- Human settlement: Inherent problem of Mhadei Wildlife Sanctuary
Human settlement: Inherent problem of Mhadei Wildlife Sanctuary
The creation of the Wild Life Sanctuary way back in 1999 protecting the forests of Mhadei in the Western Ghat was considered as a major step towards preservation of this biological hotspot. But the continued presence of humans in these areas has become a major irritant for the authorities. The recent report by the forest guards, exposing the large-scale encroachment of the sanctuary area by the villagers, is likely to create fresh trouble for these habitants, whose claims for regularisation, have already been declined by the Government appointed committees, in the past. SHWETA KAMAT visits Sattari and shares her findings
n May, 2019, around 200 villagers had set the Sanctuary's checkpost Kumthal-Caranzol on fire demanding that their encroachment is legitimised. The State government has now appointed a Forest Settlement Officer to look into the claims of the villagers.
Several villages, which were saved from being marked into the wildlife sanctuary, which traverse around 208 sq kms, still pose problem for the authorities. While villagers claim that they are original inhabitants here and have a right over the property inside the sanctuary, the government records speak otherwise.
Mhadei Wildlife Sanctuary was carved out from the areas falling within the village limits of Caranzol, Codal, Corambolim-Brahma (Brahma Karmali), Derodem, Copardem, Choraundem, Dabem, Gavanem, Golanli, Ivre Buzzuroco, Mololi, Pali, Nanorem, Pendral, Satrem, Sirsodem, Siranguli, Singonem, Xelop buzuruco, Zormenand also comprising forests in Keri Rangen falling in the village limits of Gullulem, Ivre-Curdo, Kelandem.
During the notification of the sanctuary on June 2, 1999, due care was taken to ensure that the villages, which were inhabited were left out of the sanctuary.
As per the records, from the total 16,105 hectors of village area, an area of 14,236 hectors has been notified as sanctuary, covering almost 25 villages. Around 8,042 people reside in these villages.
The entire portion of the villages of Xadani and Pendral, having no population were included in the wildlife. The utmost care was taken to ensure that the sanctity of the wildlife sanctuary is preserved.
The downgrading of the wildlife sanctuary impacting the wildlife there because of the excessive demand arising due to the increasing population; is a worry that environmentalists like Rajendra Kerkar have been expressing. But the villagers have put their foot down and with the backing of political support; they have managed to rule parts of the sanctuaries, posing challenge to the forest department officials.
Kerkar said that the people who were kept out of the wildlife sanctuary limits have been encroaching into the protected areas under some or other pretext. While forest department had allowed some of them to continue harvesting cashews from the forest lands, there are many who have tried to get more then they deserve in this area.
"Two months back, the newly recruited forest guards, have submitted report with photographs about alleged illegal encroachment by the villagers. The report has created much panic amongst the villagers," said Kerkar, while adding 'I am of the opinion that if something is encroached, then that can be legalized but with a condition that further encroachment will be treated as offence'.
He informed that the claims of villagers, which were made under the Forest Rights Act and Forest Dwellers Act, were disallowed by the Village and District Level committees in absence of documents to prove.
The villagers, who, as per records, have encroached on the forest land, have been claiming that even their ancestors have been working on the land.
Villagers under the banner of Sattari Bhumiputra Sanghatna, are demading that the State forest department denotify “their lands” from the jurisdiction of the Sanctuary. "We have been living here even before the area was declared as sanctuary. How can they call us encroachers? We have made so many representations to remove our land from the sanctuary area but no one is listening," a villager Harivansh Gawas said.
A 55- year old villager, Nilkanth said "my father was doing cashew plantation here and we have continued with it. We are already suffering due to lot of restriction for being declared the village area as sanctuary; if government attacks our source of living, we will not keep quiet ".