Legal Aid Camp 24th-25th July, 2023

This is the first legal aid camp in the series that is leading up to May 2024. This legal aid camp was set up as an orientation programme for both the tiger widows and legal experts such as Atindriyo Chakrabarty and Santanu Chakrabarty. Although they have been helping the tiger widows prior to this legal aid camp, this is the first of the concerted effort to regularise such legal aid/legal awareness camps to aid the tiger widows in a consistent and fruitful manner.

The team from DISHA comprising of Santanu Chakraborty and Atindriyo Chakrabarti and others first visited the sundari trees plantation that has been facilitated by DISHA since 2017-2018. Initially, the seeds of Sundari trees that flow inland in that village during high tides of the river Dutta along whose shores this village lies were collected by the tiger widows from this village. Then they were nurtured into saplings at a nursery in the village, also by the tiger widows from there. Then, these trees were planted along the road that runs into the village from the Rajat Jubilee ferry ghat. The trees were not planted at the side of the road that faces the river Dutta but along the side of the road that faces the households and plots that lie on the other side. This has ensured that the trees were not damaged by high tides or flooding, and that the trees stand as a protection against riparian erosion. This was a part of the earlier Sundarban Rural Development Society (estd. 2015) which used to be run under the guidance DISHA and the supervision of a local fishworker Arjun Mondal who was a ground-level activist of DISHA, but who himself fell victim to a tiger attack in 2019. The trees are in decent condition, and the tiger widows from the area continue to maintain them. This attests to the continued support provided by the tiger widows to the cause of developing climate resilience in their village. During their observational walk along the road to see the trees, they were joined by two tiger widows from the village, viz., Pushpa Mondal, w/o the abovementioned Lt. Arjun Mondal, and Gita Mridha, whose husband Gautam Mridha fell victim to tiger attack in 2011.

Furthermore, the team visited a few families of tiger widows where they had a conversation regarding their struggles in obtaining relief schemes for which they are already eligible. Apart from that, the families also spoke of immense difficulties in their day-to-day life, including in building and improving their homesteads and living conditions, children’s education, and livelihood.

(Team from DISHA meeting with families of tiger victims at their house)

On the second day, a legal awareness camp was set-up Sudhansupur (GP: Satjelia) from 9 am to 1 pm. There were around 60 attendees at the camp, even some male survivors of tiger victims had attended the camp. The attendees were primarily from Chargheri, Luxabagan, Rajat Jubilee, Bali, Kumirmari, Mollakhali villages, in Sundarban Goshaba Block. The large number of participation from the families of tiger victims is testament to the fact that the requirement of awareness programs for the benefit of such families is immense. These families who live in such remote areas, lack the knowledge, verbiage and demands of the government administration and private insurance companies. This is the point of intervention of DISHA where the camp is used to spread awareness and impart the requisite skills required to pursue such claims before the government and private companies by writing letters on behalf of them and also explaining to them the processes and procedure involved in such matters.

(Group photo of the attendees who had come for the legal awareness camp)

The families were also informed about the WB Scheme for Rehabilitation by Providing Employment Assistance, 2023, which promises contractual employment in forest department work for dependent family members of victims of human wildlife conflict, for which a committee has also been formed by the state government in June 2023. Since the notification was published in English it was imperative that such notification be translated and explained to them which was done by the team at the camp. The tiger widows present in the meeting expressed their keen interest in becoming beneficiaries under this Scheme.

The Legal Awareness Camp saw active and enthusiastic engagement from the tiger widows who participated. They highlighted how they have been systemically denied any relief, recompense, or support by the departmental offices of the Forest, Revenue, Fisheries, as well as by the Panchayat and police authorities, with the latter frequently refusing to either file General Diaries in the aftermath of deaths caused by tiger attacks or to provide any investigation report in this regard, with makes it impossible for them to successfully get their due compensations, and insurance claim amounts. They also pointed out how issues like the absence or expiry of the validity of boat license certificates or forest permits with their deceased husbands in the fatal fishing expeditions where they fell victim to tiger depredation are frequently used by all the relevant authorities at all levels, especially by the forest department, in denying their due and rightful compensations and insurance claims.  

Many of the women showed the papers and documentations they had and, in course on the issue of documentation and paperwork, it was observed that some death certificate and post mortem reports specify tiger attack as the cause of death while others do not, reflective of bias against the tiger widows. After the meeting, many of the tiger widows interacted with me, specified the issues and problems that they continue to face and showed the extent of or lacuna in paperwork that they have in this regard.

Thereafter, a legal clinic was set-up in Tipligheri from 5pm to 7pm on the same day, (i.e. 25.07.2023) wherein focused in person legal consultancy was provided to three tiger widows Sarojini Mondal, w/o Lt. Sambhu Mondal from Rajat Jubilee, GP: Lahiripur, Saraswati Aulia, w/o Lt. Radhakanta Aulia, also from Rajat Jubilee, GP: Lahiripur and Kabita Mondal, w/o Lt. Nikhil Mondal, from Jahar Colony, GP: Lahiripur.

Saroijini Mondal and Saraswati Aulia have been denied insurance and compensation because the validity of the forest permits that their husbands were carrying had expired by a mere 3 days prior to their death in the same fishing trip on 17.10.2019. The remains of Sambhu Mondal, who was initially attacked, could be recovered but Radhakanta Aulia, who had jumped in to rescue his friend, was dragged deep inside the forests and could not be recovered. That is why Sarojini Mondal could obtain a post mortem report for her deceased husband Sambhu, whereas Saraswati Aulia could not get a post mortem done in absence of her husband Radhakanta’s dead body. Neither has been able to obtain any compensation or insurance amounts despite extensive and strenuous efforts. As for Kobita Mondal, her late husband also had a postal insurance with her as the nominee, but, even that amount could not be recovered. The team decided to aid the families to pursue their claims before Consumer Forum by engaging suitable advocates/paralegal who would take up their cases.

This concluded the first of the legal aid/legal awareness camps of the series. The second legal aid camp was followed up on 9th August, 2023.

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