Hoshangabad Adivasisв Struggle for Survival sign now

Dear Sir,

Adivasis of the Hoshangabad district in Madhya Pradesh have been fighting for their right to a dignified life. This struggle has now reached a critical juncture where your support is required.

Displaced time and againв

Adivasis of the Hoshangabad district have faced the tragedy of displacement because of several projects time and again. Tawa Dam built in the 70s displaced 44 tribal villages, proof range meant for the purpose of testing military weapons displaced 26 villages, and 9 villages had to be removed to make way for the ordinance factory. After the declaration of Satpura National Park in 1981, two villages were displaced. Forest department officials harassed five families of Neemghan village that refused to move out; the officials burned their homes to ashes.

People from all of these villages also met the fate of crores of other poor people who have been displaced all over India on some pretext or the other. While many of the villagers here werenвt compensated at all, few of them received petty amounts ranging from Rs. 35 to Rs. 200 per acre. Half of these villages didnвt stand any chance of receiving any compensation as they were forest villages where the government didnвt recognize land-ownership rights. The government didnвt make any efforts whatsoever to rehabilitate them at alternative sites in order to help them live a normal life. No one else cared to see if these people were able to make ends meet.

Finally, people organized themselves and we founded Kisan Adivasi Sangathan in 1985. Since then people have raised their voice and have protested through rallies, demonstrations, dharnas and foot marches. On December 9, 1995, local people organised a road blockade at Kesla on Bhopal-Nagpur highway. Police resorted to lathi-charge, several people were wounded and many more were arrested. Following this agitation, government of Madhya Pradesh constituted a secretary-level committee to look into the demands of the displaced people. Acting on the report submitted by the committee, the state cabinet took certain decisions, some of which were implemented while the rest of those decisions are yet to be implemented. While we continue to fight, we are faced with several other challenges.

Atrocities in the name of tiger conservation

Government has declared three protected areas for wildlife conservation in this district- Satpura National Park, Bori Wildlife Sanctuary, and Pachmarhi Wildlife Sanctuary. All these protected areas were combined recently to form Satpura Tiger Reserve, to be managed under the Project Tiger. However, these protected areas are not only home to the tiger but several villages are also located inside these forests. There are 8 villages in the Satpura National Park, 17 inside the Bori Wildlife Sanctuary, and another 50 villages within the boundaries of Pachmarhi Wildlife Sanctuary. In addition to these 75 villages, there are 50 villages located close to the boundaries of these protected areas where people regularly make use of these forests. In recent years use of forest by these villagers has been severely restricted and local people are not allowed to work for their subsistence by harvesting and selling products such as honey, broom, ropes made with Bhabhar grass, Tendu leaves, Mahua seeds, and flowers, and other forest produce. Even grazing of cattle in the forest and harvesting of fodder and fuel-wood has been banned in these forest areas. This has led to a severe crisis of hunger and starvation. Rights of passage, which were recognized even in British times, have been banned so that local villagers and their guests cannot travel to some of the villages without being harassed by the forest officials. The development activities carried out by the elected village panchayats are not allowed either in these areas.

Ban on Fishing and Cultivation

Tawa Reservoir made as a result of the Tawa dam has also been included within the boundaries of Satpura Tiger Reserve. People displaced at the time of construction of Tawa dam have resettled themselves along the banks of Tawa reservoir and earn their livelihoods by catching fish in the reservoir and doing draw-down cultivation in the submergence area after the reservoir waters recede. However Satpura Tiger Reserve authorities are trying to ban even these subsistence activities, which means that tribals of these 50 villages may be displaced again and their lives and livelihoods may be devastated once again.

Rights to harvest fish in Tawa reservoir were won by the people displaced because of the Tawa dam in 1996 after a prolonged struggle. Following this vitory, villagers organized themselves into 34 primary fishing cooperative societies and a cooperative federation known as вTawa Matsya Sanghв. The federation has been successful in enhancing fish production, employment availability, and membersв income. By all accounts, the federation has performed far better than the contractors and government agencies that used to catch fish from the reservoir prior to 1996. The federation has received accolades from all over the country but some people in the state government have not liked federationвs success because we have neither bribed any one nor appeased the politicians. As a result several attempts were made to dismantle the federation but we have survived solely because of our unity, honesty and integrity.

The lease agreement for fishing rights in Tawa reservoir that Tawa Matsya Sangh signed with the MP government comes to an end on 23rd December, 2006. While we have submitted an application for renewal of the contract, so far there is no response from the government. Satpura Tiger Reserve authorities have also objected to the renewal of the contract and they argue that fishing cannot be permitted inside a national park. These are the orders of the Supreme Court, they argue. If the contract is not renewed, a unique experiment in cooperative fishing will not survive and hundreds of families will lose the only means of their livelihoods.

Dhain and Dobjhirnaв

The forest department is making all-out efforts to push people out of the national park and the sanctuary. The forest officials are making villagersв life difficult by restricting their life-support activities and pressurizing people to leave their villages. People are being told that they have no option but to move out. Last year, Dhain village was displaced and resettled outside the Bori sanctuary. The site of resettlement was prepared after clearing 500 acre of standing forests by cutting 50,000 trees. A tribal village, Dobjhirna was already located at the site of relocation. The forest land вencroachedв by Dobjhirna village was taken over from them to resettle Dhain. Forest department officials committed brutal atrocities on the men, women, and children of Dobjhirna village for taking control over the land. The department also tried to create a conflict between the adivasis of the two villages. People of Dhain who were вresettledв, are also now facing a severe crisis of livelihood. They are forced to sell head-loads of firewood for their survival. They are on brink of starvation and destitution.

Questionsвand more questions

There are 75 villages located inside the Satpura Tiger Reserve, out of which 50 villages are planned to be relocated. The question is how many trees will have to be cut, and how much forest will be destroyed for вresettlingв 50 villages if 50,000 trees had to be cut for settling just one village? How many more villages like Dobjhirna will be harassed? Why the government is so adamant on displacing and devastating tribals? The government and the 'Sahibs' have wiped out forests and the wild animals themselves. Why are we being punished for the crimes that have been committed by others? Why has government come up with such a law where animals are protected but there is no place for the people living in the forest areas? If we are thrown out of the forests, neither forests nor the tiger will survive. Donвt we know what all the corrupt officials are capable of?
When we approach the government with our problems they excuse themselves by hiding behind the Supreme Court orders. Does it mean that the tribals and their lives are of no consequence for the government and the Supreme Court? How long we will be kicked around like footballs? We are not ready to tolerate this any more.

World Bankвs interventionв

As if all of this was not enough, we are faced with another serious problem. The World Bank is also preparing to intervene in our region and forests. With loans from the World Bank and funds from the Global Environmental Facility (GEF), Government of India is launching a project on вBiodiversity Conservation and Rural Livelihood Improvementв. Eight landscapes across the country are to be covered in this project which also includes the Satpura landscape that we live in. The project claims to be based on peopleвs participation and aimed at improving peopleвs livelihoods, as the World Bank claims in every project. However, the truth is that the project will prevent people from entering the forests for harvesting forest produce. The project has also assumed that survival of crocodiles in Tawa reservoir is threatened because crocodiles are caught in fishing nets and are not able to lay eggs because of the dry bed of the dam being cultivated by the people living there. This is factually not true as the number of crocodiles have increased consistently. Their intentions are clear-to throw us out of the forests by hook or crook so that they could have unrestrained controlled to the forests. However, we are determined not to let this happen. We understand that this is a tough battle because government officials and ministers are blinded by the lure of huge funds that the World Bank is going to loan them. They don't see the people, they only see the money. And they can go to any extent to suppress the people.

When the World Bank entered the forests of Madhya Pradesh ten years ago with Madhya Pradesh Forestry Project it led to innumerable atrocities, conflicts, and incidences of police firing in several places. Peopleвs movements across the state united together to protest against the World Bank project and the Bank was forced to terminate the project half way through. The World Bank and tribals once again stand against each other with different visions of who will control the forests of this country. Unfortunately, some NGOs such as the Madhya Pradesh Vigyan Sabha have shamelessly agreed to be part of this anti-people project.

In the light of the above crisis,we have the following demands-

i. No village to be displaced from the Satpura Tiger Reserve and the traditional rights of the forest dwellers to be protected.

ii. Fishing in the Tawa reservoir and draw-down cultivation not be banned and the fishing lease of Tawa Matsya Sangh in the Tawa reservoir be renewed for ten years.

iii. World Bankвs вBiodiversity Conservation and Rural Livelihood Improvement Projectв must be withdrawn. All the national parks, sanctuaries, and forests be handed over to local villagers.

iv. Dobjhirna villagers be given back their land.

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Adrian VincentBy:
Petition target:
Chief Minister/Forest Minister,Madhya Pradesh Government


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