Jul 24, 2015

WWF Scandal (part 6): Evictions of Indigenous Peoples in India for Tiger tourism

French TV channel Canal Plus recently broadcast an investigation into mass tourism company Nouvelles Frontières. The programme includes a visit to the Kanha Tiger Reserve in Madhya Pradesh state in India.
By Chris Lang / redd-monitor.org

Canal Plus reports that at least 22,000 people have been evicted from three tiger reserves on Nouvelles Frontières’ tour, about half of them from Kanha. Indigenous peoples are kicked out of the tiger reserve, but tourists are welcomed.

Here’s the Canal Plus documentary (in French). The report about Kanha starts at 37 minutes 18 seconds. Survival International has produced an unofficial English translation of the part of the programme about Kanha Tiger Reserve.

In 2012, India’s Ministry of Forests produced a report about planned evictions from tiger reserves. Canal Plus obtained a copy of the confidential report, which documents how many people would be evicted.

Canal Plus contacted the Ministry of Forests, but received no reply.

WWF provides infrastructural support, training and equipment for staff in Kanha Tiger Reserve. WWF’s panda logo is displayed at the entrance to the reserve:

 

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Canal Plus’ journalists met with Yash Shethia, Associate Director of WWF-India’s Species and Landscapes Programme. Shethia does not condemn the evictions:

  • Reporter: Do you agree to say, today, as a representative of WWF, that you strongly condemn the resettlement of the villages. Like those that took place in the Kanha Reserve, for example.

     

    Yash Shethia: I would not put it like that. But we don’t encourage them. Under no circumstance do we support the resettlement of villages.

    Reporter: But are you opposed to it?

    ShethiaYash Shethia: Well we think that there’s a greater mission. If we engage with the authorities on six cases and we don’t share their point of view on one of them, why should we suspend the rest of our engagements, to the extent that we work with endangered animals?

    Reporter: Because this case in particular affects thousands of human beings – it’s not a small problem.

    Yash Shethia: “Obviously we’re putting all our effort into this case. You may not see what’s going on, it may not be obvious in every place but, very clearly, our colleagues on the ground are sending on our messages.

    Reporter: Thank you very much for your time and for answering these questions.

In 2012, Survival International filmed some of the Baiga tribe who then lived in Jholar village, inside the Kanha Tiger Reserve. Canal Plus reports that “this tribe is thought to have lived in this jungle for more than 20,000 years”.

In January 2014, Survival International reported that the Baiga had been forcibly and illegally evicted from their homes in Kanha. Canal Plus’ journalists visited the families after the evictions. They are living next to a road on the outskirts of a town 30 kilometres from the forest. Their new houses have no electricity and no drinking water.

Sukhdev, one of the men who spoke to Survival International in 2012, was killed after the eviction. His body was found after he tried to buy some land. In 2012, Sukhdev had said,

“We won’t find another place like this. How will we set up home there? How will we raise our children? We need our fields and homes… Won’t we die?”

Sukhdev’s brother, now living at the side of the road, told Canal Plus,

“You know, my brother had said everything in this video. That we wouldn’t leave the village. That we would not go anywhere else. We were one of the last families to resist. But the people from the reserve forced us to leave. They told us they’d take care of us for three years, but they didn’t do a thing. Even when my brother was killed, no one came to help us.”

Tourism in India’s tiger reserves has increased dramatically in recent years, to the point where it is threatening the tigers.

In 2013, Suhas Kumar, Additional Chief Conservator of Forests (Wildlife), published a study he carried out in a personal capacity on the impact of tourism in India’s tiger reserves. Kumar points out that in Kanha and other tiger reserves, “ongoing practices and management … make tourism incompatible and detrimental to the primary objective conserving tiger”.

[R]apid escalation in visitor numbers in Kanha, Bandhavgarh and Pench tiger reserves and the resultant crowd, noise and litter is eroding the very sense of wilderness that visitors long to experience. On the other hand unplanned large scale construction of luxury resorts, hotels and dhabas along the periphery of the core zones hamper free movement of tiger by blocking open spaces thus adversely impacting the corridor functions of buffer forests.

Survival’s Director Stephen Corry said,

“So-called ‘conservation’ continues to destroy tribal peoples as it has for generations. They’ve never threatened the tigers, who would do better if the tribes remained and the tourists stopped. Tribal peoples are generally better conservationists anyway than industrial-sized NGOs like WWF which stand by in silence while the parks forcibly evict people like Sukhdev and his family. It’s time these evictions are stopped and this scandal exposed.”

 


PHOTO credit: Survival International.

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