Uttarakhand has been recently witnessing a massive anti-encroachment drive under which the State Forest Department, along with district administrations and the police, is razing “illegal” religious structures and other kind of encroachments on forest land.
Earlier this week, a huge crowd gathered outside the ‘Thapli Baba’ mazar that stood in the vicinity of the Jim Corbett National Park to protest against the demolition. Forest officials said the shrine was illegally built on forest land and proceeded with the demolition.
The drive started in April 2023, soon after a few media reports claimed that Muslim religious structures were mushrooming in the State known for the Char Dham yatra. However, sources in the government said the plan to remove the illegal mazars started in June 2022.
In a recent interview to Panchjanya, a weekly backed by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, Uttarakhand Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami had said that more than 1,000 unauthorised mazars had been built on forest land in the State and it appeared to him to be “mazar jihad”.
The government then appointed Parag Dhakate, Chief Conservator of Forests, as the nodal officer of the anti-encroachment drive. In a fortnight’s time, action was taken to identify the illegal structures in and around forests and demolition began.
Speaking to The Hindu, Mr. Dhakate said that in about a month’s time, the Forest Department has demolished over 320 structures that belonged to the Muslim community. A dozen FIRs were also lodged against people who were found to have the possession of the structures. Terming it a routine action, the official added that 35 temples were also razed down. The action has helped reclaim 68 hectares of forest land across the State, he said.
“We have removed 18 mazars only from Corbett Tiger Reserve. These places were a reason for human-wildlife conflict. Many of them were also running a parallel economy of their own,” Mr. Dhakate said.
“After the anti-encroachment drive, the CM is now patting his back for making the dev bhoomi (land of gods) free from outside invasion, especially from a particular community. But all I can say that is that it an attempt to divert the attention of the people from core issues like corruption and development,” said Uttarakhand Congress vice-president Suryakant Dhasmana.
BJP spokesperson Manvir Singh countered that most of the mazars had come up in the State during Congress rule.
“Uttarakhand, since 2000 (when it was formed), was ruled by the BJP for 13 years and we only ruled for 10 years. How come no BJP government in the past ever pointed this out?” Mr. Dhasmana asked.