62 families shifted out from Jenabil in Similipal's core area to the 'model village' created for them at Ambdiha, outside the reserve. Keeping with the NTCA's guidelines, every male over the age of 18 was considered a single family unit and was compensated with Rs. 10 lakhs, apart from being provided accommodation, land, access to health facilities, education (the Forest Dept. itself has admitted 33 kids into school), and above all, a better life- far from conflict with wildlife and one that is part of the fast developing India you and I enjoy the benefits of. Hopefully, the three remaining villages and two remaining Khadia hamlets in the core, and perhaps even the villages in buffer, will want to move out of this remote wilderness and get themselves a new lease of life.
Meanwhile, it certainly is a brand new lease of life for Similipal's wildlife! The huge valley which Jenabil had encroached upon will soon heal back into perhaps Similipal's most expansive meadow and chital, sambar, gaur and other herbivores will thrive there. The magnificent congregations of elephants and unbelievably large herds of sambar deer that one saw in meadows like Devasthali and Upper Barhakamuda, especially prior to the March '09 attacks on the reserve, will hopefully be back. Needless to say, Jenabil will soon turn into prime real estate for Similipal's tigers!
The credit of this achievement goes out almost entirely to the strong dedication of Similipal's field staff. The leadership of a determined Field Director, HS Upadhyay, his ex-deputy, Manoj Nair, and their insufficient, ill-equipped, underpaid, overworked, unsung yet, terrifically motivated team of staff, like range officers Prabir Palei (RBS-Sanctuary Wildlife Service Award, 2009), B Mohanty and the other foresters, guards, etc. have been instrumental in getting Similipal back on its feet, despite unbelievable odds and a genuine threat to their life from left wing extremists. The district collector and SP must also be credited for facilitating the entire process and providing the necessary security as the staff rebuild damage infrastructure, re-occupy beat houses and get back to patrolling.
This is the sort of dedication we need to protect India's wildernesses. Similipal has been brought back from what was surely a death knell. Our fears, a year ago to date, that Similipal might be lost like Indravati or Palamau have thankfully been proven wrong. One hopes and prays that those reserves too unergo such revival.
I, for one, can't wait to get back into Similipal! Will do so at the earliest and bring you a first hand report.
Edit: Its 62 families, not 61 as I had previously mentioned.
Charred remains of the century old, double storied wooden FRH cum Deputy Director's camp office, Jenabil, Similipal Tiger Reserve
Remains of the Upper Barhakamuda Range Office, Similipal Tiger Reserve
Staff of Upper Barhakamuda regaining control of their range and discussing strategies post the March 2009 attack by left wing extremists. At the time of the picture, there was no wireless connectivity for them and nearest 'civilisation' is 3 hrs' drive away, much longer on bicycle or foot!