Lending a helping hand for ‘a happy life’
A donor pitches in to help a family struggling inside a national park to start a new life outside.
Written by Anisha Iyer
A house deep inside the Kudremukh National Park with the nearest town 6 km away. A 22-year-old child who is an Endosulfan victim and needs constant help. A young daughter who had to trek 6 km to attend classes. A life that became even tougher with reduced job options. An unbuilt house outside the forest for which funds had dried up…
That was the life of Vasantha Poojari and family till the timely help of a businesswoman Anju transformed their lives.
In 2010, there were 12 families living in the Nellidaka enclosure of Naravi Section, Belthangadi WL Range of Kudremukh NP. The hardships these families faced besides the lack of basic health and education facilities as also electricity, they faced issues of crop loss due to wild pigs, and other human wildlife conflict.
Of these families, five families who were holding large areas of the plantation were relocated outside the forest through government sponsored relocation programs between 2011 to 2018. Four primitive tribal families were also provided with alternative land outside the park by the Government Revenue Department during 2013 and they were able to move out of the forest. The application of two other families is pending due to issues over documents.
The application by Vasantha Poojari was rejected as the family did not have the documents to show rights to the forest land where they have cultivated areca nut and coconut on 1.05 acres of land.
The couple have two children, the elder one is 21 years old and is an Endosulfan victim and the younger one, a 14-year-old daughter. Endosulfan causes neuro disorders, congenital anomalies, delayed puberty, breathing issues, mental retardation, abortions and cancers in people exposed to this pesticide. Vasantha mentions the biggest challenge he faced inside the park, “Without a proper road, frequent doctor visits for my son were extremely difficult to manage and meant a total of 10 km travel.”
After their application seeking compensation under government-sponsored relocation program was rejected, Vasantha Poojari applied for a housing site outside the Kudremukh National Park through the popular scheme Akrama Sakrama. He was able to begin construction of the house on this site. However, the family soon ran out of cash for construction. This forced the family to continue living within the forest much against their will.
Once the other families had moved out, life had become tough for the Poojaris as they earned their livelihood mainly by working as labour on the nearby lands; work became tough to get. Some earning came from hours of beedi rolling and livestock rearing. Debts from daily expenses, doctor visits and with no constant income, all these nightmarish conditions made life inside the park difficult. As they found no way out, the family decided to approach WCS-India for support.
In January 2019, Delhi-based entrepreneur and philanthropist Anju had offered a donation to WCS-India to be used for relocation of people. Anju says, “When I came to know of the noble cause of working for voluntary relocation and conservation being done by WCS-India, I was eager to be a part of it as it resonated with my prayer, to leave no one behind as we progress ahead.”
A keen birder and nature lover, Anju strives to create value for others through her actions.
The WCS-India team held negotiations with the family regarding the compensation amount and it was finalized at Rs. 12.5 lakh. An amount of two lakhs was paid as advance, and the rest of the amount paid after the family moved out.
During March, the family moved into their new house. Vasantha, the happy owner of the new house is ecstatic about how things have turned out, “I cannot thank WCS and the funder enough for their help, all I have wanted is a happy life with my family.” He is now able to access his son’s physiotherapy treatment in time and with a lot of ease. Vasantha’s daughter is now enrolled into tailoring classes and able to pursue her passion. At the alternative house site, the beneficiary family is trying to develop a small farm and take part in livestock rearing. WCS-India plans to continue supporting the family in livelihood means.
Anju, when informed about the relocated family was happy and said, “Glad to know that family has been relocated. I hope they adjust well to the new environment. This family will always be in my prayers.”
Voluntary relocation from protected areas is a two-step process where the land occupied in the forest is acquired and the person compensated with an equal or more area of land outside, with all basic amenities provided. All relocation schemes, initiated since the MoEF first proposed it in 1999, are voluntary by nature.
In some cases where land documents are missing, or some complications arise due to disputes, etc making it difficult for the government to help relocate families, WCS-India has pitched in with timely funds that come in from individual donors like Anju, as well as from organisations.