The Uttarakhand High Court has directed authorities to ensure Van Gujjar families, who have been living in tents after being denied entry in the national park, are accommodated in ‘pucca houses’.
Van Gujjars are a nomadic tribe who have been residing in forest areas of the state for centuries. The bench of Chief Justice Raghvendra Singh Chauhan and Justice Alok Kumar Verma observed that Article 21 of the Constitution of India forbids the State from reducing the lives of its people below the animal existence.
At a previous hearing on March 17, the court had come down heavily on the state government for constituting a committee that was not competent to examine the issues and rights of Van Gujjar community, and said that it did not appreciate the lacunae left by the government while constituting the Committee and neither did it appreciate the Committee forcing the petitioner to go before another competent authority to raise its grievances.
The petitioner, Arjun Kasana filed an affidavit highlighting that Van Gujjars, a forest dwelling community have been residing in the forest areas for last more than hundred years and are a nomadic tribe. During this time of the year, they come down to lower areas of the state and some families have migrated to Govind Pashu Vihar National Park, Uttarkashi, while holding valid permits to enter and make a living.
The affidavit states that they have not been allowed to enter the park by the Deputy Director, Mr. Komal Singh and the families were hence, forced to live in tents and are living a hand to mouth existence as they are even unable to sell milk to neighbouring villages owing to the lockdown. The petitioner filed a supplementary affidavit with photographs of families living in tents in the open. The petitioner prayed that arrangements be made for these families by the District Magistrate and the park’s Deputy Director.
The Advocate General, SN Babulkar contended that their migration may endanger the wildlife and unless they test negative for Covid-19, they cannot be permitted to enter. To this, the petitioner responded that it is the government’s duty to conduct these tests and until such tests are arranged a reasonable arrangement should be made to save their lives.
The court, after perusing, the photographs held that “Article 21 of the Constitution of India forbids the State from reducing the lives of its people below the animal existence. Every citizen not only has a right to live, but also has a right to live with dignity”, the court pointed to the callous attitude of the Deputy Director of the Park, and of the Civil Administration, which it said forced the families to survive in conditions, which are below the animal existence.
“A bare perusal of the photographs submitted with the Supplementary Affidavit clearly reveal that 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,” said the court.
The court held that prima facie, the fundamental right to life under Article 21 of the Constitution is being violated and hence, directed the Collector, District-Uttarkashi, and the Deputy Director of the Park to ensure that these families are comfortably accommodated in “Pacca houses”.
“They shall be provided with food, water, and medicines. They shall also be provided with fodder for their cattle. It is further directed that all the families shall 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,” the court ordered.
The court directed both authorities to file a compliance report with regard to substantial steps taken by them to implement these directions before June 15.
The matter will be next heard on June 16.
The order may be read here: