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Five villages forcibly dislocated from Odisha's Similipal tiger reserve, more on cards: Civil society activists

Tribals evicted from the reserve area
By Our Representative
Bringing to light what they termed as “illegal relocation” of five tribal villages of Similipal Tiger Reserve by the Mayurbhanj district administration and the Forest Department, Odisha, two civil rights organizations, Similipal Surakhya Manch, Mayurbhanj and the Campaign for Survival and Dignity (CSD), have said that plans are now underway to relocate more villages from what is called the “buffer zone” of the tiger reserve.
Talking with media at Mayurbhanj, senior activists said, this was being done “flouting all statutory rights of the tribals vested under the Forest Rights Act (FRA), 2006 as also the Wildlife Protection (Amendment) Act (WLPA), 2006 and the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act (LARR), 2013.
Addressed, among others, by Prafulla Samantarai, lead campaigner, National Alliance of Peoples’ Movement (NAPM), the apex body of several grassroots organizations across India, Father Nicholas Barla of the Indiginious Peoples Forum, and Manohar Chouhan from CSD, the activists said, the provision of buffer zone aims at promoting co-existence between people and wildlife with due recognition of the livelihood, developmental, social and cultural rights of the local people under Section 38 V of of the WLPA.
Giving the example of village Kiajhari, the activists said, it has been relocated without the mandatory recognition of forest rights, with similar plans being worked out for relocating more villages from there, which is illegal and has caused great concern among the tribals and Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups (PVTGs), living in the Simlipal tiger reserve.
All five tribal villages which have been forcibly evicted are from the core area of the Similipal Tiger Reserve, the media was told, adding, The process was in clear violation of the FRA and the WLAP, which clearly mandate protection of rights of tribals and forest dwellers while promoting co-existence in the wildlife sanctuaries, national parks and tiger reserves.
Tribals giving testimony at the media conference
Laws, it was pointed out, mandate free prior informed consent of gram sabhas for relocation, whereas in these cases a supposed ‘consent’ was obtained under duress. Instead of compensation for the recognised rights, they received the National Tiger Conservation Authority’s (NTCA’s) fixed package of Rs 10 lakh per family totally ignoring replacement or compensation for lost community forest resource rights in violation of LARR.
The rights of these tribal communities under FRA and WLPA are yet to be recognised”, the activists said, adding, their claims for forest rights are pending with the district administration. The administration, however, decided unilaterally that forest rights titles won’t be issued to these villages which were due to be relocated. This is a blatant violation of both FRA and WLPA.
Meanwhile, it was pointed out, harassment of the tribal communities by the Mayurbhanj district administration and the Similipal Tiger Reserve authorities continues. The villagers unwilling to leave their homes and habitation and who are resisting relocation are being systematically told they would have to leave.
Samantrai accused the district administration, Mayurbhanj, and the Odisha government for undermining the power of gram sabha while forcibly relocating people from their forest, organizing false gram sabhas. “The future of Similipal is insecure without tribals”, he said, adding, “Implementation of FRA must go in full speed and true spirit to protect tribals rights.”

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