The Uttarakhand High Court has reprimanded the State government for stopping some Van Gujjar families on the way to Govind Pashu Vihar National Park in Uttarkashi district and said their right to life is being violated by the authorities.
Hearing a PIL filed by an NGO to seek the court’s intervention in addressing the plight of the forest-dwelling nomadic families on Tuesday, a division Bench of the Uttarakhand High Court comprising Chief Justice Raghvendra Singh Chauhan and Justice Alok Kumar Verma ordered immediate steps to address the problems of the families.
“...Prima facie, the fundamental right to life under Article 21 of the Constitution of India is being violated by the respondents,” the court observed.
It directed steps should be taken to allow their entry into the park to eke out a living if they test negative for COVID-19 and have the required legal documents with them.
On Advocate General S. N. Babulkar’s contention that the entry of these families may endanger the wildlife at the park as the coronavirus may spread from human beings to animals, the court said they should immediately be tested for COVID-19 .
“In case they are found to be negative and if they are valid permit holders arrangements shall be made to permit them to enter the park for the duration allowed by law,” it said.
Referring to the photographs submitted by the petitioner along with the supplementary affidavit, the high court said they “clearly reveal that the families are forced to live in open tents, in open field, under the open sky. The photographs also show small children and new born babies being wrapped in blankets and sleeping on the ground. The photographs also reveal that some cattle are tied next to the tent and some cattle have died”.
“It seems the callous attitude of the Deputy Director of the Park and the Civil Administration has forced these families to survive in conditions which are below animal conditions,” the court added.
It directed the Uttarkashi district magistrate and the deputy director of the park to accommodate the families in “pucca houses” and provide them with food, water and medicines besides fodder to their cattle.
Van Gujjars are the forest-dwelling nomadic community inhabiting the foothills of Himalayan States such as Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir. They usually migrate to grasslands in the upper Himalayas during summers to feed their cattle, their primary source of livelihood and subsistence.