Vijay Pinjarkar| Sep 1, 2016

Nagpur: At a time when crores of rupees are being spent to create inviolate spaces for tigers by relocating villages inside Melghat Tiger Reserve (MTR) in Amravati, the district administration is doing something exactly the opposite - distributing land under Forest Rights Act in the core area of tiger reserve.

It is indeed shocking that the District Collector is granting claims in the heart of a Tiger Reserve that has spent over Rs 200 crore (1 crore = 10 million rupees) to relocate nine villages in the last four years. Since 2003, 14 villages have been relocated from MTR and 19 more remaining. There are 35-40 tigers in 2,000 of Melghat.

"The villages are being relocated to create inviolate spaces for tigers, but in contrast, administration has granted individual rights on 93.295 hectares of tiger inhabited land in three ranges under Gugamal wildlife division," highly placed sources told Times of India (TOI). Of these, 52.298 hectares is in Harisal range, 34.402 hectares in Chaurakund and 5.595 hectares in Jarida. The five claims from Rora and 19 claims from Malur in Gugamal come under critical tiger habitat (CTH). These claims have been granted by district level committee.

Top sources said an IAS officer in the State Governor's office is mounting pressure on collectors to grant land inside core areas of tiger reserves while the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) has already made it clear that no rights could be granted in tiger reserves.

They said cases that were rejected earlier were also being cleared under pressure. This is despite the fact that on November 9, 2015, chief minister Devendra Fadnavis at a seminar on 'Conservation of forests and rural livelihood security' at Rambhau Mhalgi Prabodhini (RMP) at Uttan (Thane), ordered action against encroachers under Forest Rights Act (FRA) and scrapped invalid claims.

The Chief Minister has made it clear that no traditional rights on forest land under FRA would be entertained after the cut-off date of December 13, 2005. In Melghat, there have been many encroachments and now forest officials removing these encroachments are being targeted by local Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) (for forest issues).

Amravati District Collector Kiran Gitte told TOI, "I will verify the claims. If rights have been granted in core areas we will review them."

TOI is in possession of a letter issued by Melghat MLA Prabudas Bhilavekar on June 29, 2016, asking forest officials not to remove encroachments on forest land without consulting him. Though this letter explains select cases of Mangia villagers, the letter has been sent to all officials working in Melghat. TOI had earlier exposed how forest officials were being attacked by villagers as they have local political backing to grab forest land under FRA.

Anticipating tribals will get rights on forest land, many tribals and non-tribals have encroached upon hundreds of acres of forest in the state. Yet, no action has been taken against them by officials.


* Eligibility criteria: Eligibility for rights under FRA is confined to those who are Scheduled Tribes/forest dwellers of that area and have been residing in the forest for 75 years

* Process: Section 6(1) of the Act provides that the gram sabha, or village assembly, will initially pass a resolution recommending cases as per Dec 13, 2005, cut-off date

* Wildlife conservation: Section 4(2) of the Act lays out a procedure by which people can be resettled from areas if found necessary for wildlife conservation

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