

Sources & Materials

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

The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers Act, 2006

The Hindu. "Settlers in Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary to be relocated". April 9, 2012. Author: K.M Manoj

[2] The Hindu. "Tiger-rich Wayanad yearns for support". Jan. 22, 2015. Author: K.S. Sudhi

[3] The Hindu. "Settlers in Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary to be relocated", April 9, 2012. Author: E.M. Manoj

[6] PA Updates, February 2013, ( No 101) pg. 6

[5] The Hindu. "State seeks Rs. 100 cr to relocate forest dwellers". Sept. 17, 2017

The Times of India. "Voluntary relocation project in Wayanad faces hurdle". Jan 30, 2019. Author: K R Rajeev

[4] MOEF Websiet data

[1] The Hindu. "Two kills as tribal, police clash". February 20, 2003. Author: Madhavan Nair

[7] The Times of India. "Wayanad sanctuary relocation plan delayed as families protest". Feb 28, 2018. Author: K. R. Rajeev

[9] Muthanga agitation, 16 years after 2003. Interview by Kora Abraham with CK Janu, one woman Adivasi leader of the Muthanga agitation and leader of the Adivasi Gothra Maha Sabha (AGMS)

[10] The Forest Rights Act and Wayanand's Paniyas. In Current Conservation. Author: Poorna Balaji, Siddhartha Krishnan

[8] The Hindu. "No move to declare Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary a tiger reserve: officials". August 29, 2014. E.M. Manoj

[8] Times of India. "Villagers of largest settlement to move out". Juen 28, 2018. Author: K R Rajeev.

[9] Down To Earth. "Tribals are being treated like stray cattle". July 4, 2015.

[11] Down To Earth. "Tribals are being treated like stray cattle". July 4, 2015.

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

Scroll in. 19 Febr. 2019. In Kerala, Adivasis continue to fight for land rights 15 years after violent agitation.

Meta information

Contributor:Eleonora Fanari, [email protected], ICTA
Last update23/02/2019




Jogí's memorial monument (killed in agitation of 2003)


Wayanand Wildlife Sanctuary


Muthanga Agitation