Survival International is announcing a landmark victory in which a tribe in India has for the first time in that country, apparently, had their right to use ancestral lands recognized – even though it is inside a tiger reserve.
According to the report, in 1974 members of the Soliga tribe were evicted from their homes in the Biligirirangan Hills, Karnataka state, because the local government was intent on protecting the state’s wildlife.
But now the Soliga’s right to collect, use, and sell forest produce from within the Rangaswami Temple Sanctuary reserve has been formally confirmed.
This move follows more than 30 years of debate in Karnataka state over how to reconcile tribal peoples’ rights with conservation.
As recently as January, 1,500 Soliga thought they would lose their homes when the Sanctuary was re-classified as a tiger reserve in order to ‘protect’ 30 of the big cats.
The Soliga insisted that removing them was not the solution, and told India’s Environment Minister to ‘give (them) poison’, rather than force them out.
Under the Forest Rights Act, the Soliga now have legal rights to use and protect as much as 60% of the reserve.
The Soligas are now working on a proposal to manage the tiger reserve jointly with the Karnataka state authorities, using their traditional knowledge.
Survival International’s Director Stephen Corry said: "The Indian government is beginning to realize that tribal peoples are the best conservationists, by far. If only the rest of the world could catch on. Evicting tribespeople from their ancestral land in the name of ‘conservation’ is not only illegal and destroys them, it also spells disaster for the local environment and wildlife."