Acres of land with high conservation value which have been identified by the central government for voluntary relocation of inhabitants under a Rs 80 crore project is being lapped up by these groups for setting up jungle home-stays and other tourism projects.
The warden of WWS has written a letter to the forest department stating that any further delay in implementing the central government sponsored Integrated Development of Wildlife Habitat Scheme (IDWHS) would result in the ‘real estate/ resort mafia conquering the whole land’ and thereby posing grave threat to the second largest wildlife sanctuary in the state.
According to forest officials, as many as 70 tourism projects, majority of them home-stays have already come up on the forest fringes and within the enclosure settlements inside WWS offering wildlife-based tourism products to visitors.
“They are luring the residents of settlements identified for relocation by offering high prices. Already these lobbies have brought land from some of the inhabitants in the Chettiyalathur settlement,” said warden of WWS, P Dhanesh Kumar.
The real estate lobbies are exploiting the tardy progress in the voluntary relocation scheme which began in 2012. The central government had released only Rs 20.5 crore which had been used to relocate 185 eligible families from six settlements inside WWS. Rehabilitation of as many as 615 families has been delayed due to lack of funds.
“Due to increase in wild animal attacks, most of the settlers in Chettiyalathoor settlement have expressed their willingness to relocate. But if the project get delayed there is a real possibility of them selling land to resort and real estate lobbies,” said Dhanesh Kumar.
Meanwhile, conservationists fear the project, which is the first in the state and the largest outside the tiger reserves in South India, would collapse if the delays and fund issues are not sorted out immediately.
“The tourism lobby is eyeing the settlements inside the sanctuary as they can attract tourists by showing the abundant wildlife in the area. But having tourism activities in the core areas inside the sanctuary would have ecologically devastating consequences including threats of poaching, illegal wildlife safaris and other habitat disturbances,” said president of the Wayanad Prakrithi Samrakshana Samithi N Badusha.
A KFRI study conducted in 2009 had identified 110 enclosure settlements comprising 2,591 resident families scattered inside the sanctuary.
Credits ET Realty