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Who Makes Poachers
May 31, 2012

Who Makes Poachers

The May 31, 1993, issue of Down To Earth looked at why people in villages turn to poaching. The question was answered through a detailed analysis of a spurt in tiger deaths in Ranthambore. Are conservators to be blamed for creating poachers? Excerpts from an editorial that accompanied the analysis:

31 May 2012

“Ranthambore is like a leper’s pock mark on this district,” says a senior citizen of Sawai Madhopur, the town near which this important national park is located. The comment sums up the disdain in which many Sawai Madhopur residents hold the park. It also puts into doubt the government’s nature conservation strategy.

Until recently, Ranthambore used to be a park where tourists could spot a tiger even on a quick visit. But now, sighting a tiger is a rarity. A tour operator has filed a court case against the park authorities on this count. The safety of the tigers in the park, as in many others, is in question because of a suspected spurt in poaching. At the same time, the park authorities have alienated the numerous villages situated in and around the park. Residents have been resettled with inadequate rehabilitation measures. Several villages still remain inside the park and are now extremely hostile to resettlement measures. Others who depend on the park to meet their fuel and fodder needs find their way full of obstacles, which can be got around only by bribing officials. Some groups have resorted to using their traditional skills to poach.

In sum, Ranthambore faces a total revolt against the conservation laws of the country. The residents no longer hesitate to indulge in violence against the upholders of these laws which, according to them, have turned them into outlaws in their own habitat. Caught in this fight between the law and the people’s anger are the forest guards, who invariably end up as victims of violence, especially as they have never been prepared to deal with such retaliation.

The government has two strategies in mind. One is more guards and guns. The other is sops in the form of an eco-development programme, which will try to increase fuel and fodder supply to the people through better management of the areas surrounding the park. But, it is unlikely any of these strategies will succeed. The only way national parks can be a success in the country is if people are made to feel they belong to them and that they are a part of their heritage. But the government’s strategy begins by treating people as outcasts. Therefore, resentment is building up.

From the standpoint of the people living around Ranthambore, what has the park brought them? Nothing. Even the tourist revenue has gone mostly to the town’s middle class or to opulent hoteliers from Bombay’s rich industrial houses. Why were these people allowed in? Why weren’t residents, through appropriate loans, helped to set up bed-and-breakfast facilities as in, say, villages in the Alps? Indeed, why can’t the villagers be involved in the management of the park and get a large share of the revenue and employment?

If bad development can be oppressive, Ranthambore clearly tells us that so can bad environmental management.