June 11, 2007
Pressures on the forest- Mudumalai
Mudumalai is situated on the southern extremity of the Mysore Plateau and separated from the Sigur plateau by the Moyar River and bound by the Nilgiri massif in the south east. The sanctuary is unique in several aspects as it was among the earliest declared protected areas of the nation. More than 70 years of protection have resulted in a high faunal density as well as adequate natural regeneration.
However, the sanctuary is not bereft of problems. Though, it is fortunate to be bounded on two sides by Bandipur and Wynad, yet it continues to reel under rapidly increasingly biotic pressure from the east and south. Small towns like Masinagudi and Singara pose immense threat to the fragile ecosystem, besides the numerous villages dot the area along Gudalur. Land rights are still ambiguous and encroachments are common. The plantations eat up into the forest most of the time and often there is a small thread of sanity that divides the forest from the hungry cash crops. Farmers have devised unique ways of living in their strange lifestyle and are up against the elements as well as the giant pachyderms that constantly threat to invade their fields. However it is the tribals who are the worst lot. With their traditional rights having been blotched, they are between the horns dilemma, having nowhere to go. There is no land available for resettlement, much of the allotted land for the insiders of the sanctuary has already been encroached upon, and even while they stay inside they are constantly harassed by the forest department and exploited by petty traders who buy numerous minor forest produce (not so minor for those whose life depends upon the quantity of honey collected each year) at dirt cheap rates.
The issue of encroachment is all pervading. Inside the sanctuary, lies the Benne block having a few patta lands. There are a few groups of Chetti patta land in Mudumalai block as well. Combining benne and Mudumalai forest, the total leased land is 55.00 hectares. In addition to this, the Chetties and the other tribes are cultivating 645.63 acres in different revenue settlement inside the sanctuary. The forest department has plans to relocate the people living inside the sanctuary to other places in the taluk. The villages originally envisaged for rehabilitation were Srimadurai and Cherumulli with potential land being offered as high as 1600 acres. But there has been little further progress in this matter.
With rapidly increasing populations and a shrinking land base, it is but critical that the sanctuary be accorded greater safety, but in hardening their stance, the forest department often isolates the marginal tribal groups who have no other means of livelihood, other than the forest and its resources. The tussle goes on and in the midst of all, suffers the tress and the tribals.