Baiga indigenous people march to protest evictions from wildlife corridor

Earlier this week, more than 300 indigenous Baiga people took part in a two-day march in protest at evictions from the proposed Kanha-Achanakmar tiger corridor.

The Wire reports that the Baiga receive frequent threats from forest department officials that they will be evicted from their homes to make way for the tiger corridor.

They walked a distance of 70 kilometres, from Bahpani village to Pandariya town in Kawardha district in the state of Chhattisgarh.

The proposed Kanha-Achanakmar tiger corridor is intended to connect the Kanha and Achanakamar tiger reserves. More than 200 villages are likely to be affected by the corridor project. The Baiga demand that their rights to remain in the forest and to manage community forests are respected in accordance with the 2006 Forest Rights Act.

The march was organised by the people’s organisation Gaon Bachao Samiti. Naresh Bunkar the head of Gaon Bachao Samiti told the Wire,

“There is no written communication yet to the village residents about displacement. But, forest department officials have carried out a survey here and they keep telling people that the area will be earmarked into a corridor for tigers and that they would have to eventually shift.”

Police intimidation

At the start of the march, three police jeeps turned up and attempted to stop the march. The police claimed that the Baiga had not informed the police about the march, and no permission had been granted. In fact, Gaon Bachao Samiti had informed the local Kukdur police station and the Pandariya sub divisional magistrate about the march two days in advance.

The police detained three members of Gaon Bachao Samiti. Bunkar commented that,

“This is not the first time that we are holding a rally. Non-implementation of forest rights claims, no water facility and irregular supplies from ration shops have been longdrawn unmet demands. But, this is the first time that we are seeing such clampdown by the state establishment.”

The march went ahead despite the police intimidation.

Magistrate: “No proposal to develop tiger corridor”

When the Baiga reached Pandariya town they held an assembly. A resolution and letters from each village were submitted to Sunil Kumar, the sub-divisional magistrate. Kumar told the Baiga that there was no proposal at present to develop a tiger corridor in the region. Kumar added,

“About forest rights, we will initiate an inquiry on the titles that have been granted and also begin the processes for handing over community forest rights.”

WWF: “Kanha-Achanakmar Corridor ensures connectivity”

Nevertheless, on its website, WWF India describes the Kanha-Achanakmar corridor as if it already exists:

Kanha-Achanakmar Corridor ensures connectivity and is significant for sustenance of tiger population of Achanakmar and for meta-population of Kanha- Achanakmar complex in Central India. The corridor is also an important dispersal and breeding ground for tigers between the two reserves.

WWF’s map of the Kanha Achanakmar Corridor Walk – the corridor is pale green.

In November 2017, WWF-India organised a very different walk in the Kanha-Achanakmar corridor. WWF-India organised the walk in collaboration with the Forest Departments of Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. WWF-India invited people to take part in the walk, so that they could “understand the importance of wildlife corridors in the present day conservation scenario”.

The walk included “community interaction sessions”. One of the participants, Aparna Pal Chauhan said,

“Through this walk, I have learnt that WWF-India is deeply involved in not only the conservation of animals but also in the development of villages in the buffer zone and corridor. I understood how getting the goodwill of the village people is imperative in conservation efforts.”

If this was true in November 2017, why did more than 300 indigenous Baiga people take part in the protest march five months later?

The reality is that the Baiga have been illegally evicted from the Kanha National Park since 1968. In the winter of 2009, Baiga living in Achanakmar tiger reserve were evicted. The government only built concrete houses for those evicted after one person had died from the cold.

And forest department officials are now threatening the Baiga with eviction from the Kanha-Achanakmar tiger corridor.

PHOTO credit: Humans of Gondwana.

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