Although the russet and bisque forests of Ranthambore were awarded the ‘tiger sanctuary’ status in 1973, its spotlight stint began with Rajiv Gandhi’s 1982 visit. Today with an area of 1134 sq km the Ranthambore tiger reserve (RTR) is divided into a core of 1113.36 sq km and a buffer of the rest. The National Tiger Conservation Authority is mandated by the Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India, with the overarching responsibility of maintaining pristine tiger habitat in this and all other Parks in the country. The Authority declared in February 2008 that “the minimum population of tigresses in breeding age, which are needed to maintain a viable population of 80-100 tigers (in and around core) requires an inviolate space of 800 -1000 sq km”, necessitating the relocation of villages housed in the Parks, resulting in an increase in forest land from 274.5 sq km to the present 1134 sq km in Ranthambore. The Authority also upgraded the erstwhile compensation package of one lakh to 10 lakhs in 2008 based on the National Rehabilitation and Resettlement Policy, 2007.
Thus, in keeping with the orders the core area needed to be ‘freed’ in RTR. Efforts met with success with 12 villages in 1977-78; and, four villages in 2008-2012 being relocated. Citing tiger behaviour, Rahul Bhatnagar, the District Forest Officer of Sawai Madhopur, proudly claims “tigers almost immediately extended their territory into the land freed from relocating the villages”. As per Dinesh Gupta, the Assistant Conservator of Forest, Relocation, Sawai Madhopur, 65 villages with a population of 12,000 households need to be relocated. “People from four villages have been completely relocated, while 13 are partially relocated as part of the 2008 package. Out of 1785 families, 1238 have been awarded the 10 lakh compensation package while the 66 families have opted for the land package—land in lieu of land,” he adds. “The India Eco-development Project (GEF-World Bank) is also being implemented in Ranthambhore which at present has 41 eco-development village protection committees with 26 of them working very well”, says Gupta.
Based on the village rehabilitation status of Ranthambore (Fig. 1) two villages were selected for their characteristics of being partially evacuated and fully rehabilitated. Structured interviews were conducted for seven families in partially evacuated Kathuli, and for 15 families in rehabilitated Girirajpur. Open ended group discussions were also held in the two villages. The interviews were conducted over a week in the Hindi dialect ‘Dhundari’ with the assistance of a tourist guide from the area. There seemed to be an overbearing urge of the respondents to share rehabilitation related information. The process bore so heavily upon their minds that they found it difficult to provide facts about their livelihood, food and culture. Thus the questionnaire became heavily skewed in favour of the rehabilitation package and perceived shortfalls therein.
The RTR is 14 kms from the Sawai Madhopur town of Rajasthan. The socio-cultural setting of the tropical dry deciduous forests of Ranthambore, predominates with Gujjars and Meena tribes, who are traditionally pastoralists following a vegetarian diet. The two villages Kathuli and Girirajpur fall in the Sawai Madhopur district, the former being located in the core area of RTR, while the latter is located one km from the Amli Railway Station. Kathuli however, is not connected by an all-weather road, and is about 40 km from the main city.
Forest Village Kathuli: Primarily Gujjars, the inhabitants of Kathuli are pastoralists. Located along a hill slope, the village comprises of a smattering of a few kuccha houses, with immaculately fenced entrances. With part of the villagers resettled and their houses torn down, sections of the village bore a deserted look. Since the rehabilitation package is optional with no forced eviction, the entire strategy of rehabilitation is in a limbo here, and, nearly 11 families have dug in their heels in the hope of better packages. The area around the village has several grassy banks along the rivulet in the valley, in which over 25 buffaloes and 53 goats were seen grazing. This stream is also their closest water source, which however dries in summer. Inhabitants of Kathuli then source water from a well that is 1.5 km away. They have no access to hand pump or piped water and there are no sanitation facilities. The village has a government school imparting education up to 8th standard to the 10 remaining children—9 of whom are girls; further investigation revealed that the male children are sent to ‘better’ schools in the city. Although the school has 3 teachers on its payroll, only one visits the village from time to time. The morbidity profile is low with stomach ailments predominating; and serious patients are taken to Sawai Madhopur for treatment. Interestingly, the villagers claimed ignorance about sourcing herbal medicines from the forest for common ailments. They do not access the vet for any ailments of their animals. The village has 2-3 motor bikes and it takes around 90 minutes to reach the city. Telecommunication works well here with Hutch and Airtel providing a good network. The village is not grid connected, but a few solar installations were seen, for lighting of homes and charging of phones. At the centre of the village is a large peepal tree dominated by the temple of Bhairavnath. There were several rounds of fresh milk and hot tea served jointly by various households, with cups coming from one, kettle from the another, etc. Four respondents that were attending the group discussion, were now located elsewhere and had come to visit their ‘kul’ temple in the village. A few women respondents, presently living elsewhere, were visiting their relatives who were taking care of their animals—eight goats and five buffaloes to be precise.
Rehabilitated Village Girirajpur
Belonging to the Gujjar community, the inhabitants of the rehabilitated village are new agriculturists. Twenty families from Kathuli accepted the rehabilitation package two years ago, which included 600 yards of land for housing; a cash of Rs 2 lakhs in three instalments to construct a house; and, commensurate amount of cultivable land as possessed by the family in the original village. The agricultural land handed over by the forest department have been cleared and levelled and bore wells sunk to provide irrigation. The wells, dug unscientifically, did not find water at the requisite depth; the new farmers presently draw water from a rivulet that flows in the valley about 2 km below, with a high powered diesel engine in order to irrigate their fields. The new village, christened Girirajpur, not yet in the revenue area with the land belonging to the forest department, is dotted with partially constructed houses along two rows, accommodating around 100 people. The costs of the houses escalated to match the aspirations of the benefactors, and the funds were exhausted before the habitation could be completed. A smattering of thatched bramble huts was seen before each house, where most of the daily chores of village life seemed to be conducted, from cooking to sleeping. On the amenities front the village has round the clock piped water supply from a 10,000 l capacity water tank located at the head of the village—constructed by the forest department. The tank is filled on a daily basis by a pump that is powered by grid electricity. The houses are grid connected and LPG connections too have been sanctioned—but are yet to be commissioned. There are bathing cubicles for women beside the tank; however sanitation facilities are missing as no household has constructed a toilet. The Amli station connects them to all the major cities and an all-weather road runs from the front of their village where trucks, tractors and the other modes of transport can be opted for. The nearest school, with classes upto 8th standard, is located a km away in Shahpur. The nearest college is in Sawai Madhopur, which is well connected by train. The Amli railway station also provides a market for the local people. The villagers professed ignorance about herbal medicines and claimed dependence on allopathic medicines that doctors near the Amli station provided. Vets are not accessed and one cow with a wounded foot was treated with ‘dimak ki dawai’ (insecticide for termite). There is no central tree or temple in the ‘new’ village. The tea and refreshments were served by two neighbouring families, with members from other households joining discussions. There was a lack of community spirit and surveyors were not invited to visit their homes. Very few visitors from adjoining areas or Kathuli were found here. A patch of over 2 acres has been identified at the south of the village to provide playground and other facilities for the villagers. At present however, it is a gated enclosure with little use for the new village.
The Ranthambhore Fort, which is now a UNESCO world heritage site, is in the core area of the RTR. There are tiger sighting en route to the Fort and the locals access the Ganesh temple within its precincts to worship. As opined in the Revised Guidelines for the Ongoing Centrally Sponsored Scheme of Project Tiger, 2008, ‘tigers need inviolate space’. If they were so averse to humans and the resultant chaos, why do they choose to retain this ‘violated’ territory? It is in this context that rehabilitation may be reviewed.
May we then ask why is the Fort temple not ‘rehabilitated’? Why have alternatives such as a ropeway not been explored to enable ‘inviolate space’. We seem to do what comes easiest—oust the poor. The process of rehabilitation is not just about giving land and money to barely literate, backward and underdeveloped community. It is a process that should ensue only when all other measures have failed. Here is a community who are primarily pastoralists, with every facet of their lives linked to their animals, forced to adapt sedentary agriculture. The lure of such a large sum of money is too great for the present generation to even comprehend what they are losing and what price they are to pay. Their fears are not always monetary. Ramhit from Kathuli, talks about fear of ostracism in the new community or the city, for not being able to fit culturally and socially in the new society—a fear that echoed in Girirajpur with the lack of interaction palpable from adjoining villages. Rehabilitation is a sensitive process; forest officials, however well-meaning, are hardly the right agency to tackle displacement. The tenuous links with the erstwhile village and its temple, apart from the fragmentation of village bonding speaks volumes of their changing cultural and social tapestry. In fact a new structure has emanated with the ‘haves’ of Girirajpur and ‘have-nots’ of Kathuli. The hostility of the families that stayed back towards the ones who left; and, the ones that have been rehabilitated towards the forest come forth clearly. The women express a certain amount of constraint in the new village as they cannot access the nearby hills anytime during the day, unlike their previous home, for their sanitary needs. The most startling of all is a change in their mud art forms. In a space of just two years the mud art murals on the floor and wall of the two villages bring out its own story. The ochre and white patterns in Kathuli are large, vibrant, well-proportioned, and undertaken with the use of forest products, while the ones in Girirajpur are smaller and dull with dyes and chalk bought from local vendors.
Although the region can support a good production of bajra, oilseeds and wheat, yet the new agriculturalists are barely aware of the hows and whats of the agricultural cycle. With a lack of water with the dysfunctional bore wells, the pastoralists have been faced with three crop failures in the previous year’s agricultural cycle. They are now disillusioned. Hand holding by the state, in the form of training or equipment must be provided to enable them to achieve agricultural success. Also whether agriculture is the correct livelihood alternative and whether options such as dairying can still be relevant. Till then the process of rehabilitation will remain questionable.