All-India Fact-Finding Team observes grave
violations of Adivasi rights in Nagarahole Tiger Reserve,
even as PM
‘celebrates’ 50 years of ‘Project Tiger’.
for immediate measures to uphold rights of Adivasis as per law and
evictions, intimidation and violence.
are a cruel way of marking not 50 years of Project Tiger and conservation
through protected areas,
but 50 years of the torture of Adivasis, through one
of the largest land grabs in ‘independent India’.
A 6-member Fact-Finding Committee of
activists, academics, researchers and journalists undertook a 4-day visit to
the Nagarahole Tiger Reserve area from 8th to 11th April, 2023 on the call of Community
Networks Against Protected Areas (CNAPA) and Nagarahole Adivasi Jammapale Hakku
Sthapana Samiti (NAJHSS). The fact-finding team (FF) came to understand the
status of compliance with various laws as well as the situation
Adivasis in the ‘Protected Areas’ and resettlement sites. The FF team
interacted with many villagers at multiple locations as well as met with
certain officials, including the Deputy Commissioner, Kodagu, Project Officer,
ITDP and Director of Nagarahole Tiger Reserve. The team
also met Prof. Muzaffar Assadi who helmed the High Court appointed Committee to
inquire into the status of Adivasis in Nagarahole area and had made significant
recommendations in 2014.
fact-finding team included the following members:
Sricharan Behera (Researcher and FRA
Expert, Campaign for Survival and Dignity, Odisha)
Dhiman Chatterjee (Member, Committee for
Protection of Democratic Rights, Tamil Nadu)
Ashish Gupta (Journalist and
Co-ordination of Democratic Rights Organizations, New Delhi)
KP Suresh (Columnist and Rural
Livelihoods Expert, Mysuru)
Kamal Gopinath (Freelance Journalist,
Meera Sanghamitra (Member, Convening
Committee, National Alliance of People’s Movements - NAPM)
The FF team’s visit started with meeting
leaders of NAJHSS who informed that on 9th April 2023 they submitted
a memorandum to the President and PM of India (delivered through ACF, NTR),
to counter the ‘celebrations’ of Project Tiger.
The FF Team visited Nanachi Gadde Haadi
and interacted with a large number of women and men, who participated in the
recent protests and padayatra (foot march) against forceful eviction from their
ancestral lands, without recognition and settlement of their rights under FRA,
2006 and other protective laws. Notably, the padayatra saw participation from
Jenu Kuruba (PVTG), Betta Kuruba, Paniya and Yerava Adivasi communities in
March, 2023 pointing to the violation of their rights by the Government, in
particular, by the Forest Dept and the Nagarahole Tiger Reserve (NTR) authorities.
The team also visited Nagamma, mother of
Basava, a Jenu Kuruba Adivasi who was reportedly gunned down by Forest guards in December,
2021 (and later succumbed in Feb’23) on the false allegation of ‘smuggling
sandalwood’. We were informed that in the last few years at least 8 Adivasi
people have been shot dead by the Forest Dept officials on different
pretexts but there has been no criminal conviction in any of these cases nor
any compensation to the families. We also visited Ranigate Haadi where the
Adivasis informed that even after the grant of CFR title, the village was
included in the expanded area of NTR without information and consent of Gram
The team visited Shetalli relocation
site where we met the families who were forcibly evicted from their
forest lands in Bhogepura. The women from Hebbala relocation site (who
were evicted from Machurkere Haadi) also narrated their woes to us of being
cheated by the forest authorities. While
they were promised to be provided three acres of land per family, the actual
area is variably much less, which people informed to be between 1.5 to 2 acres
and the quality of land is not productive and is water-logged. The free, prior
and informed consent of Gram Sabha, in writing, has not been taken before
relocation, which is a mandatory requirement as per Sec 4(2)(e) of FRA,
Villagers informed that forest land recognized
or decided at SDLC/DLC level under IFR has been drastically and arbitrarily
reduced than the actual large areas of claim under occupation and cultivation.
The Gram Sabha has been sidelined and not informed before finally
deciding the claims, which is also a violation of procedures of FR Amendment
Rules, 2012. Clearly, the administration has not taken steps to verify the
ground status and ensure rights as per FRA and R&R entitlements.
Before completion of mandatory process
of relocation, the Adivasis’ houses have been destroyed, their crops damaged,
all the services delivery facilities have been stopped, they have been
prevented from accessing their burial sites and sacred groves and an
environment of fear was created by the Forest Dept and certain wildlife NGOs,
to compel them to move out. This is a serious violation of human rights and
legal procedures laid down in wildlife and forest rights legislations as well
as SC and ST (PoA) Act, 1989. Again, no substantive steps have been taken by
the administration to acknowledge and address these rights violations.
We also learnt that at least 27 adult
men and 6 children have died between 2015 to 2023 in Hebbal. There has been no
study undertaken by the Govt. to understand reasons for this large scale of
deaths as well as physical and mental health conditions of the Adivasis. We
were also shocked to know of the precarious living and working conditions of
Adivasis workers in coffee estates. To break out from these chains of
bonded slavery in coffee plantations, nearly 30 families living across
Line Manes (workers homes) have asserted their rights to their forest
habitats by moving into Balekovvu and Nanachi Gadde Haadis and started living
there since 3rd April 2023. Nonetheless, we were informed that
some of the NTF officials are creating an everyday climate of threats and fear
for them. It appears that the forest dept, labour dept and district
administration are completely neglecting the human rights of Adivasis.
In areas where Adivasis have been
resettled or evicted, it has been observed that there hasn’t been full
compliance with all provisions of the FRA. [Sec 4(2)(f)]. Unfortunately, the
role of the ITDP is not towards ensuring the compliance of FRA, but more
towards resettlement, in connivance with the Forest Dept. People also shared
serious concerns on the role of certain wildlife NGOs like LIFT, WCS, Wildlife
First in misguiding and pressurizing the Adivasis living within Nagarahole
Tiger Reserve to go out of the sanctuary. We were told that some of these NGOs
also forced Adivasis to sign on blank papers or withdrew SHG membership of Adivasi
women for asserting their legal and democratic rights. These are serious
charges that must be inquired into fairly and action taken by authorities
against the concerned NGOs, based on inquiry.
The DC, Kodagu and the PO, ITDP heard
out the FF team, but kept stating that there are no ‘pending claims’. However,
in multiple villages, Gram Sabhas have no information of the said ‘rejection’
[as per FRA Amendment Rules, 2012 Rule 12A (6), (7), (10)]. Any decision
regarding change, modification or grounds of rejection must be intimated in
writing to the Gram Sabha. No other authority has the power to take a final
decision on the claims, without the knowledge and approval of the Gram Sabha.
When questioned about the continued violations, the DC kept pointing to the
role of the Forest department while seemingly absolving his responsibilities as
The FF team met with the Co-ordinator,
ITDP at Madikeri who informed us, based on a written document, that 24 CFR
titles have been issued within Nagarahole Tiger reserve. But the communities
within NTR have fully denied it and have asked the official to list the 24
villages and show them the 24 CFR titles given to them.
This only goes on to show the gross
failure of the authorities in creating awareness, empowering Gram Sabhas and
ensuring rights under FRA and other laws. After intense discussion, they
assured us that they would ensure compliance with laws and would undertake a
detailed review and even visits to the concerned area, subsequent to the Karnataka
team also met the Director of Nagarahole Tiger Reserve at Hunsur. The team
raised the issue of forceful eviction of people from villages in the Tiger
reserve. The Director said that the department has Gram Sabha resolutions of
people ‘consenting’ to relocation, while community members and leaders whom the
FF team met refuted this saying, “there was neither any Gram Sabha done nor
was our consent sought. Rather we were pressurized, cheated and physically
attacked when we resisted evictions.”
However, after raising these concerns with him, he assured that there will
be no threat or violence henceforth to Adivasis, when they assert their legal rights
or return to their forest habitats. He said he would look into all complaints
brought to his notice, including killing of Adivasis by the Forest Department and
ensure necessary action.
Prof. Muzaffar Assadi, who met a
delegation of the FF team, said that the non-implementation of the Committee’s
recommendations, which were endorsed by the Karnataka High Court, tantamounts
to contempt of Court. He shared that coffee growers are encroaching into
Nagarahole tiger reserve to the extent that 3 out of 10 ranges inside
Nagarahole are today occupied by coffee growers, even as Adivasis live in
bonded labour like conditions in the same estates.
It is pertinent to mention here that the
fact-finding team faced harassment and intimidation by the local police, with
the intention of preventing the team members from meeting the villagers and
visiting the villages inside Nagarahole Tiger Reserve. This attitude of the
police towards an all-India team, intact in fact vindicates the experience of
constant harassment and threats faced by the Adivasis from the Forest Dept and
police, for asserting their legal and democratic rights.
The Fact-Finding Team shall come up with
a detailed report based on our visit soon. However, we place this interim
statement before the authorities, concerned citizens and media and call
attention to the following immediately.
of the community tenure of habitat rights of the Jenu Kuruba and other Adivasis
in the Nagarahole Forests.
compliance with all provisions of FRA 2006 and provisions laid down thereunder,
including and SC & ST (PoA), 1989.
must abstain from any forcible eviction of adivasis, especially without full
settlement of claims, rights and due process under FRA and other laws.
4. The Forest
authorities and civil administration must not resort to any form of
intimidation or violence on Adivasis who wish to return to their original
villages or organise for their legal rights to live in and access forests, in a
5. For those
who wish to remain at the relocation sites based on fully informed and
voluntary consent, full facilities including cultivable land of 3 acres,
housing units and other amenities must be provided. The CFR rights of these
families must also be protected as per law.
6. Strict Legal action against those accused of planning and executing the
killings of Adivasis by the Forest Dept officials / staff [under criminal law
and SC & ST (PoA) Act], exemplary compensation to the affected families to be
given immediately and permanent livelihood support, as per the choice of each
the recommendations of the Assadi Committee, as directed by the High Court of
The historical injustice on Adivasis
continues to be perpetuated in the name of protected areas, reserve forests,
tiger and elephant reserves, completely negating the culture and practice of
co-existence. We call for an end to this colonial and violent model of fortress
conservation that has been criminalizing Adivasis for living in their habitats
and pushing them into bondage and dispossession. It is indeed a cruel irony
that the Prime Minister who visited Mysore three days back, for ‘celebrating’
50 years of the ‘Project Tiger’ did not have a word to mention about the Adivasis
who have been sustaining the forests and wildlife since generations.
Members of the Fact-Finding Committee.
Gupta, CDRO – 9873315447 Rajan, CNAPA – 7751889711
Chatterjee, CPDR – 9444743442 Sharanya, CNAPA – 9437111120
Sanghamitra, NAPM – 7337478993
as on 14th April, 2023