Questioning the state government for intending to rehabilitate Van Gujjar families outside buffer areas of tiger reserves — Corbett Tiger Reserve and Rajaji Tiger Reserves — the Uttarakhand High Court on Thursday said that the “Van Gujjars are a constant threat to wildlife” and that the state government’s proposal to rehabilitate them was “against public policy”.
On the issue of rehabilitating the Van Gujjar families who, according to the state government, must be compensated for being removed from the land they occupy in the buffer areas of tiger reserves, the Division Bench of Acting Chief Justice Rajiv Sharma and Justice Lok Pal Singh said in an order, “We never directed the state government to frame and formulate rehabilitation policy… At the one hand the state says that action shall be taken against the persons who have encroached upon the forest land, and in the same breath it is making the rehabilitation policy to rehabilitate them.”
“The State Government cannot give premium on dishonesty,” the court order, which mentioned Van Gujjars as encroachers of forest land, stated. “Rehabilitation policies are primarily meant for those persons who are displaced by way of compulsory acquisition of their land for public projects or due to natural calamities. How is the state government contemplating the rehabilitation policy for persons who have encroached upon forest land, with impunity, is beyond our comprehension,” the order said, adding that “meager compensation is paid to Army widows and their family members but for persons who have encroached upon forest land and are responsible for depletion of wildlife, there is a proposal for giving them the compensation of Rs 10 lakh each”.
While questioning the “ulterior motives” of the individuals framing the rehabilitation policy for the Van Gujjars, the court noted that while upto 13 Van Gujjar families were to be rehabilitated out of the Corbett Tiger Reserve, the list of families marked for rehabilitation was 57.
“From a close scrutiny of list placed on record, what emerges is that there are not more than 10-13 families but the State, for the reasons best known to it, has included every adult member as per the submission of Director, Corbett Tiger Reserve, to be the affected family.
This is also serious dereliction of the duty,” the court order stated, adding that “the list, prima facie, appears to be prepared with oblique and ulterior motive to give the individuals undue benefit from the state exchequer”.