Relocation, resettlement and displacement of people have been carried out for several reasons in India and the history of such efforts goes back forty years. In India it is estimated that resettlement for conservation is a small fraction (less than one percent) of the more than sixty million people relocated for other reasons. The nature of these efforts has ranged from forcible eviction to voluntary relocation and they have ranged from abject failure to mixed success.
Relocation and resettlement of people from protected areas remains a controversial issue in the conservation community. A study by Krithi K. Karanth published in the journal Biological Conservation (2007), based on a survey of 419 resettled families, examines resettlement from Bhadra Wildlife Sanctuary and Tiger Reserve, documenting the process, its opportunities and challenges.
Bhadra Wildlife Sanctuary and Tiger Reserve located in Karnataka’s Western Ghats.
Surveys of 61% of households were conducted in 2002 during relocation and 55% of households in 2006 after relocation from 11 villages.
Prior to Relocation
- People faced intense conflicts such as livestock predation, crop raiding and occasional death/ and injury to people. Livestock predation led to losses of 12% and crop losses were 15% annually.
- People lacked basic facilities such as no electricity and running water, poor school, medical and transportation facilities.
Relocation Timeline and Events
- In the 1970s people in some villages requested the Karnataka governments help to relocate and settle outside.
- Karnataka government proposes resettlement project in 1974.
- Government surveys carried out in 1987-1992 to identify eligible households.
- Karnataka government releases funds in 1996 and additional funding requested from the Central government.
- One village files court case in 1999 against resettlement and case is dismissed in 2001.
- Local conservationist Mr. D. V. Girish and non-governmental organizations Bhadra Wildlife Conservation Trust, Wildlife First and Nature Conservation Guild get involved.
- Project tiger steering committee ensures funds are protected between 1992-2002.
- Consensus building efforts by the NGOs and forest department in 1998-2001.
- People receive land deeds In M.C. Halli and Kelaguru in October 2001 and 419 families move.
After relocation: Positives and Negatives
- Land titles and other aid were distributed fairly.
- All households have access to electricity, running water, phones, television, solar lights and gas cooking stoves.
- All children are in school and have access to primary and secondary education.
- Fifty people have attended college for the first time.
- Health care centre and nursery have been established.
- People in M. C. Halli were able to grow first crops within 6 months of moving due to availability of fertile land and irrigation. People in Kelaguru took several years to establish their coffee crops.
- People have expanded their income sources from just farming to shops, restaurants and other businesses.
- People do not face crop raiding or livestock depredation.
- People have access to markets, cities and transportation facilities.
- Fertile land and ability to diversify crop production particularly sugar cane and diversify yields.
- People have limited access to firewood, non-timer forest products, and grazing land.
- People have had to supplement their income by working as laborers.
- Some people unsatisfied with plot sizes and their inability to expand their land.
- Initially faced some hostility from other residents in the area.
Implications for Bhadra
- Recovery of 8-10% of forest area disturbed by human activities (see Karanth et al. 2006 Biological Conservation for more details).
- Removal of grazing pressure from more than 4000 livestock and improve forage available for wild herbivores such as gaur, sambar, chital and muntjac.
- Recovery of species that were collected for fuel wood needs. Wood consumption ranged between 2000-22000 kgs/week across villages.
- Recovery of non-timber forest products collected such as bamboo, Sterculia species, amla, Acacia species, Artocarpus species, Sapindus species, wild fruits, mushrooms and honey.
- Decrease in small scale localized fires inside the park.
- Decrease in poaching and fishing activities inside the park.
- Ungulate densities of species such as chital have already quadrupled inside the park and densities of other prey are expected to follow suit with adequate protection.
Resettlement in India: Beyond Bhadra
Overall approval for the project in 2002 was 71% and this decreased to 52% in 2006. The potential reasons for this include missing households during the time of the second survey, people in Kelaguru taking longer to re-establish themselves, and
Inability of one question on satisfaction to capture all the positive aspects of this effort.
Reasons for success include no forcible eviction of people and consensus building due to the active involvement of local NGOs, forest and revenue departments in the planning and execution of the project. Other reasons include equitable land tenure, fertile land and good facilities provided. People were actively consulted about their needs and several facilities were provided (water, electricity, schools, health care etc). The involvement of local NGOs was critical to ensuring that the governmental agencies delivered on their promises. Culturally people were non-tribal groups and recent migrants who were able to adapt quickly to their new environment.
In 2005 following the recommendations of the Tiger Task Force report, conservation resettlement has emerged a major policy initiative of the Indian government. There is now a major central government initiated effort along with the introduction of a substantial financial package (Rs 10 lakh per household) to relocate and resettle thousands of families from several protected areas across India particularly tiger reserves and critical wildlife habitats. These new efforts will affect tens of thousands of people. Therefore, there is urgent need to examine and assess if and when resettlement should be done, who should be involved, and how should it be implemented. The success in Bhadra is often cited as an “exception” and different from all other resettlement efforts (Gir, Kanha, Kuno, Sariska) in India. However, this need not be the case.
Also see related article: Voluntary Resettlement from Bhadra Tiger Reserve, Karnataka