Prabhu Dayal has blurred vision, but the octogenarian is clear about his demand: “I want eight bighas of land and Rs. 50 lakh before I agree to shift out,” says the 85-yearold, a resident of Haripura village located in Sariska Tiger Reserve (STR).
Hari Ram, 62, has a similar demand. “We live by selling milk. We are happy living here hand to mouth, but if relocated, we obviously need a good package, say, at least eight bighas of land per adult,” he says.
Haripura is a small village with 74 families — most of them belong to cattle-rearing Gujjar community. While seven of them have been relocated, the others want a “better package”.
Only three of the 29 villages in the critical tiger habitat ( CTH) of the tiger reserve — Bhagani, Umri and Rotkyala — have been relocated and six are in the process of relocation, while the remaining 20 have not been touched yet.
The village relocation programme began in 2008 and 595 families have relocated out of the tiger reserve through the years. As many as 21 families of Bhagani, 95 families of Kankwari and one family of Rotkyala have gone to Barod Rundh near Behror on the Jaipur- Delhi national highway where they got six bighas of land each and Rs. 2.5 lakh for construction of house.
About 54 families of Umri and 23 families of Devri went to Maujpur Rundh with the same package.
Many families also accepted the cash option — Rs. 10 lakh per adult (21 years on March 31, 2008) — like 31 families of Umri, 50 of Rotkyala, 111 of Dabli, 14 of Sukola, 119 of Kraska and 39 of Kankwari villages.
But the programme has become slow in last couple of months. The National Tiger Conversation Authority ( NTCA) has also expressed concern over the slow pace of relocation from STR. “In fact, Rajasthan has been slowest in relocation of villages from CTH among the tiger states in the country,” says an NTCA official.
The compensation package for relocation took a quantum jump from Rs. 1 lakh per adult to RS. 10 lakh in 2008-09. The earlier option of giving six bighas of land is not possible now due to shortage of big chunks of land in the district. Land prices around Alwar have gone up so much that Rs. 10 lakh per adult doesn’t seem a lucrative deal to villagers, officials said. Land prices around Alwar are as high as Rs. 1 crore a hectare.
“What will we do with just 10 lakh?” asks Babulal, 55, of Dabli village. Officials at Sariska say the families in tiger reserve own, on an average, 25 cattle each and there’s no expense on fodder. The average monthly family income is 10,000 from milk and milk products. “When they relocate, they will need to scale down cattle size and start agriculture activities. Irrigation is a problem since most areas are dark zones,” adds an official.
For these reasons, it’s not easy for the forest department officials to convince villagers to agree to relocate. (Relocation is a voluntary process - villagers cannot be forcibly evicted.)
But, NTCA member secretary Dr Rajesh Gopal says it is not possible to give special dispensation to one state. “The package is universal across the country. What, however, can be done is dovetailing of state-level schemes with our package to make it lucrative,” he adds.
“In Sariska, all the villages are revenue villages. People have valuable assets like land and house. The assets need to be evaluated and compensated for. If that can be done, the Rs. 10 lakh package won’t be a bad deal actually,” explains Sariska field director RS Shekhawat.
The onus, therefore, is also on the state government to play a proactive role in the programme and on the district administration to expedite asset valuation, or to identify lands that can be given as part of option 2.
Apart from this, the NTCA stresses that the government should post an officer at the tiger reserve who is mandated with only this work and he is asked to complete it in a time-bound manner. Currently, the posts of deputy conservator of forests widows also Villagers demand to change the cut-off date for deciding beneficiaries which is March 31, 2008 Insufficient staff (DCF) and range officer for relocation at Sariska are vacant.
WHY RELOCATION IS NEEDED
Sariska lost all its tigers in 2005. An ambitious project to reintroduce tigers began in 2008 when a pair — male ST1 and female ST2 — were relocated from Ranthambore. In 2009, one more pair — male ST3 and female ST4 -— were brought in. A tigress (ST5) was brought in 2010. ST1 died in November 2010. But the first breeding success happened in 2012 when ST2 gave a litter of two cubs, ST7 and 8, both females. It took Sariska three years to see litters while in Panna tiger reserve in Madhya Pradesh, which also witnessed a wipeout and had tigers reintroduced from Bandavgarh, saw breeding the next year. Experts say human and cattle pressure in Sariska is far more than Panna.