By Arun Pratap Singh
DEHRADUN, 24 Dec: The NGO, ‘Think Act Rise Foundation’ (TARF) has alleged forcible eviction of over 375 Van Gujjar families from three ranges of Rajaji National Park by the Park Administration despite a court stay. Speaking to this correspondent, Secretary of the NGO Arjun Kasana claimed that the park administration had forcibly evicted 228 families from Chilawali Range in October-November 2017. It had also evicted 100 families from Ramgarh Range some months ago, as well as more than 50 families from Gorhi Range of the Park some months ago.
Kasana alleged that all these families had been evicted without serving any notice on them, though there was a provision in the Indian Forest Act 1927 and Indian Forest (Uttaranchal Amendment Act, 2001) that notices were to be served under Section 61(A) before the eviction. The NGO has further claimed that it has been authorised by the affected families to speak on their behalf.
It may be recalled that in December, 2016, the Uttarakhand High Court had ordered removal of all Van Gujjars who had encroached upon forest land. However, the Supreme Court had granted a stay against implementation of this order on 27 March, 2017. Ironically, this stay was granted on the plea of the Forest Department, itself, since the High Court had made very negative observations against the Forest Department. On 9 May, 2017, the Supreme Court granted the permission to the affected parties to file a SLP on the issue.
Apart from the Van Gujjar families that were affected by the action of the Park authorities, the Forest Department had allegedly disallowed grazing of the cattle of Van Gujjars inside the park area. Ironically, the park administration did not allow even the fodder to be taken inside the park area by the Van Gujjars to feed the cattle and, as a result, so far more than 2000 cattle have allegedly died of starvation. The NGO on behalf of the Gujjar families has written to the Principal Chief Conservator of Forests and it claims that the PCCF has been sympathetic towards the affected families and, so far, several meetings had been held in this regard. However, according to Arjun, there is no action on the part of the Park Administration which may indicate that it is willing to resolve the issue in a positive manner. Meanwhile, Director of the NGO, Mohammed Meer Hamza, has approached the Supreme Court against the Park administration alleging contempt of court.
The NGO has demanded a meeting of senior forest officials including media representatives so that the case is heard genuinely by top forest officers and a positive step can be taken towards resolution of the problem.
By Arun Pratap Singh