Saturday, August 03, 2013

Villagers live close to Kuno, not 12 km away

Villagers live close to Kuno, not 12 km away
The Times of India

Madhya Pradesh officials are once again learnt to have tried to mislead the 12-member committee formed by the Union ministry of forest and environment for translocation of Gir lions. During a key meeting held in Delhi on Monday, members of the committee were told by MP officials that villagers living within the sanctuary area had been shifted to a place about 12 km away.

The reality is very different. Any visitor to the area will find the villagers living very close to the sanctuary and in very unhygienic conditions. The first hamlet is situated barely 200 to 300 meters from the sanctuary while the majority of other villages are within 1-2 km of the sanctuary area.

C N Pandey, chief wildlife warden, Gujarat, had attended the meeting on Monday. He said that "Madhya Pradesh has informed the meeting that the villages are settled 12 km away from the sanctuary."

However, Times of India which had visited the sanctuary found out that the 're-settled' villagers are not only fighting a battle for survival in the courts but also living a life of hardship.

Kutcha houses, polluted drinking water, lack of irrigation facilities - all these have made the life of the Sahariya, Jatav and Adivasi tribes miserable. They are also against the M-P government because they were not compensated properly.

It was in 1995, that the Centre decided to shift a pride of Asiatic lions from Gujarat's Gir National Park to Kuno in Madhya Pradesh. At that time, tribal people from 24 villages that fell within the sanctuary were moved out to make space for the big cats. They were paid Rs 36,000 cash and nine bighas of land each.

However, the tribal villagers claim that this amount was paid to each family and not individually. Under a recent compensation policy, the government has been paying hefty sums to all adults in a family.

"We have been fighting a case in the local courts against the inadequate compensation. In 2000, when we took out a rally to register our protest, the police had opened fire at us," says Radhunath Jatav, a community leader displaced from Kuno.

Baisram Adivasi of Khakhoda village said that the land given to them does not have any irrigation facilities. "We can only sow monsoon crops like bajra, mustard and guvar. For the rest of the year, we depend on forest produce. So we should be given rights to enter the forest to collect herbs and tendu leaves used to make bidi," Baisram said.

Yet another villager, Balram Adivasi, pointed to a hand pump and said: "Just taste the water and tell us if it's potable." Then he brought stinking water in a jug and said: "We have to drink filthy water for the sake of a few lions."

When asked about wheat and sugar that they were supposed to get at subsidized rates, Balram said: "When we were displaced, we were promised regular wheat and sugar but it now comes once in a couple of months."

Ramsinh Jatav, a resident of Agara village, said: "The women are forced to walk nearly one km to get water from the fields." He further said that the government had promised them Rs 36,000 but, in many cases, the bank had given less for want of documents.

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