Van Gujjars in Uttarakhand Fight for Legal Recognition of Forest Rights

Reported by

Eleonora Fanari

Published on

October 25, 2016

October 25, 2016

Updated on

October 25, 2016

Location of Conflict

Kunao

Pauri Garhwal

Reason or Cause of Conflict

Protected Areas

(

National Park

)

People Affected by Conflict

7728

Land Area Affected (in Hectares)

0

ha

Starting Year

1985

State

Uttarakhand

Sector

Conservation and Forestry

Rajaji national park was declared a wildlife sanctuary in 1983 and later, a tiger reserve in 2015. The Van Gujjars, a pastoral nomadic community, have been living inside the park for decades. During winters, the Van Gujjars migrate with their herds to the foothills of the Shivalik mountain range, and in summers, they migrate to pastures high up in the mountains. The community has been granted the Scheduled Tribe (ST) status in Jammu and Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh, but in Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh they are still classified as Other Backward Classes (OBC).  The settlement of nomadic communities on common land is often termed as encroachment by the state and society. Generations of these communities have moved from one place to another, along with their cattle, to earn their livelihood. Many of these communities belong to denotified tribes, which were earlier classified as criminal tribes by the colonial government. The Criminal Tribes Act was repealed in 1945, but the denotified tribes have little protection even today when it comes to land rights, unlike many others belonging to the SC and ST communities. Whenever these nomads settle on any common land, they claim traditional rights over it and demand ownership. The state, on the other hand, considers them encroachers as they have no legal titles over what the state considers government land. The absence of permanent land to settle in and the lack of legal titles as well as laws to safeguard their interests has left these nomadic communities vulnerable. Currently, around 1,610 Van Gujjar families live within the Rajaji National Park, while 1,393 families have been relocated in the past 15 years on the pretext of wildlife conservation and encroachment. The first attempt to relocate the Van Gujjars from the park was undertaken in 1985. In the following years, the community members were regularly harassed to vacate the land and move out of the park. Faced with the threat of eviction, the community approached the Uttarakhand high court in 2005 under the banner of Ban Gujjar Kalyan Samiti. In 2008, the court served a contempt notice to the director of Rajaji National Park for evicting the community without settling their forest rights under the Forest Rights Act (FRA), 2006. However, the Van Gujjars till date continue to fight against the forest department to get access to resources in the park. On June 28, 2011, Noorjamal, a Van Gujjar and an activist, was detained in Sharanpur, Uttar Pradesh, on false charges. To protest against his illegal arrest, many women from the Van Gujjar community in Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand protested in their respective states. In Uttar Pradesh, they locked police personnel inside their homes. Noorjamal was released later on the same day. The relocation of Van Gujjars have continued over the years. In 2011, the Uttarakhand government issued orders to vacate 228 families from the Chillawala range. In 2017, 22 families from Chillawalla range, 13 families from Gohri range and one family from Ramgarh range were ordered to be relocated. In 2018, the Uttarakhand High Court termed the settlement of the Van Gujjars in Rajaji National Park illegal, ordering eviction without rehabilitation. This started a wave of protests. In September 2018, the Supreme Court stayed the order of the high court. In June 2020, forest officials visited the homes of eight Van Gujjar families living in the Asharodi Forest Range at the park to question them on why they built their houses inside the park. A confrontation ensued during the interrogation, and forest officials allegedly assaulted members of the community, two of whom were seriously injured. They also assaulted women. The officials arrested 10 community members. When the Van Gujjars, led by Mustafa Chopra, went to register a complaint, the police refused to do so and asked them to put the application in a drop box. A week after the incident, several organisations staged demonstrations in Ramnagar, Almora and Khatima condemning the attacks on tribes-people and demanding action against the officials responsible. Following the outcry, forest minister of Uttarakhand, Harak Singh Rawat, ordered a probe into the incident. On August 17, 2020, the Uttarakhand high court asked the state government to set up a committee within six weeks to look into the problems faced by the Van Gujjars. This was after a PIL was filed by a non-profit, Think Act Rise Foundation, which said that the community lacks basic rights and is often forcefully evicted. The committee was formed on October 20, 2020, comprising the principal chief conservator of forests and wildlife of Uttarakhand, the state chief wildlife warden, field director of Rajaji Tiger Reserve, a person nominated by the Wildlife Institute of India, and a person nominated by the World Wildlife Fund. The committee is expected to submit a report within 6 months.  

Demand/Contention of the Affected Community

Demand for legal recognition of land rights

Other Demand/Contention of the Affected Community

Region Classification

Rural

Type of Land

Common

Type of Common Land

Forest and Non-Forest, Non-Forest (Grazing Land)

Total investment involved (in Crores):

Type of investment:

Year of Estimation

Page Number In Investment Document:

Has the Conflict Ended?

When did it end?

Why did the conflict end?

Categories of Legislations Involved in the Conflict

Forest Rights Act of 2006

Legislations/Policies Involved

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    Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Suspendisse varius enim in eros elementum tristique. Duis cursus, mi quis viverra ornare, eros dolor interdum nulla, ut commodo diam libero vitae erat. Aenean faucibus nibh et justo cursus id rutrum lorem imperdiet. Nunc ut sem vitae risus tristique posuere.

Whether claims/objections were made as per procedure in the relevant statute

What was the claim(s)/objection(s) raised by the community? What was the decision of the concerned government department?

Legal Processes and Loopholes Enabling the Conflict:

Non-implementation/violation of FRA

Legal Status:

In Court

Status of Case In Court

Whether any adjudicatory body was approached

What was the Decision of the Concerned Government Department?

Name of the adjudicatory body

Name(s) of the Court(s)

High Court of Uttarakhand, Supreme Court of India

Case Number

WPPIL No. 79 of 2020, WPPIL No. 140 of 2019

Major Human Rights Violations Related to the Conflict:

Sexual violence/sexual harassment

Torture

Arrest/detention/imprisonment

Other harassment

Whether criminal law was used against protestors

Reported Details of the Violation:

Noorjamal, a Van Gujjar living inside the Rajaji National Park, was detained in Biharigarh Police Station in Saharanpur, Uttar Pradesh, on false charges filed by the forest department; On June 16, 2020, forest officials visited the homes of eight Van Gujjar families and assaulted women of the village in Rajaji National Park, Uttarakhand

Date of Violation

June 28, 2011

Location of Violation

Biharigarh Police Station, Saharanpur, Uttar Pradesh; Rajaji National Park, Uttarakhand

Nature of Protest

Protests/marches

Complaints/petitions/letters/memorandums to officials

Advocacy (for inclusion in courts)

Government Departments Involved in the Conflict:

Uttarakhand Forest Department, National Tiger Conservation Authority

PSUs Involved in the Conflict:

Did LCW Approach Government Authorities for Comments?

Name, Designation and Comment of the Government Authorities Approached

Corporate Parties Involved in the Conflict:

Did LCW Approach Corporate Parties for Comments?

Communities/Local Organisations in the Conflict:

All India Union of Forest Working People, Van Gujjar Kalyan Samiti, Vanpanchayat Sangharsh Morcha, National Forum of Forest People and Forest Workers

Resources Related to Conflict

  • News Articles Related to the Conflict:
  • Documents Related to the Conflict:
  • Links Related to the Conflict:

Image Credit:  

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Documented By

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Reviewed By

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Updated By

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Edited By

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