he State government’s push to get the Mhadei Wildlife Sanctuary declared as a 'Tiger Reserve' has received a major setback as 25 villages, which form part of the sanctuary, opposing the move. Over 8000 villagers are up in arms against declaring the sanctuary as 'Tiger Reserve' as it would hamper their livelihood and restrictions on day-to-day activities.
The land for the reserve is divided into buffer and core areas. The core area will not have human habitation, while in the buffer areas animals and humans can coexist. As per forest department records, the sanctuary area has presence of five tigers that include two tigress.
The ‘Tiger Reserves’ are by law, very strictly protected, allowing virtually no human activity except that which is in the interest of wildlife conservation. Grazing and private tenurial rights are disallowed. The law does not allow for any commercial exploitation of forest produce, and local communities can collect forest produce only for their bona fide needs.
The activity like agriculture, horticulture, eco-tourism, or any other primary occupations, which is the livelihood of the people residing in such areas, continues as per the Wildlife Protection Act 1972. The Act also provides rehabilitation of the people residing in the areas declared as Tiger Reserves.
"For us, the only source of income is farming. If our lands are marked under the reserve, farming activities will stop and the affected families will have to find new sources of income. Rehabilitation means, you will have to start from zero,” Ganpati Gawas, a villager said.
“What security would villagers around the reserve get? They will be the ones most exposed to the reserve and if animals walk into the village, it will pose a danger to them," he added, while mentioning that 'being part of the sanctuary, we are already facing this problem'.
Mohandas, another villager, posed a similar question, adding that 'there are already several restrictions imposed and we are already been tagged as encroachers. With the declaration of the ‘Tiger Reserve’, we would be put to more hardship and our children will have no future left'.
"We have already asked the government to denotify our village areas from the sanctuary. So when we are demanding this, where is the question of allowing the ‘Tiger Reserve’," Kashinath Kerkar, another villager said.
Villagers say that if required, the area, which has no village portion in it can be declared as a ‘Tiger Reserve’.
A senior forest official said that though the government is willing to declare the core areas of Western Ghat region that include Mhadei Sanctuary as the ‘Tiger Reserve’, the people situated there, are opposing it. "Under the Act, the consent of villagers is a must, before going ahead with the proposal to declare it as tiger habitat," he said.
The declaration as ‘Tiger Reserves’, is likely to play a pivotal role in protecting, preserving and conserving the wild-cat- whose presence has once again been felt in the area. While there are series of apprehensions in the minds of people residing in these areas, the environmentalists claim the move will have no impact on developments undertaken by the local communities. However, they say it will certainly restrain them from undertaking illegal acts like poaching and commercial activities.
Renowned environmentalist and local resident Rajendra Kerkar explained that declaration of the area as a ‘Tiger Reserve’ will have no impact on the rights of the inhabitants in the protected sites. “As per the notification issued by the Union Ministry in 2014, the rights of the people residing in eco sensitive zones of tiger reserves, remain intact, wherein they are allowed to undertake agriculture, horticulture, eco-tourism works, etc,” he said.
“At the same time, the notification gives the government powers to rehabilitate the people, if they so demand,” Kerkar said adding that the locals are prohibited from undertaking major commercial activities.
Kerkar, who has been fighting for declaring Mhadei wildlife sanctuary as Tiger Habitat for over a decade now, claims that tiger reserve will bring in central funds towards the maintenance and protection of the forest, amelioration of the habitat and more importantly for Goa eco-development of the people living in the buffer areas of the reserve.