Preservation via dislocation


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EXCLUSIONIST policies of forest conservation, of which preservation via dislocation is an extreme manifestation, need to be situated within the broad canvas of the conservation-poverty-rural livelihood interface. Prima facie, a clear correlation seems to exist between access to natural resources and forests and the incidence of rural poverty, especially in the semi-arid upland tribal areas of Central India. Of the vast majority of Indians who depend on land-based livelihoods, nearly one-third are located in the arid and semi-arid tropics, which extend over more than 150 districts and account for around 43 per cent of the country’s total geographical area. The semi-arid tropics are home to a large section of India’s rural poor (including a majority of especially vulnerable Scheduled Tribes), who eke out increasingly precarious livelihoods from land and other natural resources in hilly, upland and forested areas.

Forests and common property resources (CPRs) are critical to the coping strategies of the poor in India’s drylands.1 In a scenario of uncertain agricultural (especially foodgrain) production conditions in the drylands, overall availability and stability of biomass (obtained from CPRs) allows the poor to diversify their livelihood basket through crop and livestock based mixed farming, and provides them with access to food, fodder, fuel and marketable forest produce. Changes in the regimes governing management and conservation of forests and commons, therefore, have a critical bearing on the livelihoods of the rural poor. Thus, the thrust on preservation via dislocation since the second half of the 20th century in India has had far-reaching consequences on the nature of agrarian livelihoods and the transition paths of such livelihoods.

Since the second half of the 20th century, a range of demographic, technological and institutional changes have brought about a rapid decline in the extent and quality of CPRs in India’s drylands. Increased soil salinity, decline in water table, decreased availability of biomass, desertification and replacement of large cattle by smaller ruminants are some of the common manifestations of this crisis of CPRs in the dry tropics of India. For the rural poor, the implications of this are non-trivial, since it is estimated that between 14 to 23 per cent of their income emanates from CPRs. In the face of the agonizingly slow growth observed in secondary and tertiary sector livelihoods in India, proletarianization of the rural poor and their growing dependence on public relief is a clear corollary of CPR decline.


Another important implication of CPR decline is the increased biotic pressure exerted by the poor on productive forests to meet their requirements of fuel, fodder, food and marketable NTFP. As a result, India’s forests (including designated protected areas –wildlife sanctuaries and national parks) have become sites of severe conflict for limited and critical natural resources. This conflict has intra-generation, inter-generation and inter-species dimensions, and its very complexity precludes simple and widely acceptable solutions.

In the post-liberalization period, pressures on forest resources from industry and commerce have also been increasing, as industrial demand for land, water and raw material grows in the face of skyrocketing aspirations of the domestic urban, semi-urban and rural populations, as well as demand from distant markets abroad. This has translated into pressure on the state to increase controls over resource use in existing protected areas (PAs), as also for increasing the total area under the PA network.

On the impact of human populations that use wildlife protected areas, there appears to be a clear polarization between schools of thought that advocate continued use of resources from PAs and those that champion a hands-off approach. The case for preservation via dislocation in India, mirroring worldwide trends, has been built explicitly or implicitly on the hypothesis that human use of resources depletes their availability. In other words, the hypothesis is that people and wildlife cannot coexist; therefore, if natural areas are to be safeguarded, people will have to be relocated. Votaries of preservation via relocation go so far as to argue that relocation will allow greater livelihood opportunities to forest-dwelling people, and thus is a potential win-win solution to a highly vexed issue.


However, few cases of preservation via dislocation have been rigorously documented by researchers, NGOs, government agencies or others. A recent review of literature on conservation-induced displacement shows that there are only 17 in-depth studies of resettlement of indigenous people from protected areas worldwide, of which very few pertain to South Asia.2

The few published works on conservation-induced displacement in India and South Asia suffer from two serious methodological lacunae. First, their results are based solely on the displaced people’s own recall of their pre-displacement livelihood, and their perceptions of the impact of relocation. As a stand-alone method this has serious problems of validity. Second, they do not engage with the commonly accepted methods of assessing displacement-related livelihood impacts (like the Impoverishment Risks and Reconstruction Model) or with standard methods of poverty analysis and of rural livelihood assessment (like the Sustainable Livelihoods Framework).

Thus, there is a glaring absence of rigorous village and household-level assessments of the socioeconomic impact of displacement from protected areas that focus on the impact of displacement on people’s asset holding, income, poverty and food security. Across the world, and also in India, the decision to displace people has tended to be based more on rhetoric than on facts. Site-specific studies are not carried out a priori to quantify the threat to a PA from the local population. Nor does existing knowledge inform actual decisions to relocate people from PAs in the country.

Typically, alternative solutions that minimize displacement are not even explored, and few attempts are made to establish that human displacement is the most viable solution for preservation of the PA in question. In the absence of sound quantitative and qualitative evidence on impact of displacement on people’s livelihood, the issue of preservation via dislocation is open, at present, to conjecture by proponents of both exclusionary and participatory conservation.


A recent full-length study on displacement of people from the Kuno wildlife sanctuary in Madhya Pradesh has thrown up various insights about the impact of dislocation on the agrarian economy in upland, semi-arid, tribal areas. Kuno sanctuary in district Sheopur of northwest Madhya Pradesh is the chosen site for a proposed project for reintroduction of endangered Asiatic lions from Gir National Park in Gujarat. Kuno wildlife sanctuary (345 sq km) lies at the core of nearly 1200 sq km of dry deciduous forests of the Kuno wildlife division in Madhya Pradesh. Since 1998, it is being prepared by the Madhya Pradesh Forest Department (with financial support from the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests) for receiving Asiatic lions from Gir.


Among the first activities undertaken in preparation for the Lion Reintroduction Project was the displacement of 24 villages (mainly populated by the Sahariya – a scheduled tribe) and their resettlement at a site around 15 km from the edge of the sanctuary. Nearly 1650 families (around 5000 people) were relocated from Kuno during 1999-2001, with a land-based rehabilitation package financed through a Union government sponsored beneficiary oriented scheme for tribal development.

The modified impoverishment risks and reconstruction model developed for the Kuno displacement study provides a strong foundation for linking displacement with rural livelihoods by laying down the principle of livelihood restoration as the main objective of post-displacement rehabilitation. The model recognizes explicitly that rural livelihoods, especially among the poorest segments of the rural population (like the landless and the marginal farmers), are derived not just from privately held assets like land, but in large part also from common property resources. In the Kuno study, the main impoverishment risks associated with displacement were mapped against specific risk-mitigation provisions of the rehabilitation package, and set out against the actual exposure of the displaced households to these risks.

This study found that the erstwhile inhabitants of Kuno wildlife sanctuary have been shifted from resource-rich but extremely remote forests to a relocation site outside the sanctuary. Across the 24 villages, nearly 1650 families, mainly hunters, gatherers and subsistence cultivators, have been subjected to a sudden and poorly planned shift to agriculture-based livelihoods in a drought-prone and highly degraded landscape. The relocation package is not informed by baseline data about pre-displacement livelihood, and a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to livelihood restoration has been taken, regardless of its suitability. Loss of forest-based livelihood has not been compensated adequately through development of alternative, non-farm employment and livelihood options. As a result of inadequacy of the relocation package and gaps in implementation, the largely self-sufficient forest-based livelihoods of the Sahariya have given way to precarious, mainly wage-based, food insecure and vulnerable livelihoods.


Prior to displacement, nearly all adivasi (scheduled tribe) households earned their livelihood through a complex and dynamic combination of subsistence agricultural production, livestock rearing, forest produce collection and sale, and occasional wage labour. Dependence on the forest for livelihood was fairly high, with the poorest families deriving almost 30 to 65 per cent of their cash income from sale of various non-timber forest produce (NTFP). In addition, the forest provided the people with a range of food items, including meat, as well as fuel wood, fodder and raw material for various items of household use.

According to key informants, items collected from commons or forests had nearly as much weightage in a typical tribal household’s daily food intake as items purchased from the market or cultivated on the family’s own land. Food items collected from the forest included numerous types of seasonal fruit, berries, tubers and roots, and of course, wild meat, fish and eggs. Ungulates were the prime target of hunting, though hare and birds too are known to have been hunted regularly. In periods of drought, the dependence of adivasi households on CPRs and forests for meeting diet needs was even higher. The Sahariya were also known to possess intimate knowledge about the medicinal qualities of many wild plants, which were used by traditional healers to cure various common and even some complex ailments.


A typical Sahariya household was likely to possess a range of items in the homestead that are derived from CPRs and forests. Roosting hens and newly born goat kids were kept in baskets, made from siyari grass. The kondra or ring used to balance water pots was made from the rope of the bark of the saita tree. The roof of the house was thatched using the leaves of the chholiya or Butea monosperma tree, and parwai, bhanjura and sain grasses. The construction of a single bullock cart required wood from at least five different trees (dhau, pharedu, remjha, babool and khair), each of which was used to make a specific part of the cart.

The handle of the axe used for cutting wood was made from the ber and dhaman tree, while the wood of the dhau tree was used for making the handle of the phawda (an implement used for digging the earth). The plough used commonly for farming was constructed using remjha and khair trees. The seed-drill used for dispersing seeds in agricultural fields was constructed using wood from the bamboo, mahua and salai trees. The rolling board and pins for making chapattis were made from the wood of the mahua and salai trees. The wood of the dhau tree was considered good for making beams of the house, and the wood of the khair tree was used for the door frames. Cots were made from the wood of the dhau or saita tree, while the string used on the cots was derived from the daab grass. The bark of the chholiya and hingota tree was used to stun fish in a stagnant pool of water, making it easy to catch them.


During weddings, the leaves of the jamun, bamboo and saita trees were used to decorate the house of the bride and the groom, and the wedding dome was constructed from the wood of the salai tree. Green dye derived from the sem plant was used for painting the walls of the hut. Local liquor was brewed from the flowers of the mahua tree, and ritual consumption of mahua liquor was an integral part of important festivals and social occasions. The forest was also an important source of recreation, and visits to important spots of religious significance deep inside the forest were an integral part of the social calendar of Kuno’s forest-dwellers. Hunting, honey collection, fishing and collection of fruit and berries were important recreational activities undertaken by adults in lean periods of the agricultural calendar, and by young people throughout the year. A range of songs and folk tales are associated with many such activities, indicating how deeply these were embedded in the Sahariya culture.

Displacement resulted in a sudden and sharp decline in people’s access to forests and commons, and thereby tore apart the fabric of the adivasi agro-economy. The average number of items collected from the wild declined, and the average distance and collection time increased. The brunt of these changes was borne by women. One of the most significant losses was in terms of diet diversity, since wild meat and a range of other nutritious food items collected seasonally from the forest virtually disappeared from the diet of the displaced people. Average household income from NTFP sale fell by 40 to 90 per cent, and the share of income from NTFP sale to the total household income also declined significantly.

The corresponding shift in livelihood dependence on agriculture that was envisaged by the resettlement plan and package did not come about, mainly due to the poor quality of land at the relocation site. Thus, after displacement, average income from agriculture declined sharply (by 45 to 90 per cent), and the share of agriculture in total household income fell correspondingly to less than 10 per cent of household income. Worsened production conditions (poorer quality of land, lower soil moisture, reduced availability of manure), greater uncertainty (inability to procure loans for purchasing inputs, worsened micro-climate due to shift to a more dry and upland tract), and exploitative drain of farm income to sharecroppers and moneylenders (due to inability of farmers to obtain complementary inputs) appear to be the main reasons for the observed decline in agriculture.


As a result of a sharp decline in livestock holdings of the relocated families, access of the displaced households to milk, domestic meat, dietary items like buttermilk, ghee, other milk products and eggs has fallen sharply. A Sahariya woman interviewed during the study observed that they had been forced to adopt the diet pattern of the bania and brahman castes after displacement, due to non-availability of their traditional dietary items at the relocation site. Displacement has resulted in a severe reduction in diet diversity and food security, and various instances of rampant malnutrition and even starvation have been reported from the resettled villages.3

The availability of draught cattle on farms has declined after relocation, leading to an increased dependence on exploitative sharecropping arrangements. Displacement and associated modifications in resource access changed the dynamics of the local economy, increasing the dependence of the relocated people on local wage labour and distress migration. Deepening poverty, reduced food security and increased economic vulnerability of the displaced households are clear consequences of such a transition.


An immediate impact of relocation was to give the displaced families greater access to liquidity (in the form of grants for house construction and transport of household effects, and wage employment for land-clearing activities). This may have helped some of them to briefly emerge from their below poverty line status, as captured by money-metric measures of poverty. However, in effect, most of this money was spent by the displaced households on consumption needs (including food and alcohol), and did not get converted to productive assets or investment in land or other income generating activities.

Thus, as the flow of rehabilitation-related funds tapered off, permanent loss of other sources of cash income resulted in re-entry of these households into income poverty. The average monetary income of the displaced households is less than seven rupees per person per day, and even when non-monetary flows are included, it lies well below Rs12 per person per day. Thus, even according to the highly restrictive calorific intake based official poverty line, a majority of displaced households have entered the below poverty line category. On balance, inadequate compensation for loss of social, financial, natural, human and physical capital have left the displaced households much worse off than before, and highly vulnerable to chronic poverty.

The implementing agency, the Madhya Pradesh Forest Department, was not able to forge effective linkages with other state agencies, line departments and NGOs to enable the displaced people to access their schemes and programmes. Even though the relocation site was not as remotely located as the Kuno sanctuary, an overall environment of poor governance and lack of accountability prevented the displaced people from availing of basic developmental facilities (like schools and health care) that they were promised at the relocation site.


Thus, for the Sahariya of Kuno, displacement appears to have set into motion a perverse process of agrarian transformation, marked by alienation from their natural resource base and the increasingly unsustainable nature of agriculture as a means of livelihood. In a relentless trend towards proletarianization (or pauperization), a majority of these households transitioned from poor but largely self-sufficient agriculturalists and hunter-gatherers to highly insecure marginal farmers and itinerant wage labourers.

In essence, this process mirrors the experience of the poorest and most marginal people (including many scheduled tribes) elsewhere in India, and indeed, in other parts of the world. The difference, however, lies in the time taken for this transformation – a gradual process that took place over many decades for other communities was telescoped into less than five years for the Sahariya displaced from Kuno. The trauma this causes to an already marginal adivasi community like the Sahariya cannot be over- emphasized.


After decades of following the exclusionist or ‘fortress’ approach to conservation, it is increasingly being recognized in India that there are serious problems with the ‘preservation via dislocation’ solution to the problem of human-wildlife conflicts. The report of the Tiger Task Force appointed by the government acknowledged this, and recent amendments to the Wildlife Protection Act (2006) call upon PA managers to explore coexistence options before taking a decision to relocate people. However, there are few uncontested examples of successful joint management of PAs in India, and as such, this is largely unexplored territory in practice, even though in theory and at the policy level, a consensus seems to be emerging towards coexistence and comanagement.

Moreover, carrying this concept into practice is fraught with numerous practical difficulties in terms of achieving gains in both conservation and livelihoods. Given the heterogenous nature of rural society, it will be a major challenge to ensure that gains from promotion of sustainable livelihoods are equitably shared. In the face of extant power imbalances, the interests of women, adivasis and other vulnerable groups are often compromised even in the successful cases of rural livelihood promotion. Alternative livelihoods that do not have a detrimental impact on biodiversity are difficult to establish, and understaffing and poor capacity within the state forest departments only adds to the list of challenges.


However, isolated cases of successful harmonization of conservation and livelihood have begun emerging in India, and important lessons can be derived from them to push the frontiers of knowledge in this arena. The bottom line is that if India’s forests and wildlife have to combat growing pressures from rapid land use changes, poaching and rising industrial and commercial demand for land and natural resources, the rural poor must be actively involved in conservation.

Instead of viewing local communities living near forests as part of the problem, sufficient incentives must be provided to this important constituency to win them over as partners in conservation. In this broad context, preservation via dislocation (implemented with due caution and adequate safeguards) should only be invoked as a last resort for key species of threatened mega-carnivores, and then only for critical habitats that need to be kept inviolate for these species.



1. N.S. Jodha, ‘Common Property Resources and the Rural Poor’, Economic and Political Weekly, 25, 1986.

2. Daniel Brockington and James Igoe. ‘Eviction for Conservation: A Global Overview’, Conservation and Society 4(3), July-September 2006.

3. Dionne Bunsha, ‘Left High and Dry’, Frontline 22(11), 21 May-3 June 2005.



M. Cernea and Kai Schmidt-Soltau, National Parks and Poverty Risks: Is Population Resettlement the Solution. World Bank, Washington D.C., 2003.

A. Kabra, ‘Impact of Involuntary Displacement on a Tribal Community: A Case Study of the Sahariya Adivasi Displaced >From Kuno Wildlife Sanctuary, Madhya Pradesh’, in Aasha Kapoor Mehta and Andrew Shepherd (eds), Chronic Poverty and Development Policy in India. Sage, New Delhi, 2006.

K.U. Karanth and M.D. Madhusudan, ‘Mitigating Human-Wildlife Conflicts in Southern Asia’, in C. van Schaik, John Terborgh and Madhu Rao (eds.), Making Parks Work: Strategies for Preserving Tropical Nature. Island Press, Washington D.C., 2002.

A. Sharma and A. Kabra, ‘Displacement as a Conservation Tool: Lessons From Kuno Wildlife Sanctuary, Madhya Pradesh’, in M. Rangarajan and Ghazala Shahabuddin (eds), Making Conservation Work. Permanent Black, New Delhi, 2007.