Voluntary Resettlement Opens Space for People and Tigers

Voluntary Resettlement Opens Space for People and Tigers


Families that chose to be voluntarily resettled experienced higher incomes, greater food security and improved access to basic services. However, there are also important differences in resettlement experiences that have important influences on their quality of life over the long term.


Rapid expansion of cities and rural areas that have been appropriated for productive activities by private enterprises have dramatically reduced the areas available for nature reserves. Rich in biodiversity, India’s nature reserves are home to some 5 million people, in addition to providing resources critical to the livelihoods of some 147 million more. Population densities around India’s nature reserves often exceed 300 people per km2.

Not surprisingly, human presence and productive activities often conflict with the mission of nature reserves to protect biodiversity. This is especially true in the case of large-bodied species such as tigers, which require large areas and compete directly with people for space. At the same time, many of the people living in nature reserves are among India’s poorest, because the isolation that originally made the areas attractive as nature reserves limits economic opportunities. Also, many people living have been pushed toward the reserves because poverty, social standing and other factors prevented them from defending land and resource rights in areas that have been transformed by India’s economic development.

The presence of large numbers of people inside the nature reserves, and the resulting human-wildife conflicts, undermines the reserves’ biodiversity conservation mission and the integrity of the ecosystems that provide resources to people outside of the reserves. At the same time, restrictions on land use and threats posed by the wildlife with which they much co-exist frustrate the aspirations of people living in the reserves for a better quality of life. These dynamics create a lose-lose situation for wildlife and for people in the reserves. To create additional options for accommodating the needs of wildlife and people, the Government of India has established a well-funded voluntary resettlement program for households interested in moving out. Benefits include access to high-quality agricultural land, and access to good housing, schools and medical care.

The experience of the Bhadra Tiger Reserve is instructive. Bhadra lies in the heart of the largest Asian elephant and tiger population in the world, but have been highly fragmented by human settlements. Residents of villages within Bhadra once had minimum access to electricity, schools, or hospitals. At the same time, through cattle grazing, poaching, and clearing of land for agriculture, these villagers negatively impacted wildlife and natural habitats.

Implemented on the basis of a strong partnership between the Government of India, WCS and other civil society organizations, resettlement from Bhadra began in 2001. Between 2001 and 2002, nearly 4,000 people (419 families) from 13 villages were resettled from Bhadra, onto lands located in two villages, M.C. Halli and Kelaguru. All the families who resettled did so voluntarily. No one was forced to leave.

Follow-up surveys were conducted to monitor how resettled families fared. In 2002, 71% reported being satisfied with the relocation experience itself, and their overall quality of life at the end of the move. Four years later, in 2006, all of the relocated families had access to electricity, water, schools, health care, transportation, and communication facilities, and 52% reported that they were satisfied with their quality of life.

Experiences following relocation seem to have been responsible for the lower percentage of families reporting that they remained satisfied with thei quality of life. In the case of M.C. Halli, received fertile and well irrigated land, and were able to harvest their first crop within three months of moving. With the irrigated land they quickly established diversified crop production systems centering on rice, fruits, vegetables and sugarcane, which provided a high level of food security in a short period of time. In Kelaguru, families received larger land allotments, in areas where soils are well suited to growing coffee. In principle, coffee offers a higher income potential. However, it also requires several years for coffee bushes to begin to bear fruit, which meant that families had to find off-farm employment to satisfy basic necessities. Also, while coffee offers significant income potential, familes are also subjected to vagaries of the coffee market.

Resettlement is an extremely complicated issue, and there are numerous well documented examples of people who have been resettled faring badly. However, if settlement is truly voluntary, the resettlement process itself is managed scrupulously and appropriate follow-up support is given to families, the experience of Bhadra suggests that it can be a useful tool for creating additional options in situations commonly found in India, where high human populations and the small areas of nature reserves severely restrict opportunities for people and wildlife to co-exist successfully. In addition to Bhadra, voluntary resettlement has played a constructive role in managing human-wildlife conflict in Nagarahole, Bandipur, Kudremukh, Anshi-Dandeli, Wayanad, Mudumalai and Tadoba reserves, thanks to WCS involvement and support.


Effective Governance IconGOVERNANCE:  Settlement is voluntary, so the rights of people living in the reserves are respected. However, the small size of the reserves means that human-wildlife conflict is inevitable. Management of the reserves includes supporting people to take measures to reduce risks posed by wildlife. However, the fundamental trade-offs remain.

Rights IconRIGHTS: The success of resettlement depends on families who choose to move being given secure rights over the lands onto which they move.

Wellbeing IconWELL-BEING: Resettled families have improved access to education, health care, electricity, water and other services. Incomes are also higher. However, there are important differences how quickly they are able to address basic food security issues, and the vulnerabilities they experience as a result of increased exposure to market forces.


Bhadra Landscape/Naga Kiran ©WCS

Children from Madla village in Bhadra Wildlife Sanctuary Prior to Relocation/Krithi Karanth ©WCS

Bhadra Tiger Reserve

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