20110301

Tribals spot danger in tiger reserve plan


COIMBATORE: While pressure is mounting on the state government to declare the Sathyamangalam Wildlife Sanctuary as a tiger reserve, there is mounting resentment among tribals living on the forest fringes, against attempts of the forest department to curb access to the jungles to collect forest produce and graze cattle. Forest officials have already directed them to sell their cattle and look for alternative means of livelihood.
Irked by the move, over 10,000 tribal residents of Thalavadi, Thiganare, Thinkalur, Panakkalli, Naithalpuram, Igalur, Thalamalai, Bainapuram, Hassanur and Germalam village panchayats have rallied behind Pazhamkudi Makkal Sanghom, a tribal outfit supported by CPI, that plans to organize a series of agitations in this regard.
"These tribals are the most neglected in the state. Their rights over the forests were curtailed long ago due to the Veerappan crisis. After the encounter death of Veerappan, the forest department had constituted several tribal forest protection committees and they functioned well, collecting and selling minor forest produce till now. Twenty seven such bodies had together made a profit of Rs 64 Lakh in the last few years. Now the committees are in crisis as the forest authorities have denied them access to the forests as it is a tiger reserve,'' says P L Sundaram, MLA of Bhavani Sagar Constituency.
"We were the pride of the forest department till they mooted the tiger reserve project with the support of Union Ministry of Environment and Forests. We depend entirely on live stock and there is no land for us to graze them. The department is now forcing us to sell our goats and cows,'' says Pazhamkudi Makkal leader P Dorai.
According to tribals, the forest department has told them to engage in lending of shamianas and crockery for marriage celebrations. The department has promised them funds to buy the infrastructure for the lending business. "Other than rearing cattle and collecting forest produce, we know no other means of livelihood. Some of us cultivate raggi, makkacholam and gingelly we are at the mercy of wild animals. As there is no irrigation water available, we are not able to cultivate the more profitable sugarcane, plantain and water melon,'' says M Mahadevan, a Soliga tribal of Alapurdoddi tribal hamlet.
"We are not against tigers or any other wild animals. But denying tribals their right to depend on the forests is beyond logic. I will take it up with Chief Minister J Jayalalithaaa,'' says Sundaram. Traditionally, tribals collect honey and gooseberry from the forests.
"Such decisions should not be made unilaterally and forest protection must not be at the expense of tribals. The move is a clear violation of forest rights act,'' says C R Bijoy, a Coimbatore-based activist. Erode Forest Conservator D Arun confirmed when contacted that there would be restrictions on entering the forests after they are declared a Tiger reserve. He said the department strongly recommends the tribal folk to take up alternative means of livelihood.
We were the pride of the forest department till they mooted the tiger reserve project.We depend entirely on live stock and there is no land for us to graze them. The department is now forcing us to sell our goats and cows

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