India denies forcing tribals from "Jungle Book" tiger reserve

BHUBANESWAR: A wildlife official in central India on Wednesday rejected claims that tribes living in a tiger sanctuary inspired by Rudyard Kipling's "The Jungle Book" were being forced from their ancestral land to protect the endangered animals.

Indigenous rights group Survival International says the Baiga tribes in the Achanakmar Wildlife Sanctuary in Chhattisgarh state are being harassed by forest guards to leave the land where they have lived for generations.

B.N. Dwivedi, principal chief conservator of forests and chief wildlife warden in Chhattisgarh, said there were plans to relocate some tribal villages that are inside the sanctuary, but that no force was being used.

"When we evacuate some villagers from the tiger reserve, it cannot be done without their permission, without their acceptance, without their saying 'yes'," Dwivedi told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone from Raipur, the capital of Chhattisgarh.

"The allegation that they are being relocated forcefully is not correct and entirely incorrect."

Achanakmar covers an area of 552 sq km (213 sq miles) and is home to numerous flora and fauna, including endangered animals such as leopards, wild bison and the Bengal tiger.

It forms part of a tiger corridor to the neighbouring Kanha National Park, which provided the inspiration for "The Jungle Book", Kipling's novel about an abandoned boy who is raised by wolves in the jungle in India.

London-based Survival International said the Baiga people were told they will have to move from their villages to a muddy clearing outside the reserve, even though there is no evidence their presence in the reserve is harming tigers.

But some environmentalists fear it has hindered conservation efforts and encouraged the poaching of animals such as tigers.

Dwivedi said there were plans to relocate 250 Baiga families from four villages, but all were happy to leave the reserve.

"They are in fact very much willing to go out of that place," he said. "They want to come out from the area so that they get schooling, hospital as well as road facilities."