Vijay Pinjarkar, TNN

NAGPUR: They were patiently waiting for over 30 years. Finally, three of the four villages inside Navegaon National Park, 130km from here in Gondia district, have finally been relocated.
Around 190 families from three villages - Zankargondi (26 families), Malkamzari (29), Kalimati (133) - have been completely relocated to Saundad, 10km from Sakoli.

Shifting of these villages is perhaps the fastest relocation after Dhargad in Melghat tiger reserve (MTR). Dhargad was relocated in April in just 15 days. Last year, MTR resettled three villages - Nagartas, Amona and Barukheda.

The three Navegaon villages preferred Option I (golden handshake) by agreeing to take Rs 10 lakh package per family (1 lakh = 100 000 rupees) . A family was defined as every male over 18 years, irrespective of his marital status.

TOI had reported on March 30 the state government released Rs 19.20 crore (1 crore = 10 000 000 rupees) to relocate these three villages out of Navegaon. Of this, Rs 12.20 crore was released by District Rural Development Agency ( DRDA) while Rs 7 crore was released under Compensatory Afforestation Fund Management and Planning Authority (Campa).

Conservator of forests (CF), Gondia wildlife division MS Reddy said, "The three villages have been relocated to Saundad, where 4.5 hectare zudpi jungle land has been acquired after clearance under the Forest Conservation Act (FCA) 1980. Each family has been given land to construct a house there. This is despite the fact that under Option I accepted by the villagers, it is not binding on the forest department to provide land for housing."

Normally, it takes a long time to get forest land for non-forestry purposes, but the proposal was cleared in a month by the ministry of environment and forests (MoEF) to serve the interest of tigers and wildlife. "We submitted the proposal under FCA on March 28 and it was cleared on April 28," says Reddy.

He adds that the remaining 165 families from Kawlewada are expected to be relocated soon. A resolution has already been passed by the village. The villagers want to be shifted before the monsoon to the Saundad area.

Navegaon is spread over 133.88 sq km. The four villages together occupied 4.33 sq km area of the core park, and put huge biotic pressure on the park due to extraction of bamboo and timber, besides being an encroachment on forest land. Now, the park would be an inviolate area for tigers.

For the past three decades, these 356 families had been virtually crying for relocation. The first survey to relocate them was done in 1980 but due to procedural hassles, people could not be shifted. Three more surveys have been done since then.

Officials described the swift relocation as a strategic move. The area is being made inviolate as the MoEF has 'in principle' agreed to declare 562 sq km Navegaon-Nagzira as a new tiger reserve. It includes Navegaon (133.88 sq km), Navegaon Wildlife Sanctuary (122.75 sq km), Nagzira (153.89 sq km) and New Nagzira Wildlife Sanctuary (151.33 sq km).

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