U’khand HC directs state to look into forest rights claims of Van Gujjars

The court has directed the state to form a committee and come up with a proposal detailing its scope of work by September 28

van gujjaras

The Uttarakhand High Court on August 17, passed an order directing the state government to form a committee to consider the forest rights claims submitted by the Van Gujjar tribe of the state. As first steps the court has asked the state to come up with a proposal with regard to the constitution of the committee, the scope of the committee, the extent to which the inquiry will be done by the committee and the period within which, a report or a solution will be offered by the committee for the entire dispute at large, at the next hearing on September 28.

The petition has been filed by Arjun Kasana of Think Act Rise Foundation and other petitions tagged with it are the ones filed by Himalayan Yuva Gramin Vikas and Van Adhikar Samiti Dudhala.

After considering the petition and the hearing the Additional Advocate General, MC Pande appearing for the state, the court stated,

“On a prima facie consideration of the contention advanced, we are of the view that the rights of the Van Gujjars require to be considered appropriately. Various allegations have been made by the petitioner against the state and their agencies with regard to enrichment and various other acts of commission and omission committed by the state. For the present, we do not find it appropriate to go into any of the issues. We are of the view that the legal rights of the Van Gujjars as available in law requires to be protected. They require not only the protection of the law but the benefit of the law also”.

Further holding that the issues raised in the petition will be addressed better by a committee formed by the state rather than the court, it held, “Rather than going into the pleadings advanced by both side, we deem it just and appropriate that is an appropriate committee is constituted by the state government, it will go a long way in helping the Van Gujjars. We do not think that such disputes as raised by the petitioners could be effectively considered in a writ petition”.

The petition filed by Arjun Kasana states that Van Gujjars have been living in the forests for over a century and are dependent on forestland for their livelihood but the forest department, many a times evicts them or destroys their shelters without following the process of law and acting out of personal grudges or differences.

The written submission mentions international conventions that speak about forest rights, such as the UN Convention concerning Indigenous and Tribal Population, the United Nations Universal Declaration on Human Rights, the General Conference of International Labour Organization which spoke about protection and integration of indigenous and tribal populations into national community and the Indigenous and Tribal Population Convention, 1957. Article 12 of the 1957 convention states that the indigenous, tribal and semi-tribal population shall not be removed without their free consent from their habitual territories except in accordance with national laws and regulations for reasons relating to national security or in interest of economic development or of the health of these populations.

Further, the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, principle 22 states that tribal communities play a vital role in environmental management and development because of their knowledge and traditional practices and hence the state should recognize and duly support their identity, culture and interests and enable their participation in achievement of sustainable development.

The petitioner states that in 2013 forest officials started taking back land being used by Van Gujjars for farming in Kumaon region in violation of the Forest Rights Act, 2006. It further states that not even one claim of Van Gujjars has been approved under the Forest Rights Act.

The petitioner sought directions from the court to the sub-district level committee and district level committee that they should decide claims filed within a month and provide the rights certificate within 3 months. Further it prays that if the community is able to prove dependency on forest, the individual should not be separately asked to prove the same.

It was after looking at these specific directions sought, that the court deemed it appropriate that a committee constituted will be able to do justice to the redressal of these prayers. The matter will be next heard on September 28.

The Uttarakhand High Court order may be read here.



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