Updated: September 1, 2015 6:02:45 pm
The Gauhati High Court will most likely decide on the fate of the Dampa Tiger Reserve in western Mizoram by the end of this month, according to the lawyers for both sides in a petition demanding the dismantling of the 500 sq km reserve (with a 488 sq km buffer) and compensation for more than 500 families evicted from it in the past three decades.
The case was heard on Tuesday, and further hearing was scheduled for September 28.
The Mizoram government told the HC that 287 tribal families evicted from Dampa in 1989 were not provided relief and rehabilitation because they did not have rights to the land. It added that they were, however, given Rs 11,000 each under a development fund for tribals.
The HC had summoned Chief Secretary Lalmalsawma to appear before it in person after the state did not put forward a response to the petition through four hearings, resulting in several adjournments.
According to Lalramtiama — lawyer for Aizawl-based NGO PRISM which filed the petition — Chief Justice Sreedhar Rao told the Chief Secretary on Tuesday to make sure officials are more prompt in responding to court orders.
A lawyer who appeared before the court on the government’s behalf said the Chief Secretary filed an affidavit in the case on Monday.
“The affidavit basically says that the present petition most likely arose from envy between the 287 families evicted in 1989 and 227 families evicted in 2010 when the reserve was enlarged. The latter batch of 227 families was paid a compensation of Rs 10 lakhs each,” said the lawyer, who asked not to be named.
The lawyer concurred with the petitioner’s lawyer and said the next hearing is likely to be the “final hearing” in the case.
According to estimates by the National Tiger Conservation Authority, Dampa hosts no more than half a dozen tigers, with the latest assessment (in 2015) estimating the presence of three tigers. This was through DNA tests of recovered scats.
Senior forest officials in the state and conservationists who have worked there admit there have been no tiger sightings in Dampa for decades, and no tiger has been caught by numerous camera traps although a large assortment of other wildlife — including smaller wild cats — has been.
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