By Vijay Pinjarkar, TNN

The relocation of villages in Melghat Tiger Reserve (MTR) got a major boost when the government released Rs7 crore (70 million) for the relocation of Gullarghat village, situated in the core area. The villagers have voluntarily agreed to move out of the reserve.

"The process to shift 149 families will start in January first week. We received Rs 3 crore under the 13th Finance Commission and Rs4 crore under the Compensatory Afforestation Fund Management and Planning Authority (CAMPA) a few days ago. We need Rs16.50 crore more," said KP Singh, chief conservator of forests (CCF) & field director of MTR. Singh said all the families have opted for the Rs10 lakh (1 million) package under Option I.

An initial amount of Rs 1 lakh (100 000) has also been deposited in the project affected persons (PAPs) account. The villagers are being shifted to Dahikhed in Akot tehsil, 22km from Gullarghat, where 'E Class' revenue land selected by the villagers themselves have been allotted to them. The area has been plotted and some villagers have already moved there.

The relocation of Gullarghat village will help vacate around 200 hectare land without destroying any fresh forests. "The tiger reserve will be connected to a huge contiguous and inviolate patch from Narnala to Koktu. Bori and Dhargad villages in between these areas have already been relocated," Singh said. "We plan to develop the vacated agriculture land into meadows. Vast lands at Dhargad and Gullarghat will perhaps be the biggest meadows which will help increase herbivore population and subsequently carnivores," Singh said.

In Gullarghat, there is already an interpretation centre. Plans are afoot to run ecotourism with different packages from Narnala to Gullarghat with the help of eco-development committees (EDCs).

MTR, which has maximum number of villages in the core, has taken a lead in relocating them. In last two years, it has relocated Barukheda, Amona, Nagartas and Dhargad villages. After Gullarghat is resettled, the process to shift Somthana and Somthana (Khurd) from Wan sanctuary, a part of MTR, will be taken up.

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