Tiger attacks in Pilibhit reserve: 15 deaths in 10 months send alarm bells ringing
Rattled by the high number of deaths, the forest department is taking steps to check the entry of people from nearby villages. Though a ban on entry of villagers has been in place since 2014, people used to enter illegally to collect honey, herbs and edibles.lucknow Updated: Jul 06, 2017 13:31 IST
Fifteen deaths in tiger attack in Pilibhit forest area in the last 10 months have sent alarm bells ringing in the forest department.
Rattled by the high number of deaths, the forest department is taking steps to check the entry of people from nearby villages. Though a ban on entry of villagers has been in place since 2014, people used to enter illegally to collect honey, herbs and edibles.
Nankhi Devi, an elderly woman of Maithi Saidullah village, was killed by a tiger on July 1 when she allegedly entered the forest.
Officials claimed that Nankhi was killed by the tiger inside the forest but her family members took her body to the fields to claim compensation.
According to rules, the forest department provides a compensation of Rs 10 lakh if a person is killed by an animal outside the tiger reserve.
Nankhi’s family, however, claimed she was mauled by a tiger while she working in the fields close to the forest.
Some reports even suggested that Nanhki was sent to the forest by her family as prey for tiger to get compensation.
“How can a son send his mother to be killed by a tiger for compensation? No one can do this to his mother for any cost. We are poor but we will never trade the life of our mother for money,” said Roshan Lal, eldest son of Nankhi Devi.
Till June 2014, Pilibhit forest area used to be like a second home to villagers who lived near its non-demarcated boundary and almost every aspect of their lives revolved around the forest.
The villagers collected fodder for their domestic animals and got firewood, fruits, medicinal herbs and timber for their own use.
On June 9, 2014, the Samajwadi Party declared the forest a tiger reserve which brought about a drastic change in the lives of the residents.
Villagers were not allowed to enter the forest area which severed the age-old bond between the locals and the forest.
“It was like being driven out from one’s own house. For years, we took care of the forest and suddenly we were stopped from going there,” says Nisar Ahmed, 67, former head of Daga village, hardly a kilometre away from the tiger reserve.
After it was declared a tiger reserve, villagers stopped entering the forest. Those who still dared to venture inside were primarily motivated by monetary gains. Villagers entered the forest to collect honey, fruits, edible tubers and medicinal herbs.
During monsoon, villagers enter the forest area to pluck a local delicacy ‘katarua’ (Indian wild truffle), edible fungi that grow near the root of Sal trees.
‘Katarua’ is spherical in shape with the size ranging from a marble to a golf ball. Fortified with basic protein, it is also prescribed by local ‘hakims’ as an aphrodisiac.
Vegetarians call it ‘maans’ (meat) because of its meaty texture. Due to its limited availability, ‘katarua’ fetches handsome returns in the local market. During the peak season, it is sold for Rs 300 per kg.
Locals pluck ‘katarua’ from forest and sell it to local traders who eventually supply it to vegetable markets.
Though the villagers earn decent money by plucking ‘katarua’, venturing into the forest sometimes proves fatal.
After Nankhi’s death, forest guards and the local police have imposed a complete ban on plucking of ‘katarua’.
Two days after her death, the police arrested four villagers and seized 30 kg ‘katarua’ from them. The officials have started this drive in all parts of the reserve where ‘kataura’ is found in abundance.
This has led to shortage of ‘katarua’ in markets of Badaun, Pilibhit and Rampur. “Customers visit markets looking for ‘katarua’ but have to return empty-handed. There has been no supply this year,” said Ramavtar Singh, a vegetable vendor in Bareilly.