Van Gujjars in Uttarakhand get eviction notices, say forest rights being violated

The Forest department aims to clear encroachments on forest land, including temples, mazars, and settlements

May 20, 2023 02:39 am | Updated 02:39 am IST - New Delhi

In a rush to clear encroachments on forest land, including temples, mazars, and settlements, the Uttarakhand Forest Department has served eviction notices to communities of hundreds of Van Gujjar people, traditionally forest-dwelling pastoralists, residing in the Terai East and West Forest Divisions. 

Claiming that around 400 Van Gujjar households, mostly belonging to Muslims, had been served or were being served with eviction notices, the Van Panchayat Sangharsh Morcha (VPSM) in Himachal Pradesh on Friday wrote to senior State government officials, alleging that provisions of the Indian Forest Act and the Forest Rights Act were being violated. 

Tarn Joshi, an activist associated with the VPSM, said, “Eviction notices have been served from May 15 onwards. Many are getting notices even now. This is a violation of rights vested to them under the FRA.”

A senior official in the State’s Forest Department told The Hindu that these notices were being served as part of the government’s drive to clear forest land of “encroachments”. “As part of the drive, we have already cleared 256 hectares of forest land. These includes small shops, riverside huts, temples, and mazars,” the official said. 

Mr. Joshi said many of the households that had been served eviction notices had applied for titles under the FRA, 2006 and were awaiting proceedings. “This despite the FRA recognises their right over the forest given their status as traditional forest-dwellers,” he said. 

Mohammad Kasim, a cattle-rearer, is one of the men who was served the eviction notice on May 15. “I had applied for the FRA title in 2019 but not a single hearing has been held over my application. Neither have I received any notice of my claim being rejected,” he told The Hindu on the phone. 

In the letter addressed to the Chief Secretary of the State and the Principal Secretary (Forest), the VPSM said eviction notices were being issued by officers at the level of “van daroga”, whereas the Indian Forest Act requires it to come from the Divisional Forest Officer. 

‘Notice as per law’

The Forest Department official justified this by claiming that locals refer to all forest officers as van daroga but that all notices were being issued in compliance with the law. “If any notice is issued otherwise and brought to our notice, we will take action,” Parag Dhakate, Chief Conservator of Forests, said, adding that the notices call for a response from the residents, without which no eviction can take place. 

The VPSM has also argued that the eviction violates an order of the Supreme Court staying forest evictions, issued while hearing the challenges to the FRA. During the hearings in 2019, the court had noted that many residents were being evicted despite their FRA title applications remaining pending — without being served rejection notice or being given a chance to defend their right. 

Activists maintain that FRA implementation in Himachal Pradesh is abysmal, with government records supporting this. According to the latest FRA report filed by the State in November 2022, titles had been distributed to just 5% of the Individual Forest Rights (IFR) claims filed and just one Community Forest Rights (CFR) title had been distributed out of over 3,000 claims filed.

0 / 0
Sign in to unlock member-only benefits!
  • Access 10 free stories every month
  • Save stories to read later
  • Access to comment on every story
  • Sign-up/manage your newsletter subscriptions with a single click
  • Get notified by email for early access to discounts & offers on our products
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide by our community guidelines for posting your comments.

We have migrated to a new commenting platform. If you are already a registered user of The Hindu and logged in, you may continue to engage with our articles. If you do not have an account please register and login to post comments. Users can access their older comments by logging into their accounts on Vuukle.