By Paritosh Chakma
I sense something utterly fishy about the way the state government is going ahead with its plan to extend the existing area of the Dampa Tiger Reserve (in short DTR), the largest and the most celebrated wildlife sanctuary in Mizoram. The DTR having an area of 500 sq km is situated in Mamit district bordering Bangladesh and symbolizes Mizoram’s environmental and wildlife protection commitments. Notified as Dampa Wildlife Sanctuary in 1985 it was declared a tiger reserve in 1994. Hundreds of people, mainly Chakma and Bru minorities had been evicted from their habitats with little rehabilitation benefits when the DTR was notified.
There are 10 villages around the DTR with a population of roughly 10,000 tribals mostly Mizo, Chakma, and Reang (Bru) tribes.(1) The latest ambition (though officially not declared) of the Forest Department is to extend the area of the DTR by including a few surrounding Chakma villages namely Andermanik, Rajiv Nagar, Silsury and Hnahva villages. Of these, Hnahva and Andermanik villages are settlements established by Chakmas who had been evicted from the DTR area.
Yet, interestingly the Mizoram Forest Department has of late renewed its claim over the Andermanik village, which is a duly recognized Village Council, as “core area” of the DTR. As stated earlier, the villagers of Andermanik had been “resettled” here after they were evicted from the notified DTR area. So, how can Andermanik village area be inside the DTR? I have heard that the state government has even issued a “Notification” with regard to the acquisition of the Andermanik village council area to be brought under the DTR. But I am yet to lay my hand on this socalled “Notification”.
No, the Chakma villagers are not complaining. Why should they be complaining when the state government has allegedly verbally promised them Rs 10 lakhs per family if they shifted to other site? In August 2009, Mizoram’s Deputy Speaker and local MLA John Rotluangliana along with other political leaders visited Andermanik village and impressed upon the villagers to find new life beyond Andermanik. Poor and illiterate people seldom complain when their leaders tell them what ought to be good for them.
The golden question which still remains a mystery is: who will fund this eviction programme? There are over 100 families in Andermanik and if the state government sticks to its assurance it will have to shelve out at least Rs 1,000 lakh as compensation plus rehabilitation in their new village. Mizoram has received Rs 97.34 lakhs during 2004-05, Rs 65.1560 lakhs during 2005-06, Rs 115.16 lakhs during 2006-07, Rs 82.90 lakhs during 2007-08 and Rs 241.45 lakhs during 2008-09 under Project Tiger from the Central government.(2) Does it mean the Central government will fund a programme in Mizoram that will displace over 100 families of backward tribals and put them in uncertain future?
I see a hidden agenda. Is it to grab the lands (and forests) of the Chakmas in the name of nature conservation? I guess I will never get the answer to it.
There are very less number of tigers in DTR which is as follows(3) :
1993 – 7
1995 – 4
1997 – 5
2001-2002 – 4
The Chief Wildlife Warden Mizoram has recently stated that there are only 6 (six) tigers in the Dampa Tiger Reserve.(4)
But then what is the necessity of extending its area at the expense of the livelihood of the people? This question should be asked again and again, for, the affected once again are the Chakma minorities.
Apart from the six tigers the important species found in DTR are elephant, Sambar, Barking deer, Hoolock gibbon and variety of birds. It is no denying the fact that environment conservation and protection of the endangered species are important issues in today’s world. But these precious species, in particular the tigers can also be protected and looked after within the existing area of DTR (500 square km). There is no need to extend its area. It is not a fact that the tigers are finding limited space to move freely. The forest officials must concentrate on measures to protect the endangered tigers rather than endangering the Chakma minorities. Last year a Chakma villager asked me, “Are tigers and birds more precious than the lives of the Chakmas?” I had no answer to give him, for, I didn’t want to say ‘yes, it seems at least so’.
I love tigers and environment, but I do not support bad policies when they affect the innocent people, more so if these policies are arbitrarily imposed on them.
The state government knows well that it cannot evict the Chakma tribal villagers of Andermanik as their rights are protected under the Forest Rights Act, 2006. Hence, it is using money as bait. The political leaders’ shadowy defence that it is up to the villagers whether to accept the state government's offer or not is not convincing and outrageous to say the least. Instead of alluring them with a lot of money the villagers must be counseled about their present, and future. The political leaders and the government must think of the long term interests of the people, not evict them needlessly. If the concerned people belong to minority communities more care should be taken so as not to harm their interests. But Mizoram government seems not to think that way.
If today the state government is shoftly allowed to acquire the Chakmas’ land in Andermanik by offering handsome money, it will not hesitate to ‘buy’ other nearby Chakma villages – Silsury, Rajiv Nagar and Hnahva as part of its policy to economically suppress the Chakma minorities.
4. Mizoram to conduct tiger census, The Telegraph, Kolkata, 22 January 2010, available at http://www.telegraphindia.com/1100122/jsp/northeast/story_11995826.jsp#