Exploitation of tribals in the name of National Parks

23 May 2012, Seoni

On May 23, first stop of Yatra was in Bahrai village of Seoni district where panchayat council members held a meeting together. Addressing the meeting, Arjun Kakode, Janpad member of Seoni district said that this area of Seoni district was basically a tribal area where mainly Goud and other tribes resided. He said that in between Kanha and Pench National Parks, tribals of this land were facing dual problems. On one side, where millions of rupees were being spent in the name of wildlife conservation in the form of Tiger Project, on other hand regional development plans were not being implemented so far despite this area coming under tribal development sub-plan. In most of villages, basic services like drinking water, education and health were not adequate. In order to strengthen forest based livelihoods in tribal areas, though the forest-product marketing centers have been opened, but purchasing power of these centers is very low. So even after the hard work of collecting the forest produce, the tribals are not getting fair prices. Sunil Rana, Sarpanch of Bahrai, said that out of 25 families, 19 were given Forest Rights papers for the forest land they were occupying but in none of these cases complete settlement was done so far. He told that the biggest challenge was in the settlement of community rights in the region. In fact, forest based livelihoods could have been strengthened by proving community rights in forest areas but it was not done even in a single village of the area.

The second stop of the Yatra was Seoni district headquarters where a general meeting was organized by elected representatives. Addressing the meeting, Mohan Chandel, President of District Panchayat, said that this campaign of Jansatyagrah was in fact not against any government but for the change of the system, indirectly. He told that after Forest Rights Act, the tribes of the region had started believing that they would get not only the rights on their occupied lands but community rights in forests also but the claims from 36 villages had not been accepted in the name Pench Natioanl Sanctuary. In fact, these villages would be acquired by ceating a buffer zone for Tiger Project. He told that this kind of system could be challenged only by the collective strength of people and peoples’representatives should participate in this movement. Janpad President of Lakhnadaun, Rajeshwari Uike said that massive misuse of public funds continued in tribal areas. Most of the money which comes in the name of tribal development in the area is not utilized by concerned departments. So, block and village Panchayats needed to be given more powers to get associated in process of implementation. She said that the implementation of Forest Rights Act was still dominated by forest department, which should be changed by giving more administrative authority and financial grants to Janpad and village level elected representatives to avoid delay and inaction at the level of implementation. Sukh Ram Dhurve said that in the area of Lakhnadaun in most of the villages, Forest Rights claims had not been accepted yet. He further told that claims of community rights were also not accepted in any of villages yet and in many cases even the orders of state government were not adhered. Senior social worker, Braj Kishor Chaurasiya said that most of the land, on which rights had been given to tribal families, was barren. Government had announced on many occasions to provide support for land development but so far no such program of financial support for land development could start in this area. He told that tribes in this area were still being beaten up. Most of the villages were restricted in the use of their nistar-rights in Pench National Park area especially due to which livelihoods of tribals was highly threatened. He also told that displaced people from Pench National Park and Bargi Dam were not properly rehabilitated yet. Families living in this area are tortured and arrested in the name of violation of the Wildlife Protection Act if they try to fish in the dam. He said that so far over sixty such cases were resistered. Social worker,Saurabh Shukla said that in this pivotal movement of Jansatyagrah, social organizations of Seoni district would also participate and a paralell movement would also start at district level from 2nd October.

In the words of Bhagirath Verma…
Bhagirath Verma of Kewlari village said that currently the farmers are cultivating onion, garlic and ginger but annual loss of farmers was increasing due of unjustified system of government. He said that in cultivation of onion in one acre of plot, cost was in the form of seeds worth Rs 3000, fertilizers worth Rs 4000, medication worth Rs 1000, plantation worth Rs 3000, soil making worth Rs 2000, pesticides worth Rs 1000, plucking of onion costing Rs 4,000 and transportation of Rs.1, 000 making the total cost of onion farming on 1 acre around Rs 19,000. Approximately 20,000 kilograms of onions were produced in 1-acre land which was sold at a rate of Rs. 0.50 per kg in the vegetable market. In this way only Rs 10,000 was received despite investment of Rs 20,000 in 1-acre making average loss of about Rs 10,000 per acre. He said that brokers having government license were buying onion from farmers at the rate of Rs. 0.50 per kg and selling it at the rate of about Rs.15 to 20 per kg in vegetable market. Most of the agents were buying it without license and selling it in vegetable markets of big cities through hawala. He said that due to this discrepancy, the farmers of onion, ginger and garlic of this area, were badly affected. He said that it was in similar ways that ginger farmers had to sell their produce at the rate of Rs 3000 per quintal whereas brokers who purchased it for Rs 3,000 per quintal were selling it at a net profit of Rs 15 to 20 thousands per quintal.

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