Course:CONS370/Projects/Can conservation be compatible with human rights? The Gond and Baiga tribes vs Kanha Tiger Reserves in Madhya Pradesh, India

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Baiga tribe members

The Gond and Baiga tribes have faced years of evictions and involuntary relocations. The Wildlife Protection Act of 1972 was the first legal document to prohibit tribal communities from residing in protected areas (PA). Once more and more land was allocated to national parks and deemed as PA by the Indian government, tribal communities living in those areas were forced out or else risked the repercussions of breaching the Act's stipulations. With regards to the Gond and Baiga Tribes of Madhya Pradesh, the area in which they have resided for thousands of years is still not yet considered a protected area. However, these tribe members live each day in fear knowing that the government will perhaps one day overturn their rights (as recognized in the Forest Rights Act of 2006) and forcibly evict them from their home lands.  


Historically, human rights have often been violated in the name of conservation whether it be through the removal of Indigenous people from their land and/or the complete disregard for their culture and traditions. Kanha Tiger Reserve, located in Madhya Pradesh, India, is no exception.

Map depicting the Kanha National Tiger Reserve within the province of Madhya Pradesh, India

Kanha Tiger Reserve is one of the largest and most highly valued sites of conservation in all of India and is a sanctuary for the endangered Bengal Tiger. however, the land on which the reserve lies also happens to be traditional land of both the Gond and Baiga tribes, begging the question: can conservation be compatible with human rights?

Kanha Tiger Reserve is one of the oldest of more than 500 conservation areas in India.[1] Located in Madhya Pradesh, the reserve is home to the highest density of tigers in India.[1] In 1973, the Indian government launched Project Tiger in an effort to aid in the conservation of the endangered species and the 2074 km2 area of land, Kanha Reserve, was one of nine protected areas included in their initial efforts.[1]

Of the 2074 km2 area that comprises Kanha Tiger Reserve, 22.57 km2 is made up of Indigenous villages which has proven to be an area of conflict for both the conservationists, and the Indigenous people.[1] The Biaga tribal group is one of the tribes that lives in Madhya Pradesh on this land and make up some of the villages. The Baiga tribe has been classified as a primitive tribal group (PTG) because of their lack of literacy, closed population, poverty, and forest-based economy.[2] The other tribal group’s land which Kanha Tiger Reserve lies on is the Gond tribal group. The Gond tribe relies heavily on the forest for their livelihood as it provides them with medicines, food, timber, and fuel.[3] Much like the Baiga tribe, the Gond tribal group in Madhya Pradesh, India also relies on non-industrialized and sustainable agricultural practices, but which often leads to states of poverty and malnutrition due to the uncertainty of seasonal crops[4]. Because both these tribes rely so heavily on the forest for their livelihoods, many restrictions placed on the forest in the name of conservation may have devastating impacts on both of these communities.

The relationship between the tribal groups which live on this land and the tiger reserve is complicated. In the name of conservation, Kanha Tiger Reserve has driven these people from their ancestral land, often through manipulation and undervalued payments.[5] A large reason as to why these tribes have been forced out is due to the Wildlife Protection Act 1972 which dictates that tribal groups are not able to live on protected land, a violation of their inherent rights.[5]

Tenure arrangements

Many governments around the world displace trial people in the name of conservation or convert tribal regions into protected areas. Tribal people have always been the easiest of targets. They have been manipulated during colonialism and even today by our governments.[5] Governments can easily take over tribal peoples' regions by offering them some sort of compensation, or reward. If a government sanctions an area as a tiger reserve, then this pushes tribal peoples out of the picture. Governments back up their reasoning for pushing tribal people out of their lands to convert tribal people into a more mainstream way of living and to ‘help’ them with a more ‘humane’ source of income.[5]

Governments offer tribal people in India the “10 lakh compensation”, equivalent to approximately 18,000 Canadian dollars.[5] This compensation is supposed to be equivalent to them giving up their ancestral lands. Not only are they giving up their lands but they are giving up their way of life. They are forced to live a more ‘normal’ life, something that is way beyond their normal.[5] These tribal people are pushed out into the outskirts and although the Forest Rights Act states that all their basic needs must be met before displacement, displacement is never fully and mutually accepted by both parties.[5] It is almost impossible to please tribal people after taking away their land and more importantly their homes. Tribals are lured out of their lands through bribery and manipulation.[5] Their vulnerabilities, such as poverty, are taken advantage of and therefore they are ‘forced’ into selling their ancestral lands in order to support their families.[5]

Current Rights

Under the Forest Rights Act 2006 3(1)  tribal people in India hold the following rights;

3. (1) For the purposes of this Act, the following rights, which secure individual or community tenure or both, shall be the forest rights of forest dwelling Scheduled Tribes and other traditional forest dwellers on all forest lands, namely:-

(a)  right to hold and live in the forest land under the individual or common occupation for habitation or for self-cultivation for livelihood by a member or members of a forest dwelling Scheduled Tribe or other traditional forest dwellers;

(b)  community rights such as nistar, by whatever name called, including those used in erstwhile Princely States, Zamindari or such intermediary regimes;

(c)  right of ownership, access to collect, use, and dispose of minor forest produce which has been traditionally collected within or outside village boundaries;

(d)  other community rights of uses or entitlements such as sh and other products of water bodies, grazing (both se led or transhumant) and traditional seasonal resource access of nomadic or pastoralist communities [some words appear incomplete];

(e)  rights including community tenures of habitat and habitation for primitive tribal groups and pre- agricultural communities;

(f)  rights in or over disputed lands under any nomenclature in any State where claims are disputed;

(g)  rights for conversion of Pa as or leases or grants issued by any local authority or any State Government on forest lands to titles;

(h)  rights of settlement and conversion of all forest villages, old habitation, unsurveyed villages and other villages in forests, whether recorded, noti ed or not into revenue villages;

(i)  rights to protect, regenerate or conserve or manage any community forest resource which they have been traditionally protecting and conserving for sustainable use;

(j)  rights which are recognised under any State law or laws of any Autonomous District Council or Autonomous Regional Council or which are accepted as rights of tribals under any traditional or customary law of the concerned tribes of any State;

(k)  right of access to biodiversity and community right to intellectual property and traditional knowledge related to biodiversity and cultural diversity;

(l)  any other traditional right customarily enjoyed by the forest dwelling Scheduled Tribes or other traditional forest dwellers, as the case may be, which are not mentioned in clauses (a) to (k) but excluding the traditional right of hunting or trapping or extracting a part of the body of any species of wild animal;

(m)  right to in situ rehabilitation including alternative land in cases where the Scheduled Tribes or other traditional forest dwellers have been illegally evicted or displaced from forest land of any description without receiving their legal entitlement to rehabilitation prior to the 13th day of December, 2005.

*Ministry of Tribal Affairs, Government of India and United Nations Development Programme, India, Forest Rights Act 2006 Section 3(1)

On the other hand the Wildlife Protection Act 1972 forbids dwelling in protected areas and sanctuaries.[5] If tribal areas are converted into sanctuaries then according to the law tribals can no longer dwell there.[5]

Impacts of administrative decisions on reserve efficacy

Kanha Tiger reserve is one of the oldest conservation sites in all of India[1]. The reserve is also one of the largest and most effective tiger reserves in the country and because of this, the park has also become one of the most heavily funded reserves in the country, providing the reserve with lots of new technology in order to maximize the visitor experience[6] .The technology at Kanha Tiger Reserve has sparked interest among researchers about the impacts of this technology on visitor engagement and knowledge. It was found that visitors had increased engagement and knowledge following interactive experiences rather than after technological experiences; this was assessed by visitors completing a survey both before and following their visit[6]. Interactive experiences were classified as experiences where tigers were present, and visitors were out in the sanctuary seeing the animals rather than in the interpretive facilities of the reserve.

The implementation of technology and the budget of the reserve is one of the many administrative decisions made at Kanha Tiger Reserve. By using the results of the study mentioned above, we can start to look at ways both the Gond and Baiga tribal groups can become more involved in the conservation of tigers rather than forcing them from their ancestral land. With the reserve’s large funding, rather than investing in technology that does not necessarily improve on the visitor experience, the reserve could put this money towards the education of both these tribes, allowing them to partake in the conservation of the tiger.

Both the Gond and Baiga tribes live in poverty as of current[3]. A study conducted by Jain & Sharma (2009) concludes that education has a direct correlation on the economy of the Biaga tribe in Madhya Pradesh, India[7]. By making the administrative decision to implement educational efforts for both the Gond and Baiga tribes whom this land belongs to, it will both increase their quality of living as well as the efficacy of the tiger reserve’s conservation efforts in the long run.

Affected Stakeholders

Defined by Freeman (1984), stakeholders are the people and organizations who are basically affected by an action or policy in which they are directly or indirectly included in the decision-making progress.[8] The decisions can either positively or negatively affect the stakeholders involved.

Baiga and Gond tribes

A Baiga tribe mother holding her young child

The Baiga and Gond tribal forest dwellers are the main stakeholders affected in this situation due to the fact that they are the ones being forcibly removed from their ancestral lands in the name of conservation. In 1968 a wave of evictions occurred, and Indian authorities removed roughly 28 villages within the Kanha National Park.[9] Against popular belief, the tribes themselves take part in conservation practices and in turn are the best conservationists for the area. Removing them from their ancestral lands does more harm to the tiger populations than good. There are ten experienced tribals who are known simply as trackers who help forest officials by tracing animals within the forests and provide crucial information.[9] Within the last one hundred years, many acts and policies have been enacted in the hopes of protecting the affected tribes. however the Indian government have found ways around the rights of these tribes.  

The Indian Government

In 2014, Indian authorities forcibly evicted 450 families from both the Baiga and Gond tribes from the Kanha Tiger Reserve and provided no compensation.[10] In 2017, the authorities returned and destroyed 8 000 homes and evicted a further 40 000 people from protected areas.[10] Unfortunately, the authorities exert power over the inhabitants of the forests in the name of conservation and use the Wildlife Protection Act of 1972 to enforce their laws and remove people from wildlife areas. The latest development occurred in February 2018 where India’s Supreme Court ruled in the eviction of 8 million tribal people and other traditional forest dwellers. Only after there was sustained pressure on the Indian government led by activists and other political parties, the government suspended the eviction order.[10] Unfortunately, the next hearing is scheduled for the near future therefore the threat of future evictions is currently looming over the heads of millions of people. Although the Forest Rights Act was enacted, the Indian authorities undercut it by harassing villagers into “agreeing” to leave their homes.[10] Since proving citizenship is difficult for forest dwellers, authorities threaten the vulnerable, later claiming the dwellers were voluntarily relocated to better locations while being compensated.[10]

Other Governmental Bodies Involved[11]

  • Madhya Pradesh Forest Department
  • Madhya Pradesh Government
  • Environmental Ministry

Policies and Acts

Wildlife Protection Act

Bengal tigers are an endangered species of India

The Wildlife Protection Act was enacted in 1972[12] and was one of the first acts of its kind. It was for the purposes of providing protection to a listed species of flora and fauna in India.[12] It also aimed at creating ecologically important protected areas to further wildlife protection. The act itself stated also that it provided authorities of the government to administer and implement the act therefore giving them power over the forest dwellers.[12] It is important to note that this act also prohibited the hunting of animals except with the permission of an authorized officer. therefore this act was quite progressive in terms of conservation practices and management. Although there are many positive things to have come from this particular act, it unfortunately provides a loophole to the Indian government. The act prohibits tribal groups to live on the lands of protected areas therefore deeming more and more land as a protected area limits the geographical space available to the hundreds of communities present. Eventually, once the land is legally considered a protected area, all tribal communities living on the land are essentially breaking the law by residing there. Against their will, relocation becomes the only option.

Project Tiger

The Project Tiger was first initiated on April 1st, 1973.[13] It was originally lunched in the Jim Corbett National Park, Uttrakhand by the Indian government under the leadership of Indira Gandhi.[13] The main objective of the Project Tiger was to save the Royal Bengal Tigers or else risk the species from going extinct. As the project grew in popularity over the years and tiger populations increased, the Wildlife Protection Act of 1972 was updated to include not only tigers but all wildlife species.[13] Eventually and through the use of the Wildlife Protection Act, more national parks began to take part and save endangered animals by supporting the removal of human populations within the forests themselves.[13]

Forest Rights Act

The Scheduled Tribes and other Traditional Forest Dwellers (but recognized as Forest Rights) Act was enacted in 2006.[14] It was created in the hopes of providing rights to a set number of tribes already listed in India’s constitution as well as other traditional forest dwelling communities. The rights would give the forest dwellers legal rights to manage and protect the forests of their ancestral lands.[14] Unfortunately, these historical injustices are constantly being undermined by the Indian authorities since the tribal members are being evicted either way and their rights ignored.[15]

Interested Outside Stakeholders

As outside stakeholders, tourists have a huge influence on countries who vitally depend on this income. The necessity of tourists with regards to protected areas and the economic benefits that the local communities receive from it will be discussed. Huge flocks of visitors visit the Kanha National Park on a regular basis, having increased from 38 236 visitors in 1998-1999 to 137 295 in 2008-2009.[16] These numbers help provide monetary value to the residents of the villages by having outside stakeholders come in and aid in whichever way they can. Once in the villages, tourists have the ability of observing, meeting villagers and learning from their conservation practices.  

Protests have also been joining together tribespeople from over 70 different villages within an area of 1 500 square kilometers to come together and overcome the evictions.[17] However, as they stand today, dozens of communities are terrified of being the next ones evicted only to face more poverty and suffering.[17]


A major conflict that has been the root cause of many of the disputes surrounding this issues centers around the fact that the laws and acts currently in place for the purposes of protecting the tribes are actually the same acts that allow the government to override them. The Wildlife Protection Act of 1972 was enacted in good faith, to save the Bengal tigers of India. however this act also prohibits the habitation of tribal communities in protected areas. The Indian government pushed tribal people out of their lands in order to promote conservation efforts, but tiger populations decreased even with these laws being in effect. In the beginning of the 20th century tiger populations were as high as 100,000 and currently they are just over 1500. This proves that the government's efforts to 'conserve' tigers, did little to no conserving. The problem is not the tribal people. These people have inhabited these lands since time immemorial and it is because of them that these tigers still exist. These people are naturally the best conservationists for these tigers. The removal of Gond and Baiga peoples from their lands not only negatively impacted tiger populations by causing a large decrease in numbers but it also destroyed these peoples' natural way of life. A way of life that was optimal for not only them but also the tigers. Unfortunately tribal communities thrive in protected areas far removed from urban regions where they can connect with the forests on spiritual levels. Having the law state that tribal communities cannot dwell within the forests of protected areas, the authorities have used this circumstance to their own advantage. Creating more protected areas limits the space available for communities to reside outside of these areas. Once declared a protected area, all people living on the land must relocate because the law dictates it. Thus, the Baiga and Gond tribes risk an eviction notice at any given moment the government decides to declare the land they currently reside on as a protected area. Conservation of tigers does not require the removal of Baiga and Gond tribes from their ancestral lands, it is socially and ecologically harmful.


While taking actions to prevent the extinction of Tigers, the government demolished the ways of life of  the Gond and Baiga people. Forced displacement and so much added pressure from the government made giving up their ancestral lands a much easier option.[18] Papers were blindly signed without clarity of the matter.[18] The Gond and Baiga peoples rights were violated. 3000 members of the Gond and Baiga tribes have been evicted from the Kanha Tiger Reserves as of June of 2015.[18] Even though their rights are held in place by the Forest Rights Act 2006 many rights have been violated.[18] India’s Judicial system ordered millions of tribals to be evicted if their request for sovereignty over their lands under the Forest Rights Act was rejected.[18] They did not receive proper compensation, but rather were thrown into villages and forced to live a more ‘normal’ life.[18] These communities if not re-located back to their ancestral lands will be destroyed forever. Governments use ‘conservation’ as an excuse and force tribals out of their lands and then go on to poach tigers.[18] Even after the removal of tribals from a region India's tiger population which is the home to more than half of the world's total tiger population has decreased from 100,000 to 1706, from the 20th century to today.[18] This proves that tribal people are not the problem and eviction from their ancestral lands is not necessary for tigers to thrive. Tribals do not condone poaching of tigers but instead hold a respectful relationship with nature and all the living organisms within it.[18] The Gond and Baiga people were the best of conservationists and understood the management techniques for the tigers better than any tiger conservationist today.[18] All in all, rights of the Gond and Baiga people are not reserved as promised under the Forest Rights Act 2006 and little to no compensation is given in exchange for an area that was better managed by them after all.


In order for the conservation of tigers in Kanha Tiger Reserve to be compatible with human rights many courses of action need to be taken in order to right the numerous wrongs that have been made against both the Gond and Baiga tribal groups. Firstly, when examining the tenure agreements between the government and the tribal groups, many of these have been violated despite the agreement between the tribal groups and the government. For example, the first agreement is that they are able to occupy the forest as they are both scheduled tribal groups; this agreement was violated by the Indian government as they drove out the two groups using force and manipulation. A second course of action which needs to take place in order for conservation to become compatible with human rights is to showcase the Gond and Baiga tribal groups' conservation efforts to the Indian government, allowing them to see the benefit of allowing these tribes to stay on the land. The process of righting these wrongs and addressing these issues will take time as the government will need to adjust the course of conservation that they have been taking in order to respect the human rights that they have been violating for so long.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 Panwar, V.K., Chaudhry, P. (2019). Major challenges and issues related to wildlife management in Kanha National Park, India. Ecological Questions, 30(3), 79-86
  2. Gautam, R.K., Jyoti, R. (2005). Primitive tribes in post-modern era with special reference to Baigas of Central India. Primitive Tribes in Contemporary India, 189-193.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Kamalkishor, H. N.; Kulkarni, K. M., 2009. Fish stupefying plants used by the tribals of Khammam district, Andhra Pradesh. Indian J. Trad. Knowl., 8 (4): 531-534
  4. Sharma, B., Mitashree, M., Chakrabarty S., Bharati, P. (2006). "Nutritional status of preschool children of Raj Gond - a tribal population in Madhya Pradesh, India" (PDF). Malaysian Journal of Nutrition. 12: 147–155.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  5. 5.00 5.01 5.02 5.03 5.04 5.05 5.06 5.07 5.08 5.09 5.10 Pincha, K. (2016). Tribals in forests: From dwellers to outsiders.
  6. 6.0 6.1 Benton, G.M., Sinha, B.C. (2011). "Interpretive effectiveness at Kanha Tiger Reserve, India" (PDF). Journal of Interpretation Research. 16(1): 72–79.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  7. Jain, A.K., Sharma, A.N. (2009). "The impact of education on the economy among the Baiga tribe in Madhya Pradesh, India: a brief note". Education, Knowledge, and Economy. 3(3): 177–182.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  8. Freeman, R. E. 1984. Strategic management: a stakeholder approach. Cambridge University Press. Cambridge, U.K.
  9. 9.0 9.1 Athar, U. (2016). Tribals Join in Tiger Conservation in Kanha National Park. Retrieved from
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 10.3 10.4 Mohanty, A. (2019). Tribal communities suffer when evicted in the name of conservation. Retried from
  11. Jaiswal, G. (2019). Kanha National Park. Retrieved from
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 More, H. (2019). Wildlife Protection Act, 1972: Its need, objectives and features. Retrieved from
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 13.3 Inside Indian Jungles. (2019). Project Tiger in India: Tiger Reserves India. Retrieved from
  14. 14.0 14.1 Rights and Resources Initiative. (2008). India's Forest Rights Act. Retrieved from
  15. Survival International. (n.d.). India's indigenous peoples under attack by Modi government and conservationists. Retrieved from
  16. Sinha, B. C., Qureshi, Q., Uniyal, V. K., & Sen, S. (2012). Economics of wildlife tourism–contribution to livelihoods of communities around Kanha tiger reserve, India. Journal of Ecotourism, 11(3), 207-218.
  17. 17.0 17.1 Survival International. (2018). India: Tribes threatened by conservation plan historic protest. Retrieved from
  18. 18.0 18.1 18.2 18.3 18.4 18.5 18.6 18.7 18.8 18.9 Bhalla, N. (2015, January 15). India urged stop evicting tribes from Kanha Tiger Reserve. Retrieved from https://www.livemint .com/Politics/ruxAQy7rvijRCXDPLDOSrK/India-urged -stop-evicting-tribes-from-Kanha-Tiger-Reserve.html 

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