By Nakul Jana*
The Sunderbans Tiger Widow Welfare Society works for the tiger victims of the Sundarbans forest. There are 1.5 million people around Sundarbans in six blocks and 20 per cent of the people are fully dependent on minor forest produce, i.e. collection of fish, crab, honey, waste wood, fruits and leaves.
There are 30,000 families of the fringe communities, who have nothing else to live except collecting of crabs, and often gets killed by tigers. However, the West Bengal government has made entrance into the forests almost impossible by coming up with several requirements, including lots of permits, which a normal illiterate people can’t organize, and therefore is force to resort to illegal encroachment. The result is that, 90 per cent of the encroachments in the forest area illegal.
The administration enforces the clause 38(z) of the Wild Lift Protection (amendment) Act, 2006 without implementing the clause 38(v), which insists that alternate livelihood has to be provided for the people who are dependent on forests.
In November 2015 there were five tiger victims, and in December 2015 there were six tiger victims, who had permits to enter the forest. So one could well imagine the actual number of victims, who would not want to be declared as having entered the forests legally for fear of punishment, which includes a fine of Rs 2 lakh with a jail term of 3 to 7 years.
There are no gram sabhas in the Sundarbans forests, and there is no indication of their being formed in the villages. The state government flouts the laws and the villagers find no place to put their grievances.
More often than not, the range officers and beat officers behave like criminal rogues, who would snatch away the prime catch of fishermen. They often threaten fishermen with dire consequences if they are not hand over the best of the catches. Threats include killing the firshermen for poaching, and declaring them killed while falling in river or becoming fatal vicims of tigers or crocodiles.
The beat officers often demand huge bribe and confiscate fishermen’s boats and fishing permits by instituting false cases. Complaining to panchayat or police is of no use, as they are in collusion with criminal officers.
Indeed, the fishing community lives a life in hell in Sundarbans. As of today, there is no remedy for them.
*President, Sunderban Tiger Widow Welfare Society, West Bengal