If we are here, only then will the jungle remain: Adivasis and forest dwellers

In the recently concluded winter session of Lok Sabha, a question was raised about the scheme for relocation and rehabilitation of villages from forest area for the development of Tiger Reserve Forest and the compensation given to such villagers.



The MoS, Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change explained how the ‘Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, has an incentivized voluntary village relocation programme which inter alia provides for community facilities like access roads, irrigation and drinking water’. It was further explained how the villagers are given an option to either receive package of Rs. 10 lakhs or rehabilitation to be carried out by Forest Department and monitored by District Magistrate.


All such claims of rehabilitation and compensation sound too good to be true on paper and fail on ground. That has been the reality of innumerable government welfare schemes for all categories of marginalised groups in India. Government after government has failed to ensure effective implementation of a good-looking policy.

Survival, a global organization that fights for tribal people’s rights released a report titled “Illegal evictions from India’s tiger reserves”. The report is not just an analysis of the law but has several accounts of persons directly affected, forcefully evicted from their home lands, in complete contravention of the provisions of the law.

The report cited an Economic and Political Weekly article to state that over 1,00,000 people have been removed from protected areas in India. The report goes on to debunk the claims made by the government that compensation and rehabilitation is being provided to the tribal people being evicted ‘with their consent’ from these protected areas. The Report specifically takes a look at forceful and coercive evictions from tiger reserves in India.

The report states that once Adivasis are evicted from the forests, all their rights effectively stand violated including their rights to a secure livelihood, to practice their religion and to protect their culture as their land provides food and housing and is a foundation of their identity, belief system and sense of belonging.

Is eviction of tribal people justified?

The report answers in the negative to this question. The report says that tribal people are evicted from their lands in the name of tiger conservation and fee-paying tourists are welcomed in. The report further alleges that destructive industries and mining activities are also allowed some times.

“In 2019 the central government approved exploration for uranium ore in Amrabad Tiger Reserve, whilst Chenchu families living there were told to leave their homes to create an inviolate space for tigers.”

The report also claims that the Adivasis who live in India’s tiger reserves have managed, protected and depended upon these lands for countless generations. This is why their forests are so appealing to conservationists. It is also held that tribal people are the best guardians of their lands and instead of keeping them at the forefront and working with them to conserve forests, the government is usurping these lands under the garb of conservation, using a top down approach which is leading to an ‘ill-conceived and ineffective’ model of conservation that is in dire need of a transformation.

The Chenchu tribe of Amrabad Tiger Reserve said in their open letter that, “We see the well-being of the forest as our duty, we protect the animals and plants of this wild forest without harming them. This forest is our home. The flora and fauna of this forest are part of our family.”

The report cited some news reports to state that in Biligiri Rangaswamy Temple Tiger Reserve (BRT) (Karnataka) the reverse has been shown: when the Soliga tribe had their rights to live in a tiger reserve recognized, tiger numbers increased far more than the national average; and also that as of 2018, Karnataka, the state with the most tigers, also had the largest number of people living inside the core of its tiger reserves.

The Forest Rights Act (FRA)

As per the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act 2006 (known as the FRA) forest right holders can only be resettled from critical wildlife habitat is certain conditions are met. These conditions require that their rights be recorded and also puts the onus on the government to show that the tribal people in that area are ‘irreversibly harming wildlife and coexistence is not possible’. It also requires that the community needs to give “free and informed consent” for being resettled and rehabilitated which must be done by the Gram Sabha and the rehabilitation and land allocation must be completed.

The FRA was hailed as a monumental law in recognising the rights of tribal people not just individually but also as a community for their land and sustainable use of forest products. The law It recognizes the right of tribal people “to protect, regenerate, or conserve or manage any community forest resource, which they have been traditionally protecting and conserving.”

Wildlife Protection Act

In 2006 even the Wildlife Protection Act was amended in order to recognise tribal rights which also included certain conditions to be met before resettling scheduled tribes or other forest dwellers which are similar to the FRA, as mentioned above and the main clause being consent of the community must be gained to assess whether they are causing irrevocable harm and whether coexistence is possible.

Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act (PESA)

This Act which refers specifically to the “Scheduled Areas” (areas where the tribal population is more than 50%, emphasizes upon the role of Gram Sabha as an appropriate body for making decisions that affect tribal communities and provides that Gram Sabha should be consulted before any resettlements are to take place and that it should approve the plans and projects affecting the tribal people, before such projects are implemented by the government.

Laws disregarded blatantly

It is stated in the report that the Forest Department usually acts in blatant violation of the provisions of the laws and hence effectively the rights of the tribal communities, while forcefully implementing the “resettlement” provisions of the laws.

Many people who were interviewed, had very little understanding of their rights and their rights were not officially recognised, which was the condition to be met for rehabilitation and relocation and hence the entire process can be deemed to be unlawful. It is stated that Chenchu families from Amrabad Tiger Reserve have repeatedly been told by officials that forest rights don’t apply inside the tiger reserve. It has been gathered globally, that the most effective way to lower the incidence of poaching, wildfires and encroachment is to recognize land rights of tribal communities.

Illegal evictions

More often than not, tribal people are not aware that they have the right to say no these evictions and give an informed consent free from duress and coercion. Most evictions are forcefully carried out by Forest Department officials by threatening the tribal people that they will have false cases filed against them and are also told that once they move out of the forest they will be given basic amenities like school and primary health care which are not provided to them while living in the forest.

The Report alleged that the World Wide Fund for Nature was complicit in such evictions and supported forest guards under the garb of working on conservation of Achanakmar and surrounding forests since 2003.

Illegal evictions have been faced by tribal communities in Similipal Tiger Reserve, Nagarhole Tiger Reserve, which are few among the many.

Is compensation and rehabilitation really given?

The report states that monetary compensation is usually not given or if given is less than promised. The promises of fertile lands are also not delivered and instead the evicted tribal people are forced to trek back to the forest for their livelihood as the land allotted to them mostly turns out to be barren un farmable land. 

All of this amounts to not only violation of the laws as abovementioned but also the right to live with dignity and also violates the Scheduled Castes and Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act (Known as the Atrocities Act) as the tribal people are abused and made to forcefully give consent for relocation from their homeland, their forests.

The complete report may be read here:



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