SUBJECT :At the time when the state government wants to promote ecotourism through community conservancy, Junona villagers adjoining Tadoba-Andhari Tiger Reserve (TATR) have opposed the move tooth and nail. 

Nagpur, May 16, 2019: At the time when the state government wants to promote ecotourism through community conservancy, Junona villagers adjoining Tadoba-Andhari Tiger Reserve (TATR) have opposed the move tooth and nail.

Taking a cue from Masai Mara National Reserve in Kenya, the state forest department in 2015 introduced community conservancy by encouraging farmers adjoining parks not to cultivate land for which they will get honorarium. The farmlands that will get converted into grasslands and meadows would attract wildlife and boost tourism.

However, Junona villagers have rejected the TATR proposal alleging that it was an attempt to make them landless, especially at a time when Narendra Modi—led government wants to double the income of farmers by 2022.

“ Junona in buffer of Tadoba is already flooded with tourist for regular tiger sightings. It was proposed for community conservancy is considering its small size and huge tourism potential being close to Tadoba,” says TATR field director NR Praveen.

There are 40-45 households in Junona with people holding 70-acre agriculture land. The plan is to pay an annual compensation of Rs 10,000 per acre from the TATR foundation for not cultivating the fields. As it is, Junona is vulnerable to man-animal conflict and crop depredation cases are huge being near to Tadoba. There are 6 tiger in Junona area.

“There will be 11-month lease agreement with the landholders and the same will be renewed after evaluating result. Intitially, some families showed interest as we were also to give jobs as daily wagers on protection huts to each family, but now they are opposing the proposal,” said Praveen.

Sarpanch Sanjay Monde who opposed the move said, “Most of the locals are marginal farmers dependent on agriculture. Once cultivation is stooped, we will be at the mercy of forest department. Now, at least we are assured of foodgrain for entire year. Post agreement for conservancy all villagers will have to purchase foodgrains. Secondly, people cannot live without agriculture land, even if they grow no crop.”

Another issue, said Junona eco-development committee (EDC) president Kamlakar Meshram, was about multiple names in 7/12 extra for small piece of farmland. “ I own 16-acre land but have 20 names on 7/12 extra. Similar is the case with others. We will be left with paltry sum if the money is divided among so many claimants. The agriculture land is fertile and yield is better and hence people are opposed to part with the land,” said Meshram.

Monde alleged arm twisting tactics by the forest officials to get the conservancy project going. “ One guide Shravan Mangam’s vehicle is registered in his wife Hemalata’s name from Junona buffer gate and he was asked to stop operating when he opposed the proposal,” say Mondhe.

“The vehicle has stopped plying as the officials’ contention is that a single family cannot reap three-tier benefits of tousim.  Shravan has vehicle          registered in core since 2014. Besides, he himself works as a guide in Tadoba and his wife’s Gypsy operated from the buffer gate. There may be many resort owners who must be enjoying such privileges,” claimed Mondhe.

A delegation from Junona on Tuesday met chief wildlife warden Nitin H kakodkar and highlighted the issue. Mondhe said, “We have submitted the gram sabha resolution to Kakodkar against the project. He has assured community conservancy scheme is voluntary.”

TATR field director Praveen says, “As of now, we have shelved the project and it will depend on voluntary participation of all villagers. It was conceived to unite all areas of ecosystem in one integrated management model.”

What is community conservancy?

*It is basically ecotourism project on private lands near parks benefiting both communities and lodge owners

*Contry’s first such project is being implemented at Umred-Karhandla’s  Gothangaon in Kuhi where 39 families have agreed to part with 105 acres of land

*Similar project is in place at Alizanza (Kolara), where a lodge owner pays money to 3 landowner families for homestays he built on their 7-acre land

*Promoting responsible land use through strict management planning, convering tourism  development, grazing and settlement.