A future of their own


Indian Express, 3 February 2006

- Ila Patnaik

Rs 10,000 crore must be set aside in Budget 2006 for relocating
tribals out of tiger reserves. This is good for tribals, good for
tigers, and good for India's economic growth.

On February 2nd the government will launch the Naional Rural Employement
Programme in 200 districts. The UPA has shown its willingness to spend
money on the employment guarantee bill despite the impact on the
exchequer. The tribal bill however appears to be getting step-motherly
treatment-- especially when it comes to spending money by the central
government. Considering that the money needed is much lower, a
one-time cost and makes economic sense -- it will raise GDP and taxes
in the future -- this is not good economic policy. If the UPA
government is serious about the welfare of both tribals and tigers,
Budget 2006 must allocate Rs 10,000 crores for the relocation of the
tribals out of tiger reserves.

According to the tribals bill, if tribals are not relocated out of
tiger reserves within the next 5 years they will be given permanent
rights over their piece of sanctury land. Though the bill has been
passed by the Central Government, the responsibilty of relocating
tribal populations from tiger reserves has been left to the state
governments. Unless money is allocated by the Central Government,
cash-starved state governments on whom this responsibility has been
dumped, will be unable to do any serious relocation.

Sariska is a chilling example. As reports in the Indian Express
revealed, all tigers in the Sariska tiger reserve were killed as a
consequence of the lax law enforcement that results from human
populations inhabiting tiger reserves. Now the Rajasthan Government
plans to reintroduce tigers into the reserve. However, the state
government does not plan to relocate the tribals. This will leave the
core problem unsolved.

If 5 years go by without relocating tribals out of reserves, the
problem will become even bigger. There will be land within tiger
reserves that will have to be divided up among tribal families who now
own it collectively. The protection of tigers would become much more
difficult if human habitation in the reserves was to turn to permanent

Experts have argued that the two issues of conserving the tiger and
protecting the rights of tribals should be clearly separate objectives
and separate land needs to be kept aside for achieving each of these
objectives. India can afford to put aside 2 percent of land to house
2,500 tigers. The findings of the Tiger task force set up by Prime
Minister Manhohan Singh as a response to the Sariska killings clearly
indicates that one of the most serious problems in protecting the
tiger has been the continued habitations of humans inside tiger
reserves. Wherever there are areas where humans have access, the
limitations of the policing powers of the forest guards, as well as
the incentives provided by criminal gangs involved in tiger poaching
have made it difficult to protect the tiger. The task force estimates
that around Rs 10,000 crore will be needed for relocation of the
tribles in Project Tiger reserves.

If separating tribals from tigers is important for tigers, it is
equally important for the tribals. Proposals to keep tribals inside
tiger reserves do injustice to tribals. Tribals are people, just like
us, and have a right to participate in the Indian economy. Relocating
tribals outside wildlife sancturies will help improve their living
standards, health and education. The lifestyles of tribals continuing
to live in wildlife sancturies will not improve, as they will be
contrained by life inside a wildlife sanctury which is optimised for
animals and not humans. It is callous to prevent the tribals, as much
citizens of India as any of us, from reaping the fruits of India's
growth. Tribals inside tiger reserves generally live in deep
poverty. They will not even have access to the employment guarantee
scheme. Instead of aiming to maintaining their poverty ridden
lifestyles, there must be an active programme to take them out of
these areas and relocate them in areas where they are able to reap the
fruits of India's growth, and have access to schools, hospitals, roads
and markets.

Spending money on relocating tribals from tiger reserves makes huge
commercial sense for India. In 2004-05, more than 3.6 million foreign
tourists visited India. The Indian tiger in the wild is a huge tourist
attraction. The hotel industry that grows around tiger tourism cannot
exist without it. Today the hotel industry adds Rs 26,000 crore to
Indian GDP. Travel is the biggest and fastest-growing sector in the
world. Indian tourism and hotels will stand to gain hugely if we can
protect the Indian tiger.

Raising a loan of Rs 10,000 crore or US dollars 2 billion from within
India, and from international agencies working for the welfare of
tribals and wildlife, should not be difficult. Foreign visitors
flocking to India's tiger reserves show clearly enough that the
excitement of seeing a tiger will bring enough tourists to India year
after year as long as we are able to make sure that the tigers
exist. They will bring money and business to pay back the loan.

Even if we attach zero importance to biodiversity as an end in itself,
and only focus on money, we must comparew the increased tourism
revenues with vibrant tiger populations, versus the reduced tourism
revenues when the tiger becomes extinct. We will be better off, purely
from a commercial point of view in making this investment of Rs.10,000
crore. Nobody can know these numbers exactly, but simple calculations
suggest that if India manages to stay on course with sound economic
growth, the tourism revenues over the next 30 years easily yield a net
present value which is much greater than Rs.10,000 crore. It makes
business sense for India to spend Rs.10,000 crore on relocating
adivasis, even if we attach no value to biodiversity other than as a
tool for obtaining tourist revenues.

Another aspect of this is that the resettlement cost will grow in the
future, reflecting rising wages and asset prices in India. Ideally,
the government should have bitten the bullet and done this in 1973,
when Project Tiger was created - it would have been dramatically
cheaper then. We should recognise the mistake, and not put off
relocation further.


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