A wildlife official in Chhattisgarh has rejected claims that tribes living in a tiger sanctuary inspired by Rudyard Kipling’s “The Jungle Book” were being forced from their ancestral land to protect the endangered animals.
Indigenous rights group Survival International says the Baiga tribes in the Achanakmar Wildlife Sanctuary in Chhattisgarh state are being harassed by forest guards to leave the land where they have lived for generations.
BN Dwivedi, principal chief conservator of forests and chief wildlife warden in Chhattisgarh, said there were plans to relocate some tribal villages that are inside the sanctuary, but that no force was being used.
“When we evacuate some villagers from the tiger reserve, it cannot be done without their permission, without their acceptance, without their saying ‘yes’,” Mr Dwivedi told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone from Raipur, the capital of Chhattisgarh.
Achanakmar covers an area of 213 sq miles and is home to numerous flora and fauna, including endangered animals such as leopards, wild bison and the Bengal tiger.
It forms part of a tiger corridor to the neighbouring Kanha National Park, which provided the inspiration for “The Jungle Book”, Kipling’s novel about an abandoned boy who is raised by wolves in the jungle in India.
London-based Survival International said the Baiga people were told they will have to move from their villages to a muddy clearing outside the reserve, even though there is no evidence their presence in the reserve is harming tigers.
In fact, it said, the number of tigers in the reserve has reportedly risen to 28 in 2015, from 12 in 2011.
“It’s illegal and immoral to target tribes, who have co-existed with the tiger for centuries, when industrialisation and mass-scale colonial-era hunting are the real reason the tiger became endangered,” said Survival’s Director Stephen Corry.
Despite a slew of “pro-poor” policies, activists say India’s economic boom has bypassed many tribal communities, who make up more than 8 percent of its population of 1.3 billion people.
Many live in forest villages, eking out a living by farming, rearing cattle, collecting and selling fruit and leaves.
The Forest Rights Act, a law recognising the right of indigenous tribes to inhabit forests where their forefathers had settled centuries earlier, came into force in 2008.
But some environmentalists fear it has hindered conservation efforts and encouraged the poaching of animals such as tigers.
Mr Dwivedi said there were plans to relocate 250 Baiga families from four villages, but all were happy to leave the reserve.