Damn Dams and Macaque

A couple of days ago, I hopped on a motorcycle (my first in 21 years!) helmed by Saleem, and headed across the border of Kerala into Tamil Nadu. I hadn’t realized until this trip just how proximate the neighboring state was, and that I had actually walked into it several times without realizing I had done so.

Saleem had plans to take me through the measure of forest that extends beyond Kerala to the penstock pipes that carry water from the Periyar River down to Tamil Nadu and a hydroelectric plant. These pipes are an attraction unto themselves, and looking over the slope down which they run provides a scenic view of the lush farmland of this TN valley.

At that time, I didn’t know– and Saleem only hinted at– how fraught with political tension the very spot we were standing is (and has been) to the Tamilians and Keralans. The provenance of this conflict is a century-old treaty between the Princely State of Travancore (which is now Kerala) and the Secretary of State for India, representing what is now Tamil Nadu. Essentially, this treaty gave to Tamil Nadu, an otherwise arid area, the right to use water from the Periyar River for irrigation– for 999 years. This agreement, for all intents and purposes, created the Tamil Nadu you see in the picture above. Continue reading

Reserves, the FRA, and tigers

I’m at the experience desk at Cardamom County, waiting for my first set of afternoon check-ins as a trainee. While waiting, I found some interestingly related articles about the Forest Rights Act, which is a piece of legislation passed in India in 2006. For all intents and purposes, the FRA allows tribal communities to petition the government for rights to lands they’ve historically dwelt on. The controversy surrounding this legislation is based on questions of anthropogenic cohabitation, deforestation, and the honesty with which the government handles petitions.

Here are a couple articles from India Together addressing certain of these issues.

From India Together,

“Unable to bear the hardships of leading a dignified life living cheek by jowl with wildlife, a large percentage of tribes living in forest areas crave for relocation, provided of course they get livelihood options, and are able to retain their cultural and tribal identity. Yet, anthropologists contend that tribes have been coexisting peacefully for thousands of years in wildlife reserves while the concept of wildlife and biodiversity conservation is nascent. In line with this, they say that relocation of the indigenous people will rob them of their dignity.”

“…the FRA says is that the development projects have to be appropriate; they have to be ecologically right, culturally sensitive and they should benefit people. The kind of projects which are coming up are mindlessly extracting water and forest resources on which people depend; these are not really ‘development’ projects. And if the FRA is coming in the way of such projects then it’s a good stumbling block to have.”

Of course, the Periyar Tiger Reserve (where I happen to be living) stands as a sort of counter-example to these more pessimistic perspectives on the FRA. Here’s a fairly old article (from 2007) about local, former poachers patrolling the park at night, protecting the wildlife from unauthorized exploiters.

I’m interested to find out if these policies still exist at Periyar. I’ll let you know what I find out.