(This is the third and last ‘post’ by Sonali Ghosh, a PhD student looking at the use of geospatial technology for mapping tiger habitat in the Indo-Bhutan Manas Tiger Conservation Landscape).
The encroachment issue has also been admitted time and again by the local government agencies (5). However, because of lengthy and legally complicated forest de-notification laws, poor enforcement strategies, and lack of any long-term policy directive, the entire area remains bereft of any formal system for land or human development. This also helps middlemen who take advantage of the loopholes within the system to settle people to meet their own short-term monetary gains. It is only when a large number of people are settled in, that they become a visible eyesore for the natives and hence become a reason for conflict.
(5): Bodoland Territorial Areas District (BTAD) has a multitude of forest types with varying degree of administrative control. National Parks, Wildlife Sanctuaries and Reserved Forests are areas with stricter control of the state whereas areas designated as Unclassed state forests and Proposed Reserved forests have traditionally also been viewed as public lands meant for grazing and fuel wood collection. Due to their unclear status these areas have witnessed maximum encroachment in recent years.
There isn’t one fool-proof solution but admission of the state that forest lands and laws within the North East need to be revisited would be a good step towards this direction. Hypothetically, a quick choice and perhaps a popular one with the politicians would be to deregulate the already degraded treeless areas and allot these to the rightful stakeholders. In this case however, the issue of deciding the right stakeholder can be tricky if proper documentation and cadastral surveys are not taken beforehand.
The case of opening up large areas for settled cultivation in the upper and middle catchment of fast-flowing and silt-carrying rivers through BTAD can also have repercussions downstream (the floodplains of Bangladesh), as it may lead to further soil erosion thereby creating even more ecological refugees in the future.
The second choice would be to come up with massive reforestation drives for recreating the original forests. Such artificial regeneration of forests (over 900 sq. kms. of area) would require significant amount of funds, the right planting season and the will power at all levels of staff in the enforcing agency. Given the resource crunch and a long incubation period, it is unlikely that this approach will yield a positive result.
The third and perhaps the most pragmatic choice of all would be a phase-wise treatment of the problem of land and law reforms at the regional level. First would be to consolidate, modernize and comprehensively document the land records. A concurrent phase would be to talk to multiple stake-holders and take local people into confidence while creating economic incentives around the land they need to protect.
Bamboo, agro-forestry and horticulture plantations along with a link to processing industries do have a potential to augment the state economy and resources. For the migrants, a work-permit based system along with enforceable land use planning system may bring in the much-desired transparency at all levels.
As for the tiger, it presently remains secure within the protected forest boundaries. If forest corridors can be built, then who knows, it may revel the local people at Chakrashila with its majestic roar once again.