Protected areas serve as refuges for threatened species worldwide, and in India, although these areas constitute < 5% of the country, they are rich habitats for tigers, elephants and other globally threatened species. In many cases people were residing within these protected areas prior to their notification, posing two problems. Firstly, in addition to suffering conflicts with wildlife, people residing within the protected areas are denied basic facilities such as medicine, education or electricity. Secondly, disturbance by people, even at low levels, can negatively affect threatened species.
The c. 600 km2 Kudremukh National Park, in the Western Ghats, south-west India, with its shola grasslands and evergreen forests, was declared in 1987 to protect a newly discovered population of the Endangered lion-tailed macaque Macaca silenus. The Park continues to harbour one of the largest extant populations of the species but is also home to c. 1,380 families residing in 42 settlements. Many residents have demanded development of infrastructure, although this would violate existing conservation laws.
The Indian government and the Wildlife Conservation Society India Program (WCS India) and its conservation partners view voluntary and fair resettlement of people from within National Parks as of benefit to all parties: resettled families obtain access to land, electricity, health care and education, and habitat is consolidated for threatened species. WCS India has been involved in successful village resettlement programmes in India for more than 2 decades, improving the welfare of more than 1,500 families through support of government-sponsored relocation projects and by providing extensive post-resettlement assistance (see Oryx, 48, 484–485, & 50, 205–206).
During 2000–2003 WCS India and its conservation partners, supported by donors that include philanthropist Vikram Nagaraj and Microsoft Corporation, initiated a privately-funded resettlement programme involving eight families from Kudremukh, with the approval and support of the Park authorities. This small intervention, the first of its kind for the Park, triggered a chain of events. Residents of Kudremukh, who were previously at an impasse, recognized in resettlement an outcome that could address their problems. With the Society's support c. 500 families residing within Kudremukh, including forest-dwelling tribal communities, formally applied to the government for resettlement to locations outside the Park.
About 200 families have so far been resettled from Kudremukh under the State government-sponsored scheme, receiving INR 547,000,000 (c. USD 8,000,000) as compensation and financial support. WCS India has invested c. 10% of this in supportive actions, including help with necessary documentation and follow-up with the government. Circa 152 ha of land in the most pristine parts of Kudremukh, which previously belonged to the resettled families, have been legally integrated into the Park. This has had the benefit of reducing scope for intrusions of development into approximately one-third of the Park.
In April 2016 the government officially proposed resettlement of the remaining 300 families. The government seeks to set aside INR 344,000,000 (USD 5,000,000) for resettlement of 86 scheduled tribe families and INR 871,000,000 (USD 13,000,000) for resettlement of 239 families from other communities. With the formation and working of a District Relocation Committee, the Kudremukh Park officials and other government officials are confident of successfully implementing the proposed resettlement.
Private sector conservation initiatives can play an important role in triggering and promoting fair, generous resettlement programmes. These programmes serve social justice by ensuring that people have access to basic facilities such as electricity, health care and education, and contribute to conservation through consolidation of habitat for threatened species.