Uttarakhand government admits to lapses in forest evictions

5 days ago 75

The Forest Department of the Uttarakhand government has flagged violation of procedures in the eviction notices being issued to residents of forested areas as part of its drive to clear “illegal encroachments”. 

This comes days after residents of several villages in the Terai East and West Divisions wrote to senior government officials highlighting the issue along with alleged violations of Forest Rights Act provisions. 

The Uttarakhand government is currently undertaking a large-scale drive to clear forest lands of encroachment, which includes religious places, settlements, and all other structures that came up illegally. 

As part of the drive, as many as 400 Van Gujjar households received eviction notices to vacate their homes. Van Gujjars are traditionally a forest-dwelling pastoralist community. Following this, the Van Panchayat Sangharsh Morcha (VPSM) flagged procedural lapses to senior government officials. 

The VPSM had said that eviction notices were being issued by Van darogas when the Indian Forest Act mandates that such notices be issued only by the Divisional Forest Officer. 

In an order dated May 25, the Forest Department recognised the problems with the way eviction notices were being issued. It directed officials to ensure that all provisions of the law are followed while undertaking the drive to clear forest land. 

The Forest Department also noted that any settlement on forest land, known as Khattey, may only be removed after provision is made for rehabilitation of the residents. 

However, activists have maintained that, while this showed the Forest Department acknowledging procedural lapses in eviction notices, the main issue of sidelining FRA rights remains. 

Residents of villages where eviction notices have been served, told The Hindu that they had applied for titles under the FRA but were yet to see any action by officials. 

This issue was also highlighted by the VPSM in their letters to the Chief Secretary and Principal Secretary (Forest) of the state government. 

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