Wayanad Relocation: People take the lead for a better life, and make way for wildlife

Voluntary relocation is truly a ‘win-win’ for people & wildlife, and I would particularly like to cite the story of Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary in Kerala, where the communities living inside the forests have taken the lead themselves, in wanting to move out of the sanctuary, favor of a fresh start and a better life outside.


As conservation partner of Wildlife Conservation Society-India, I (with the support of an excellent officer) had been pushing for funds allocation from the Ministry of Environment and Forests, for Kurchiyad in Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary. We took up this issue with the officers, ministers and also in in the National Board for Wildlife. The efforts and the credit, though, goes entirely to the villagers, the state forest department authorities, and conservationists working on the ground: especially Shibu and N Badusha of the Wayanad Prakruthi Samrakshna Samithi, and of course Muthanna, and many others. (My apologies to those i am missing out).
The legendary Sugathakumari Ma’am also helped us with her unstinting support.
There are about 57 enclosures with 107 human settlements within the sanctuary, one of the most densely-populated protected forest areas in the state. Though excellent elephant tiger habitat, Wayanad does not come under the Project Tiger umbrella, and hence communities wanting to shift out could not avail of the enhanced voluntary relocation package under NTCA. They applied to the MoEF, but the funds with the MoEF are limited …and the people desperate. The human-wildlife (particularly elephant) conflict here is very severe, causing extreme hardship to the people. They face the brunt of it everyday-and I recall a visit I made many years ago to the sanctuary. I found many temporary ‘hut’ kind of structures halfway up tall trees. This was where many families spent their nights to escape elephants that came to their door-attracted by the smell of grains and salt. They had given up agriculture, almost nothing was left after elephants and ungulates had come visiting. There is no source for livelihood, education, health facilities, opportunities or hope for a good future for the generations.
So the people went on a relentless mission for their rights..of living where they want to, of freedom from the relentless conflict and hardship of living within a remote forest, of joining the mainstream, of hope for a better future for themselves, and their children.
All gram sabhas passed took a decision , and conveyed to the concerned authorities their willingness to move out from within the sanctuary. They approached their local forest officials, MLA, their Chief Minister and then the MoEF. They convinced their CM to take their cause to the then union minister for environment & forests. They petitioned the minister and met with her. All through they reasoned for their rights to a better life, and the need to preserve the pristine forests and wildlife.
Money in two installments was released In 2011, 49 families had been relocated under the same central package as applicable to those living within tiger reserves. I have talked to the people who have relocated out and was very heartened to see their satisfaction in their new life and a better future. Those who visited the site within the wildlife sanctuary where relocation has been completed were amazed to see how the forest has regenerated and has become abundant with wildlife. Elephants now roamed without coming in conflict with people, and the consequent harassment, and the tiger..it reclaimed its territory. This is truly a success story which has benefited both wildlife and people.
Those still living within the sanctuary-there continue to be some 800 families-however, were still struggling to move out. Prime among these were those from the Kurichiyad Settlement, which is one of the remotest settlements in the sanctuary, When the government failed to hear their plea, the knocked on the doors of the court.
Residents of the villages of the core area of Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary filed a writ petition on 3rd October 2012, and pointed out that over 800 families belonging to 14 villages in the sanctuary were eligible for relocation, for which Rs 80 crores are required under the Rs 10 lakh voluntary relocation package offered by the government. The petitioners stated that they are “living in utter poverty and having animal like existence, without even the basic amenities to life such as hospitals, schools, grocery shops, markets etc.” and that “due to the frequent attacks from the wild animals they are not able to cultivate their lands. Any further delay in relocating the petitioners and other residents of the tribal settlements in the core areas of the Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary will cause great injustice and irreparable injury to the petitioners and would amount to the violation of Article 21 of the Constitution”.
Last week, I received a call from a very excited Shibu, who is the only graduate from the Kurchiyad village (and also a member of the National Tiger Conservation Authority). He said, “I have good news , Madam, we have been told that funds for relocation will be released”. The MoEF committed to an amount of Rs 7.5 crores, from which 4.46 crore has been transferred to the state. Seventy-five eligible families of 57 households, including 40 tribal households, in the Kurichyat settlement, which lies right in the heart of the sanctuary will be relocated.
One of those good days for conservation. his is a major and positive step toward both wildlife conservation, and for the people.
People have petitioned governments for relocation from within core/critical tiger habitats, national parks, sanctuaries and even from prime reserve forests which are important tiger and elephant habitat across the country.
We need to ensure that those wanting to move out, are given the best possible incentives. The process must be voluntarily. This must be done in a fair, transparent manner, with adequate handholding. I believe this is one way to win community support-how do we expect people to support wildlife when they are losing livelihood-crops, cattle-and indeed on the rare occasion lives to wildlife?
(the photograph is off the net and representative of human-elephant conflict. i understand it is taken by Nishant Srinivasaiah. I do not have his contacts, and would like his kind permission to use this.
And yes, anyone with photographs from Wayanda, do send)

Leave a Reply