Monday, January 31, 2011

Tiger reserve tag for BRT Wildlife Sanctuary stirs up a hornet's nest

Monday, Jan 31, 2011
Muralidhara Khajane

MYSORE: The declaration of the Biligiri Ranganathaswamy Temple (BRT) Wildlife Sanctuary as a “tiger reserve” by the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) on January 24 has stirred up a hornet's nest.

Sources in the BRT Wildlife Sanctuary said that the official communication was received on January 27, and the total area of the tiger reserve will be 574.82 sq km. The area will be free of human habitation in view of protecting the endangered cat and funds will be released by the Centre.

The tiger reserve, according to conservationists, will help in protecting the estimated 35 tigers that inhabit the sanctuary, but the new status to the sanctuary has become a cause of concern for the 16,204 Soliga tribal people whose lives have for centuries been inextricably linked to this forest.

Thousands of Soligas were allegedly evicted forcibly when the area was declared as BRT Wildlife Sanctuary in 1974.Now, over 1,500 Soliga tribal people will be forced to make way for the tiger reserve.

According to sources, a 373-sq km zone in the heart of the forest has been declared a critical tiger habitat and eight ‘podus' (tribal hamlets) that fall within this radius will be relocated to a village outside the forest. Upset with the development, the tribal community is all set to launch an agitation.

They have planned to launch an indefinite strike in front of the office of the Deputy Commissioner in Chamarajanagar from February 15 and fight till the Minister for Forests promises that they will not be evacuated from “their land”. Speaking to The Hindu, secretary of the Zilla Budakattu Abhivruddhi Sangha, C. Made Gowda said that regardless of their objection, the NTCA had declared BRT Wildlife Sanctuary a tiger reserve and nothing had been clarified on the future of the 1,500 Soliga tribal people, who according to forest officials, had to make way for the reserve.

“Forest officials who earlier assured us of not evacuating us from our podus are now saying that podus that fall within the tiger reserve will be relocated outside the forest. This is nothing but hoodwinking the tribal people,” he noted.

He regretted that though environmentalists, non-governmental organisations and rights groups in a petition to Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) proposed to manage BRT Wildlife Sanctuary as a “Community Based Tiger Conservation Area”, the Ministry was not prepared to accept the proposal.

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