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Mudumalai Tiger Reserve and disputes over land, Tamil Nadu, India


In April 2007, Tamil Nadu state government declared Mudumalai Wildlife Sanctuary to be a tiger reserve, under section 38V of the Wildlife Protection Act of 1972, in an effort to conserve the country's dwindling tiger populations. The declaration of the tiger reserve (TR) was supported by a non-tribal community group, the Chettys, who live within the tiger reserve and who have begun demanding relocation as far as 1979 [1]. The conflict within this area is multi-pronged as the different communities have various demands. While the Chettys are asking for relocation [4], the tribal communities continued to resist and stay within the TR [1]. 

In 2007, the High Court directed Tamil Nadu Government to relocate seven villages inside the core of Mudumalai while declaring it a Tiger Reserve and upgrading its status as Critical Tiger Habitat. A district-level committee was formed and in 2010, a list of 449 beneficiaries was listed. However, the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) accepted the claims of only 19 of the 20 beneficiaries who had opted for Rs 10 lakh cash compensation. NTCA rejected the list of the remaining beneficiaries, 368 families, that had opted for the land-in-lieu-of-land scheme and 61 did not opt for any benefit. This discriminates from the one asking for land compensation versus the one just asking for money compensation [1].  

Besides this scenario, on 30 December 2008, a massive rally was organized and a coalition of tribals, farmers and sanghathans congregated to protest against the manner in which the National Park was declared a tiger reserve. On that occasion, about 15.000 people protested against the order [3]. These groups of people were protesting for the right implementation of the Forest Rights Act (FRA), and on August 15, 2008 they passed a resolution asking that rights must be settled prior to constituting a tiger reserve. 

In that same year Conservationists in Gudalur, at the fringe of the park, filed a writ petition demanding the eviction of “encroachers” in the area considered to be an elephant corridor. The conflict over the corridor got animated in the aftermath of the August 2010 state gov. order to acquire 2822 hectares from the 44,800 ha plateau for a proposed elephant corridor.  Of this, 1,710 ha is private land. The forest department and wildlife conservation groups contend the land is required for “management activity to take care of the elephants and other wildlife”. The conflict escalated on April 21 of the same year, when the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) submitted a statement in the Supreme Court against the new corridor. It said that private land the state government proposes to take over includes resorts, estates, land cultivated by about 200 farmers and another 700 Dalit and Adivasi families living there for generations. Many Dalit and Adivasi youths are employed as workers in the resorts. Their rights under the Forest Rights Act (FRA) have not been settled yet, the ministry noted [8]. 

The protest continued and in December 2014, around 2000 Adivasis took to the street demanding the implementation of the Forest Rights Act and to stop the eviction [5]. 

In 2015, a three-phase relocation plan was prepared and there are plans to relocate all seven villages inside the core area of the TR [2]. According to a Down to Earth report, the first phase got completed in 2016-2017, when 58 tribals and 177 non-tribals families  were relocated from Bennai and Nellikarai villages.  This followed by the relocation of 55 tribal and 200 non-tribal families from Mandakarai, Nagampalli and Pulliyalam villages in 2017-18. The last phase, that should get over in 2019, involves 25 tribal and 186 non-tribal families from Mudugulli and Gundital villages [9]

While the Chetty's are voluntarily relocating and they have been the ones who have been filing appeals to the Court for speedy implementation of rehabilitation, the tribals have been resisting giving up their land while asserting their rightful claim over the forest by applying for claims under FRA. About 90 tribals from Mudumalai panchayat and 40 from Benne village have applied for title deeds for forestland under the FRA, 2006. The process of recognizing their rights is yet to be completed. Some Kattunayakar tribes told Down To Earth that they would not leave the forest [1]. 

The Hindu and Scrolls both reported the violent eviction of Vazhaithottam village, located in the buffer area of the Mudumalai Tiger Reserve in 2017 [6,7]. It was reported that on August 10, 2017 a number of 60 huts, belonging to the particularly vulnerable tribal community (PVTG) of Irular, were demolished by the forest department. R. Ravi, Masinagudi Village Administrative Officer, said that the High Court had issued the orders to remove the encroachments. He added that steps were being taken by the district administration to find alternative housing for the families residing here [6,7]. While the FD consider them encroachers, the Irulars claim that the lands had belonged to them for many generations, but that the Tamil Nadu Co-operative Milk Producers' Federation Limited (Aavin) had “cheated” them and took over the lands promising jobs in return [7]. However, such opportunities never materialized and the farm that was established here was closed down. While the small bamboo huts get destroyed, the hotels and resorts in the area are still up [7].

Basic Data

Name of conflict:Mudumalai Tiger Reserve and disputes over land, Tamil Nadu, India
State or province:Tamil Nadu
Location of conflict:Nilgiri
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)

Source of Conflict

Type of conflict. 1st level:Biodiversity conservation conflicts
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Land acquisition conflicts
Establishment of reserves/national parks
Specific commodities:Land
Ecosystem Services

Project Details and Actors

Project details

Mudumalai Tiger Reserve comprising the entire area of Mudumalai Wildlife Sanctuary and National Park lies in the Nilgiris District of Tamil Nadu. It was declared as a wildlife sanctuary on 11th January 1940 and later was declared a national park on 2nd January 1990.

In 2007, the entire area (321.00 sq km) of the previous Tiger Reserve has been declared as Core/Critical Tiger Habitat notified vide No:145, Environment & Forest (FR-5) Department, dated: 28.12.2007 as per section 38-V of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972. The reserve has 321.00 square kilometres as Core or Critical tiger habitat and 367.59 square kilometres as Buffer area. The total area of the tiger reserve is today 688.59 square kilometres.

According to the notification, it shows that all provisions related to consultation and consent regarding declaration of TR have been complied with.

The seven villages inside Mudumalai Tiger Reserve are inhabited by four communities. A majority of them belong to the Mountadan Chetty community. The others belong to landless tribal communities of Kattunayakan and Paniya.

Project area:68,859
Type of populationRural
Affected Population:15,000
Start of the conflict:15/08/2008
Relevant government actors:Tamil Nadu Forest Department
National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA)
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Adivasi Munnetra Sangam
Vivasayigal Thozhilalargal Munnetra Sangam

Conflict & Mobilization

IntensityMEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
Reaction stageIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups mobilizing:Farmers
Indigenous groups or traditional communities
Landless peasants
Ethnically/racially discriminated groups
Kattunayakar and Paniya tribal groups
Forms of mobilization:Land occupation
Official complaint letters and petitions
Street protest/marches


Environmental ImpactsPotential: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Food insecurity (crop damage)
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Displacement, Lack of work security, labour absenteeism, firings, unemployment, Loss of livelihood, Militarization and increased police presence, Violations of human rights, Land dispossession, Loss of landscape/sense of place, Other socio-economic impacts
Potential: Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors, Increase in violence and crime, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Social problems (alcoholism, prostitution, etc..), Specific impacts on women


Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Land demarcation
Court decision (failure for environmental justice)
Proposal and development of alternatives:Implementation of the Forest Rights Act and proper relocation with land compensation.
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:In this complex conflict, the voice of the poorest and landless is not heard and the FRA has been used in the hands of the most powerful one. Eviction is taking place without seeking real solutions.

Sources & Materials

Juridical relevant texts related to the conflict (laws, legislations, EIAs, etc)

The Scheduled Tribes and other traditional forest dwellers (recognition of forest rights) Act, 2006

Wildlife Protection Act (WLPA), Amendment 2006

NTCA Guidelines for Relocation from Critical Tiger Habitat

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

[5] Manasi Karthik, Ajit Menon. 2026. Blurred Boundaries Identity and Rights in the Forested Landscapes of Gudalur, Tamil Nadu. March 5, 2016 vol lI no 10


[1] Down to Earth.'Desperate to Relocate'. Author: M. Suchita, Aug. 17, 2015

[2] The Economic Times. 'Relocate people in Mudumalai tiger reserve within time frame: Panel to Centre'. Aug. 12, 2015

[3] Reuters. 'Thousands of protest against Indian Tiger Reserve'. Author: S. Murari, December 30, 2008

[4] Down To Earth. 'Delay on relocation of villages in Mudumalai Tiger Reserve to cost Govt. dear'. Author: Shanta Thiagarajan, Aug. 14, 2012

[6] Scroll. 'Tamil Nadu evicts Adivasis from their homes in the Nilgiris in violation of the Forest Rights Act'. Author: Sibi Arasu, Sept, 12, 2017.

[7] The Hindu. 'Tribal people evicted from land, houses demolished'. Author: Rohan Premkumar, Aug. 16, 2017.

[8] Down To Earth, 'Whose corridor is it?". Author: M. Suchitra, June 11, 2015

[8] Down to Earth, 'Nilgiris tribals allege they were duped of compensation' Author: Ishan Kukreti, 14 October 2019

[9] Down to Earth, 'Nilgiris tribals allege they were duped of compensation' Author: Ishan Kukreti, 14 October 2019

Down to Earth.'SC vacates Madras HC order staying issue of pattas to forest dwellers'. Author: Rajeshwari Ganesan, Feb. 04, 2016

Meta information

Contributor:Eleonora Fanari, (ICTA), UAB & Shruti Ajit (Kalpavriksh)
Last update24/03/2019
Conflict ID:4124



Eviction of Vazhaithottam village, Madumalai

Tamil Nadu evicts Adivasis from their homes in the Nilgiris in violation of the Forest Rights Act

Eviction of Vazhaithottam village, Madumalai

Tamil Nadu evicts Adivasis from their homes in the Nilgiris in violation of the Forest Rights Act

Madumalai Tiger Reserve


Madumalai Tiger Reserve