New report reveals tribal evictions for tiger reserves are illegal

The camp of Asankudar, where over a hundred Khadia tribal people, who were thrown out of Similipal Tiger Reserve, were forced to live for months under plastic sheets.

The camp of Asankudar, where over a hundred Khadia tribal people, who were thrown out of Similipal Tiger Reserve, were forced to live for months under plastic sheets.
© Survival

A new report by Survival International has revealed that the mass eviction of tribal people in India whose lands are being turned into tiger reserves is illegal under both national and international law.

The report looks at the claim by government ministers and conservationists that “relocations”, as they are officially termed, are voluntary and carried out according to the law. It is being launched to mark UN Human Rights Day.

However, the report’s findings unequivocally show that evictions of thousands of tribespeople are taking place without their free, prior and informed consent, and in violation of many relevant laws, both national and international.

The evictions cannot be classed as “voluntary” and are therefore illegal.

Baiga woman from Rajak village, threatened with eviction. The villagers are determined to stay and say they don’t want to leave their forest.

Baiga woman from Rajak village, threatened with eviction. The villagers are determined to stay and say they don’t want to leave their forest.
© Survival

Subelal Dhurwey, a young Baiga man whose brother, Sukhdev Dhurwey, was murdered after being evicted from Kanha Tiger Reserve, said: “We were one of the last families to resist. But the officials from the reserve forced us to leave. They told us they’d take care of us for three years, but they didn’t do a thing. Even when my brother was killed, no one came to help us.”

JK Thimma, a Jenu Kuruba leader who witnessed many villagers being “voluntarily relocated” from Nagarhole Tiger Reserve, told Survival: “The real truth is that they have been evicted by force… They have been beaten.”

Chenchu villagers living in the Nallamala forest, now part of Amrabad Tiger Reserve, said in an open letter: “We see the well-being of the forest as our duty, we protect the animals and plants of this wild forest without harming them. This forest is our home. The flora and fauna of this forest are part of our family.”

Survival is calling for a moratorium on all “relocations” from tiger reserves, and for an independent investigation into the evictions. Those who have been illegally and forcibly evicted must be allowed to return, if they wish to do so.

The evictions are being carried out by India’s Forest Department, but big conservation organizations, such as the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and WWF, support them both directly and indirectly.

In 2016 Santhal tribal people from Kabathgai village in the core of Similipal Tiger Reserve were moved to this desolate relocation site.

In 2016 Santhal tribal people from Kabathgai village in the core of Similipal Tiger Reserve were moved to this desolate relocation site.
© eleonorafanari

WCS India has led the call for the relocation of tribal people from tiger reserves for many years and in 2018 received funds from the US Fish and Wildlife Service to “facilitate government-sponsored, voluntary relocation of forest-interior families to new sites outside the forest.”

WWF and WCS are complicit in evictions and human rights violations. WWF trains and equips forest guards who not only illegally evict communities from their homes but also kill and torture tribal people.

Survival International Director Stephen Corry said today: “Kicking tribal people off their land, which is then stolen for a form of “conservation” which often doesn’t work, is illegal and a gross violation of their rights. It destroys the people and it’s disastrous for conservation, as the original inhabitants are often the best guardians of the natural world, and certainly much better at it than outside NGOs. India has the biggest eviction program of anywhere and makes a mockery of human rights. It’s time it was stopped.”