The way out
In 2010, Panna had been selected for the Integrated Action Plan (IAP) – aimed at developing tribal dominated districts, but over the decade nothing has changed.
“We have asked the forest department to allow access to the land and forests but it has been refused. We are fighting for more than two decades for our right to access,” said Beg.
“The way out is providing access to the forest, revive the diamond mining business, start up a training program and livelihood projects for the villagers so that they can live in their own villages,” he added.
Panna National Park: Have the Cost of Conservation been Reversed on the Residents?
The release of All India Tiger Estimation Report 2018 has provided much joy to the Madhya Pradesh government and tiger conservationists, as they regained the tag of the former ‘Tiger State’, with the estimation of 526 big cats. However, the residents of Panna district have something else to say. They believe that the Panna National Park has had a detrimental effect on both development and the quality of life of the individuals living in the area. Loss of sources of employment, mass migration, poverty, and rampant malnutrition have become the typical outcome of the implementation of the National Park.
Poverty: Before and After the National Park
What was Panna like before it became a national park in 1993? The region of Panna falls under the Sagar division, and is popular for its diamond mining. People in the district were entirely dependent on the forests and were able to find employment through diamond mining. Landowners had agricultural lands and water bodies, and there was immense scope for investment.
But ever since the district was declared as a national park, things have gone south. People have started migrating because of the lack of jobs, making the poverty rate worse than before. NITI Aayog Report has already established Panna as one of the most backward districts of the state. Silicosis, poverty rate, and malnutrition cases in the area have gone up alarmingly.
No Benefits for the Residents, But Loss of Jobs
The Wildlife Protection Act 1972 and National Tiger Conservation Authority have imposed restrictions on factories or industries that can be set up in forests. This limitation has resulted in a lack of employment opportunities for the people and has hindered the economic development of Panna district. As a result of this, unemployment and migration have risen substantially in the last few years.
The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) guaranteed 100 days of job to the marginalised section of the society, but unfortunately, it has remained dysfunctional on the ground. Further, Panna has no access to train travel. A national highway connecting Satna and Chhattarpur districts runs through this region and a state highway links the district to the Uttar Pradesh’s Banda district. But, this limited connectivity has relegated the region from any form of further development opportunities.
Eviction of Tribals: An Unwarranted Price for Conservation
The tribals were depending entirely on the forests for sustenance before the park was instituted. But that has been taken away and they have been forcefully evicted from their villages by offering only Rs 10 lakh as compensation and 5 acres of land. This compensation is nothing less than minuscule for these people and the distribution of the amount has been so slow that many of the removed individuals are yet to receive it.
The situation has been enhanced by NGO’s like Prithvi Trust that undertook a health check-up camp for stone mining labourers in 2010 and found that 162 people, including 6 women, had been suffering from various ailments, but 8 years later, the government has been able to acknowledge only 41 patients.
A Price of Neglect from the Governments
The lack of development in the region is accredited to the former MP and MLA from Panna, Late Lokendra Singh. He was the man behind this tiger reserve project and saved more than 100 acres of land adjacent to the Mandla gate of the park. However, he did not make any effort to bring development to the district.
It is also important to mention that the only Indian diamond mining company, the National Mineral Development Corporation (NMDC) have been struggling badly ever since the park was set up. They never got the permit and the current mining fields are on the verge of closure as per the orders of the Supreme Court.
The Way Out
Panna was also selected for the Integrated