Linganna fears that sooner or later he will be asked to evacuate his ancestral land.
Few years back, an inspection was conducted by the government in his area. Later, 50 families, all belonging to the Jenu and Kadu Kuruba tribes, were shifted from their village near HD Kote Taluk.
Linganna is a Jenu Kuruba of Maldahadi village. He says, “The officials told us that the evacuation was for our development and better living conditions. But we don’t want to leave our ancestral land.”
These tribal people cannot leave their soil as they believe that their gods dwell in the forest. There are moments when they are threatened by forest officials stating, “You do not belong here.”
In reply to that rhetoric put up by the forest ranger, Linganna simply asked us one question, “If we do not belong here, then where do we belong?”
For centuries, their ancestors have co-inhabited with the wildlife inside the forest. Linganna says, “But forest rangers make us accountable for the harm done to animals or poaching. We are the ‘Kadu Kuruba’, which means preservers of the forest and not the destroyers.”
Their tribe lived on forest resources and traditionally they collected honey. Due to government intervention, they were forced to leave the forest and abandon their skills. Although their profession has changed and they have been moved out, their dependence on the forest remains intact.
A country with a large population, where human density in forest reserves measures up to 10 per square kilometre, large scale displacement of these people is not possible. The government has to scrutinise and contemplate its policies thoroughly before taking such an action.
In 2011, government declared 10 square kilometre area near Nagarhole Tiger Reserve as ecologically sensitive zone (ESZ). Earlier, many tribes were moved out or demarcated outside the forest after the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972. But the sword of evacuation continues to hang over their head. The Ministry of Environment and Forest hasn’t taken into consideration tribal people before implementing ESZ. These unilateral decisions taken by the government on behalf of the tribal people cannot be justified as democratic.
The conservation of the forest is definitely an urgent call. Forest cover has reduced and been fragmented during the last two decades. This disintegration of the forest, large scale agricultural practices, dam construction, passing highways and increasing eco-tourism has adversely affected wildlife.
The partiality shown in favour of big business ventures by the government has also affected the wildlife pattern of the reserve. For example, various ventures have opened luxury resorts alongside the backwaters of Kabini river, flouting the rules and norms of the forest department. Also, fencing of such large chunks of land for developing tourist resorts disrupts the crucial migratory corridors and as a result it severely affects the wildlife.
The Karnataka government is now trying to retrieve the encroached land to ensure a safer habitat for the wildlife. But the journey seems difficult as it is the same old nexus of land mafia and bureaucrats which forms the biggest hurdle. Famous cafeteria chain owner (Café Coffee Day) V.G Siddhartha, who is the son-in-law of former Chief Minister of Karnataka S.M Krishna, holds 70 acres of land, out of which 11 acres are occupied by the resort and the rest is a fenced territory. He is the owner of the Sarai resort.
The government should make itself more accountable to the people of the forest and the wildlife than the rich entrepreneurs as the tribal people have the primary ownership rights of the forest.