The idea of wilderness or wild, uninhabited area left in its pristine
condition, as conceived by colonial rulers, was instrumental in
shaping the forest laws of India. Beginning with the Forest Act
of 1927 till its amendment of 1980, the pursuit of pristine forests
provoked the forced evictions and harassment of traditional forest
dwelling communities over the years.
Indian forests, however, have never been unpopulated tracts of
wilderness. Between the preservationists and those favoring
cohabitation, ‘People versus Parks’ have become a contentious point of debate. Under Project Tiger, the conception of core area as an inviolate space further heightened this tension. As a watershed, in 2006, the Forest Rights Act recognized the traditional rights of forest dwellers, but it still awaits implementation. It was further
circumscribed by the Critical Wildlife Habitat notification of 2007.
Although the Rehabilitation and Resettlement (R&R) Act of 1893
applicable for protected or reserved forests is iniquitous, the R&R
package for tiger reserves inhabitants based on recommendations of Tiger Task Force (TTF) seemed to be well framed. But an insight into the lives of villagers relocated out of the Sariska Tiger Reserve raises questions about the TTF recommendations as well as their
Can Delhi frame a single policy for habitats which are ecologically, geographically and socially so varied? Or should it?
Can state define and maintain the limits of wildlife range which are
interregional and vary with time? If not, then even with inviolate
spaces man-animal conflicts will continue to arise. Is it then our
failing that we still have not been able to conceive a conservation
policy which ensures harmonious coexistence?
The issues that arise in relation to conservation-induced
displace ment of villages in Sariska indicate problems in the
implementation of the R&R Act and the guidelines laid down by the
National Tiger Conservation Authority. These problems and various other queries arise when one examines the ground realities. The answers are not obvious. But what is obvious is that a proactive role on part of policy makers and forest department, cooperation between centre and state, and involvement of communities in wildlife as well as habitat management is an immediate imperative.
The following articles examine the various issues concerning
Sariska Tiger Reserve, its people, and the magnificent animal at the
centre of it all – the tiger.
As part of cover story, the following three stories try to uncover
the layers off the conservation debate.