The forests won’t forget: A struggle for land in Ramnagar

People say the Congress has gone back on its promise to assign land rights.

January 17, 2017 03:25 am | Updated 03:26 am IST - Ramnagar (Uttarakhand):

Strategy meet:  People of the Tumaria hamlet near the Corbett Tiger Reserve attend a meeting related to the Uttarakhand Assembly polls.

Strategy meet: People of the Tumaria hamlet near the Corbett Tiger Reserve attend a meeting related to the Uttarakhand Assembly polls.

Deep inside the forests outside the core zone of the Corbett Tiger Reserve, where a struggle for land rights has been brewing for years, the Congress is losing support. The forest dwellers have decided to back a new party in the February 15 Assembly elections.

The Van Gujjar and the Pahari communities of the Tumaria hamlet in the Ramnagar forests, whose members had been ardent Congress supporters, say they will vote for Prabhat Dhyani from the Uttarakhand Parivartan Party.

“During the 2012 polls, Amrita Rawat [former Congress MLA from Ramnagar who is now with the BJP] had promised that under the Forest Rights Act, she would get all the forest villages in the Ramnagar constituency the status of revenue villages,” says Munish Kumar of the Sanyukt Sangharsh Morcha, a representative body of the forest dwellers of Ramnagar struggling to get the rights guaranteed under the Act.

While Ramnagar has seen various movements for implementation of the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006, the people, especially the Van Gujjars, had faith that the Congress would help them attain their rights.

Disenchantment begins

However, they became disenchanted with the party when on November 7 last year, forest officials reached Tumaria with a bulldozer. “They wanted to raze our house,” Mohammed Fareed, a Van Gujjar, said, pointing to a room with mud walls and thatched roof.

The Forest Department considers the possessions as encroachments. “The communities have encroached upon forest land, and we need to remove them from the area,” Kahkashan Naseem, Divisional Forest Officer, Terai West, says.

Zainab Khatoon, another Van Gujjar, who had rushed to save Fareed’s house from being razed, was beaten up by a forest official. She had to be admitted to hospital.

That was when they decided to pull back support from the Congress, the people say.

Since the formation of the State, the Ramnagar seat has been occupied either by the BJP or the Congress. In the 2012 polls, Ms. Rawat won the seat. In 2007, Diwan Singh from the BJP and in 2002, Yogember Singh of the Congress won.

Poor settlement

With only one claim for land rights settled, the poor implementation of the Act is an issue across the State, Tarun Joshi, coordinator, Van Panchayat Sangharsh Morcha says.

“Over 10,000 claims under the FRA by the Van Gujjars and other forest-dependent communities across Uttarakhand remain pending,” Mr. Joshi says.

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