By OUR STAFF REPORTER
DEHRADUN, 18 Jun: Avdhash Kaushal, Chairperson, Rural Litigation and Entitlement Kendra (RLEK), has written to Chief Secretary Utpal Kumar Singh, expressing shock at the alleged atrocities upon the Van Gujjar Community by the Forest Department and the State Government of Uttarakhand. He has reminded the CS that the Van Gujjar Community possesses voting rights after verification by then District Magistrate on the orders of the Chief Election Commissioner and has all the rights as possessed by other citizens of the country.
According to him, under Section 2 of “The Scheduled Tribes and other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006, the forest land for which rights are recognised for tribals and forest dwellers include unclassified forests, un-demarcated forests, existing or deemed forests, Protected Forests, Reserved Forests, Sanctuaries and National Parks. Forests Rights have been explained and defined under section 3 of this Act and include the right to hold and live in forest land for habitation, cultivation for livelihood, community right, right of ownership including collection and disposal of minor forest produce, traditional and seasonal Community Rights under state laws/Autonomous District Council, traditional or customary rights of the States. Further, the rights recognised under this Act are free from encumbrances of the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980 including payment of net present value.
Kaushal has alleged that there have been many cases in the past when the Forest Department has burned the dwelling of the Van Gujjars and these cases still continue to take place.
He has requested the Government and the Administration to ‘strictly; ask the Forest Department to follow the Central Act and not to harass the Van Gujjar Community as they have been living in these forests much before the Forest Department came into existence.