Hindustan Times (East UP)
State forms panel on Van Gujjars after HC order
DEHRADUN: The Uttarakhand government on Tuesday constituted a committee that will look into the problems being faced by Van Gujjars and give its report by June 17, officials said, a move that came after a high court directive.
Van Gujjars, a forest-dwelling nomadic community, live in the Rajaji and Corbett tiger reserve areas.
The committee will look into the issues of Van Gujjars in the light of various laws that give rights to the community. A copy of the report with its recommendations will be submitted to the Uttarakhand high court.
The committee will meet once every month to discuss the implementation of their recommendations.
The committee includes district magistrates of the area, principal secretary of the social welfare department, secretary of district-level DLSA (District Legal Service Authority), director of the Wildlife Institute of India, principal chief conservator of forests (wildlife), a representative nominated by the World Wide Fund for Nature, and field directors of Rajaji and Corbett tiger reserves.
On March 17, the Uttarakhand high court had directed the state government to re-constitute the committee set up to look into the problems being faced by Van Gujjars. The earlier committee was constituted on the court’s directive August 17 last year. The HC had directed the state government to constitute the committee that would suggest steps to be taken for the rehabilitation of Van Gujjars and granting of rights under the Indian Forest Act. Following the order, the state government constituted the committee on October 1, 2020, with the chief forest conservator, its chairman.
The court directed the state government to include district magistrates of the districts concerned, principal secretary, social welfare department, and the secretary, district-level DLSA as members of the committee to be reconstituted.
The HC had also directed the government to seek views of the petitioner, meet once every month to deliberate on the matter and give its report to the wildlife, as state government within three months, and submit a copy of the recommendations to the court.
The division bench of chief justice RS Chauhan and Justice Alok Verma had given the directions while hearing a PIL filed by Delhi-based NGO Think Act Rise Foundation through its secretary Arjun Kasana in 2019 for highlighting the plight of the Van Gujjars, who continue to occupy certain areas of the forests in the state.
The order was issued on
March 17 but made available on Tuesday.
The PIL had sought declaring Van Gujjars as beneficiaries under the Forest Rights Act, converting forest land occupied by them as revenue villages, providing land rights to them and quashing of petty cases against them
The HC order stated, “The lacunae left by the sstate government, while constituting the Committee, cannot be appreciated by this court.
Moreover, the attitude of the committee to force the petitioner to go before another competent authority, namely the district magistrate and the social welfare department, and to raise grievances there, is an act which cannot be appreciated by this court… Until and unless a holistic approach is taken by including the competent persons/authorities within the Committee, the constitution of the committee would merely be a mirage and merely an eyewash.”
The HC in its order noted, “Admittedly, the state of Uttarakhand has a large tribal population, and Van Gujjars, being one of the segments of the said population, are trying to eke out their living from the forests… The tribal population cannot be denied the fundamental rights under Part III of the Constitution of India by the state’s apathy and callous attitude.”