KARNATAKA: Unsettling tribes

Published : Oct 19, 2012 00:00 IST

A tribal settlement inside the core zone of Nagarhole, a 1999 photograph.-BY SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

A tribal settlement inside the core zone of Nagarhole, a 1999 photograph.-BY SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

THE fate of 1,300 tribal families living in and around the Rajiv Gandhi National Park (RGNP), also known as Nagarhole, in southern Karnataka rests on the recommendations of a High Court-appointed committee that will be submitting its final report by November. The court had appointed this committee, headed by the political scientist Muzaffar Assadi, in 2004 in response to a 1999 public interest litigation filed by an NGO against resettling tribal people outside the national park area.

There was pressure on the tribal communities in the region to move out after 1992, when the amended Wildlife Protection Act was passed. While many moved out voluntarily, others have stayed put and are waiting for the courts decision. The passage of the Scheduled Tribe and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006, has given a fillip to the tribal peoples demand to continue living in and around the RGNP.

Assadi told Frontline that the various tribes that lived in the forest, including the Jenu Kurubas and Soligas, severely lag behind non-forest Scheduled Tribes in development and opportunities. This problem, he said, could be addressed by bringing the forest area in southern Karnataka, including the RGNP, Bandipur National Park and parts of Kodagu district, under the Fifth Schedule of the Constitution, which would grant autonomy to tribal people and prevent the transfer of land to non-tribal people. Also, in his opinion, primitive tribal groups such as the Jenu Kurubas need affirmative action distinct from that given to the Scheduled Tribes. Assadi said that an institution should be set up to impart cultural and vocational education from the school to the postgraduate level.

While the recommendation to give tribal people rights to forests will be challenged by environmentalists, such suggestions have already found favour with organisations working for tribal rights. It remains to be seen whether the High Court will accept Assadis recommendations.

Vikhar Ahmed Sayeed
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