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Sunday, June 24, 2012

The true life of villagers living in Sanctuaries...

I'm just back from a trek to the Govind Wildlife Sanctuary in Uttaranchal, and it has caused me to question my longheld beliefs about Sanctuaries, and about Government policies towards those villagers who live in them.
Govind Pashu Vihar is a 995 square kilometer sanctuary for snow-leopards, musk deer, civet etc etc, and I trekked through three villages- Sankhri, Taluka and Seema.
The villages had no power, no running water and no electricity. There was no mobile or landline connectivity. And ofcourse, no roads. And no fuel, except firewood.
 All this, because the forest department does not allow roads, or power pylons, or water pipes in a forest reserve.
To talk to each other or the outside world, villagers have to walk for days, to Purola, the nearest town.
With basic amenities absent, the other signs of civilization, too were absent, such as medical care.
Wherever I went, i was approached by villagers asking for medicine for fever, or stomach-ache, or diaarhoea.
There is no employment, and the villagers have, the locals say, taken to poaching and illegal collection of rare Himalayan herbs to supplement the income they get from their meager fields.
The villagers have reportedly been offered land outside the sanctuary, near Dehra Dun, but they have declined, as they feel it is too less.
Prices are stratospheric: Maggie costs 40 rupees a pack, and without roads, a porter takes 400 rupees a day to transport anything to anyplace.
All these days, I supported the classic government policy : no development inside Sanctuaries, and allow the villagers to stay inside, as they have for centuries, with the rights to collect forest produce.
But now, after the seeing the blighted lives of the villagers, my views have undergone a change: do not build roads, or allow electricity, or have water pipes, but do relocate them. Forcibly, if required.
However, whatever happens, let there cellphone connectivity in the sanctuary: this is the 21st century. Solar panels are used to recharge phones in the villages, and the  phones are used as torches and for playing songs. The panel below cost 2500 rupees:
Imagine catching water from a stream, and then picking up firewood, and then tending a fire to cook the food, and then walking for hours to talk to someone, and then as darkness draws near, lighting a lantern for light: and all this, just 500 kilometers from Delhi as the crows flies, in the 21st century. Sounds romantic? Try doing it for a lifetime.....