the achanakmaar sanctuary is now to be a tiger reserve under project tiger. this means about 28 villages currently in the sanctuary (and who have been there for several generations) have to move. they will be relocated outside the sanctuary. work on this has already begun: several acres of what is called "degraded forest" is being cleared to provide land for resettlement. villagers have been told that if they don't move now, there will be no land for them later. two villages have already moved: only to find that they have to live under a plastic sheet in this cold weather.
a team from calcutta is busy conducting an anthropological survey of the villages - including an anthropometric survey of children below five. apparently to see what happens to their nutritional status once they are resettled. does it matter? can a severely malnourished child get more malnourished? and what will happen if the child does worsen? - the government will think of some scheme for them, was the answer.
there has been no notice given in writing. nothing to say where each village will be settled, what facilities they will get, what compensation, nothing. it has so far only been by word of mouth, and petty officials scaring the people in the forest. many have not received their pattas under the new forest bill yet, so will not be eligible for much compensation in a court of law.
communities inside the forest are mixed: tribals and non-tribals. however, they have been told the rehabilitation package is only for the tribals and not for others. where will the others go? the yadavs, for example, who tend to the cattle?
an RTI application was filed by one of the villagers last week, asking for information about the proposed displacement. last weekend there was also a meeting of people from 18 villages in the forest, resolving not to move till they were given something in writing; till they were assured of a decent life elsewhere. we have lived in harmony with the forest, they say, we should be left here. a fledgling group is born, trying to take tentative steps to stand up against "authority" as represented by the forest department and other government officials. and the innate diffidence has to be overcome.
two days after the meeting, the sanctuary in charge visited the village in the evening: well after dark, to meet the person who had filed the RTI application. he asked why it had been filed, why a meeting was held the previous weekend, what the applicant wanted. assurances were given that all attempts would be made to ensure that written information would be given. but the village and the person who filed the application are a bit intimidated: they have not been visited by an official before for any reason.
the communities here are a very worried lot. what will happen to us, they ask? where will our cattle graze, where will we find grass to make our brooms, where will our children go to school?
many unanswered questions.