Left high and dry in the Nilgiris

Prelims level : Environment Mains level : GS-III Environment; Biodiversity
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Why in News?

  • The Tamil Nadu Forest Department and more than 700 families in Mudumalai Tiger Reserve and Gudalur in the Nilgiris (including Kattunayakans, Irulas, Paniyas, and Kurumbas) signed the ‘golden handshake’ agreement.
  • The agreement was made after the Mountadden and Wayanadan Chetty communities obtained an order from the Madras High Court in 2007 seeking relocation away from the forest due to a lack of basic amenities.
  • The objective of the agreement was to benefit the local communities inside the tiger reserve and aid conservation efforts.
  • However, the Adivasis claim that the Chettys wanted to relocate as they had no traditional ties to the forest.
  • The first phase of the relocation started in 2017. Almost 569 families from the four Adivasi groups have been relocated so far.

Associated concerns:

  • Adivasis are dissatisfied with the relocation as they have not received the promised compensation.
  • An Adivasi rights activist highlights that many of the Adivasis are unaware of what they were owed in the first place because the promises were made with little paperwork and documentation.
  • Though the Mountadden and Wayanadan Chettys have largely relocated, Kattunayakans and the Paniyas have not been resettled fairly.
  • The two communities complain that they were cheated by a few Forest Department personnel, some landowners, or middlemen.
  • The activists are trying to ascertain the level of fraud, but there are many challenges like:
  • The community is suspicious of outsiders and it is difficult to gain their trust.
  • They are illiterate and do not know the money and accounts clearly.
  • There is a lack of documents and evidence.
  • Many land brokers have cheated them by over-inflating the land prices or relocating them to government land.
  • It is also argued by many experts that the funds for the relocation should have been granted by at least 2010 (as the land was affordable).
  • Now with inflation, it is difficult to find adequate land for earning a living through agriculture.
  • As there is no document to prove ownership of land, it is difficult to get compensation or a loan in case of crop failure.
  • The government-built houses allocated to relocated families are in dilapidated condition. Several other structures suffered damage due to heavy rains in 2018 and 2019.
  • Many cases of fraud have been perpetrated against Adivasi groups during the relocation process.
  • The communities have a deep connection with the forests that are considered sacred groves and sites of worship.
  • It is particularly difficult for older members of the community to leave the forest.
  • They also fear an identity loss if they move out of the forests.
  • Despite the allegations of fraud and cheating, the forest department is continuing the relocation process.


  • Though some state officials and forest staff are trying to address the concerns of the Adivasis, nothing concrete has been done or achieved till now.
  • Many villagers are firm that they will not leave the forest until there are more favourable negotiations or at least what was promised in the original agreement is offered completely.
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