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Providing Habitation Rights to An Endangered Tribe

The 2012-batch IAS officer Ms. Harshika Singh has identified natural habitats of the endangered Baiga tribe of her district Mandla in Madhya Pradesh. The tribe is gradually declining with only 38,000 tribals left alive. She is providing habitational rights to Baigas in their traditional forested areas.
Indian Masterminds Stories

A tribal-dominated district, the Mandla region of Madhya Pradesh is home to the Baiga tribe, one of the 75 primitive tribal groups inhabiting the country. It is a highly vulnerable tribe in dire need of protection and conservation. The District Magistrate of Mandla, IAS officer Harshika Singh, has taken a concrete step in that direction by providing proper habitat to them.

In an exclusive conversation with Indian Masterminds, the 2012 batch officer shared details about the same.

BRINGING THEIR NATURAL HABITAT TO THEM

The special provision under Section 3 (1) (e) of the Forest Rights Act (FRA) of 2006 recognises the rights of forest-dwelling tribal communities and other traditional forest dwellers to forest resources on which these communities rely for a variety of needs such as livelihood, habitation, and other socio-cultural needs.

They are highly dependent on natural resources and forests for their lives. Their cultural practices also include crossing forests, climbing mountains, and other such activities. However, they have faced difficulty accessing the forests, several times, because of the forest department and rangers, who do not allow them to cross. Similarly, they are dependent on fishing from a nearby water source for their economic sustenance, but once again, the accessibility of the same is not a very feasible aspect in today’s time since they have to cross terrains and different forest areas.

“In almost all the aspects of their life – economic, social, cultural, spiritual – which is exclusive to a particular habitat, we are trying to give them that right to access their natural habitat and live according to their terms so that they could restore their natural way of living,” shared Ms. Singh.

SECURING THE HABITAT

Baigas have a typical way of living their lives, and they have been living in their habitat for centuries now. “It is very necessary for them to have the right and accessibility over various resources related to their habitat which can be manifested in the form of cultural rights, spiritual rights, economic rights, or even their basic rights. Our project will basically give the right to habitat to the Baiga tribe,” Ms. Singh told Indian Masterminds.

The officer and her team have been working on this front for the last two years and have been able to provide habitat rights to the naxal-affected area of Ambaar through this. She took the decision across three gram panchayats and benefited around 175 families by providing them with a 750 square meter area of their natural habitat.

“We tried to work on it further, and as a result, in the Bicchhiya block of the district, we were able to give them habitat rights over 1100 hectares of forest across 11 villages, benefitting over 1500 Baiga families,” shared Ms. Singh.

The decision will reduce any destructive activity in that area. It will also protect the flora and fauna of the region. “The main purpose behind the project is to protect the Baiga tribes whose population has dwindled to 38,000 and is rapidly declining,” she told Indian Masterminds.

DISTRICT LED INITIATIVE

The administration during the past two years has been reaching out to them trying to understand their habitat, devising a map for it, and pinpointing their locations for their benefit. Ms. Singh and her team sit down with tribal leaders trying to understand their style of living and issues. It has been a long process but after all this time, Ms. Singh has finally been able to grant them their rights.

“This is probably one of the biggest habitat rights that have been given in the country, as of now. We believe, it is the sixth habitat right that has been given in India. The fifth habitat right was also given by us,” shared the officer.

RUMMAGING THROUGH AGE-OLD DOCUMENTS FOR VERIFICATION

“To mark their habitats, the officer identified areas where they were living in large numbers. She went through British-era gadgeteers — since Mandla came into existence in 1859 – studied the documents that clearly indicated that the area had been reserved as the Baiga’s natural habitat for centuries,” she told Indian Masterminds

Up until now, the officer has benefited around 1715 Baiga families through her efforts. She has also identified eight other habitats that are existent in the district and is trying to work on them and provide their habitation rights to them.


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