Over 300 Tharu tribals belonging to Dudhwa National Park region formulated responses to the objections by the forest department and submitted the written responses to the Sub Divisional Magistrate’s (SDM’s) office in Lakhimpur in Uttar Pradesh. The filing of collective responses was a symbolic move to show their united opposition to the rejection of their claims. The claims to community resources which had been rejected in July this year, affect over 22 villages comprising of over 3,000 families.
If the forest department continues to push the claims towards rejection, the livelihood of these families will be threatened. The Tharu tribals had filed claims in 2013, following which the Sub Divisional Level Committee (SDLC) recognised that these claims are worthy of rights and therefore, recognised the rights of the tribals. The claims were forwarded to the forest department. However, the department forwarded the people’s claims towards the path of rejection instead of helping the locals process their claims. The department appealed to the SDLC to rule in the favour of rejection of the claims, terming the tribals as encroachers.
In 2015, the files of the locals went missing from the administration. The residents along with the All India Union of Forest Working People (AIUFWP) re-submitted duplicate files to ensure the recognition of their claims in 2016. However, this did not yield any results. With the aim to build pressure on the department, currently the cases are being fought by the AIUFWP.
Also read: ‘Forest Department Pushing Tribal Land Claims Towards Rejection in UP’
Speaking to NewsClick, Rajnish Gambhir of AIUFWP said, “The tribals are extremely agitated over the apathy of the state and the baseless rejection by the forest department. The department has no basis for the objections raised against the tribal claims. With the filing of the responses, it is now with the forest department to decide. There is no clarity yet on the claims of the tribal, whether they will be accepted or not. The tribals are stating that they want answers, either the forest department should just accept these claims or outrightly reject them.”
The Uttar Pradesh government declared Dudhwa as a national park in 1978. Following this declaration, people belonging to the Tharu tribe who were living inside the protected area had been denied their right to access natural resources such as wood, fruits and other means of livelihood making them encroachers in their own land. Forty four villages were relocated under the revenue status. After a long drawn movement, through the Forest Rights Act in 2006, the people finally got a legal tool to fight the land acquisition and eviction threats.
The community has also alleged that the forest department is extorting money from the villagers and brazenly stopping them from collecting grass or using other forest resources.