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Forest versus people: snatching livelihoods?

Meena Menon

About 1,500 fisherfolk will lose their livelihood, if the M.P. Government enforces a ban on fishing


  • Obstacles in the way of a fisheries cooperative run by Adivasis
  • People of 40 villages displaced are not given land
  • "Government says our fishing will harm the animals. We are saying it is our right and we want fish, not hunt animals"

    KESLA (HOSHANGABAD DISTRICT: M.P.): Although the Centre tabled a Bill in Parliament last year to guarantee at least 100 days of work every year to poor households, the reality looks different. At least, in one case in this district, covered by the on-going Rozgar Adhikar Yatra.

    The Madhya Pradesh Government, it is alleged, is trying to stop the Tawa Matsya Sangh (TMS), a fisheries cooperative run by Adivasis displaced from 40 villages by the dam on the Tawa river. The people fought a long struggle to get from the Government leasing rights for fishing in the reservoir in 1996. Over eight years, the Sangh has managed to reach an annual turnover of Rs. 1.25 crores, about 40 per cent of which goes to the people as wages and bonus.

    In the last two months, however, the authorities have clamped down on fishing and confiscated fishing nets and the catch. According to Bhurelal Manjhi of the Sangh, the Forest Department has put up undated notices everywhere saying he entire reservoir now falls in the precincts of the Satpuda National Park and fishing and agriculture are banned in the reserve. Even people cannot enter the reservoir area without permission.

    The 40 villages displaced by the dam were not given land for rehabilitation and 27 of them being forest villages, were left high and dry. The displaced persons, led by the Kisan Adivasi Sanghatana, struggled to gain control over the reservoir. The Sangh wrote repeatedly to the State Government, demanding a clarification on the issue but there is no reply, according to Sabbulal, chairperson. About 1,500 fisherfolk will lose their livelihood if the Government enforces the ban on fishing.

    Says Guliyabai: "The sarkar says our fishing will harm the animals. We are saying it is our right and we want to fish, not hunt animals. This year, they are very strict and not letting us into the park area." The Sangh's fishing lease is valid till December 2006. While nothing is official, Sabbulal says fishermen are being told not to enter the reservoir.

    "Think of people's sector"

    In 2004-05, the Sangh netted 382 tonnes of fish, exceeding the target of 320 tonnes. Rupesh Batri, TMS manager, says fish production has risen in the last eight years, the people's earnings have increased and the Government also gets a royalty. "This experience of the Sangh shows that people can manage resources profitably. Instead of a private or public sector, we must think of a people's sector," said Sunil of the Samajwadi Jan Parishad, who was involved in the Tawa struggle.

    In Kesla itself, the people have been displaced by an ordnance factory and an ammunition testing range, apart from the Tawa dam. In this region, the forest protection policies are goingagainst the people's right to work and security. For instance, even as the TMS is facing opposition, the Government is determined to resettle people living inside the Satpuda Tiger Reserve. The Satpuda National Park, the Bori Sanctuary and the Pachmarhi National Park together form the Tiger Reserve. Of the 70 villages inside, the Government proposes to relocate 50.

    Dhain is the first village to be relocated on land, which is being cultivated by the Dobjhirna villagers. According to Sunil, on May 6, bulldozers and armed police came to Dobjhirna to clear the fields and cut trees. When women and children resisted, they were beaten up. Two women became unconscious. For the next five days, the people of Dobjhirna staged a hunger-strike and protest at Hoshangabad.

    Forced resettlement

    "The Forest department is causing massive deforestation to relocate villagers to save a sanctuary and its wildlife. Can there be a bigger contradiction," asks Sunil. Instead of letting people live in the forest and seeking their help in conserving natural resources and wildlife, the Government is taking the drastic step of forced resettlement, which has its own consequences, they alleged.

    "The whole concept of conservation of wildlife is creating enemies of local people — you cannot conserve nature by force," adds Sunil.

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