14, Jul 2020 | CJP Team
In the aftermath of the violent attack on Van Gujjars of Rajaji National Park, an independent inquiry has been ordered by the Principal Conservator of Forests, Uttarakhand to look into the matter. The All India Union of Forest Working People (AIUFWP), a partner organisation with Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP), has made a representation to the Chief Secretary of Uttarakhand, requesting that two of the members of the Union be allowed to become members of the inquiry committee for more transparency and so that the Van Gujjar community is adequately represented.
The letter suggests that its senior member, Tarun Joshi and advocate Anita Pegwal be made part of this inquiry committee.
For decades, AIUFWP has been upholding and defending rights of indigenous people, including transhumance or nomadic tribes, as well as rights of Adivasi and forest dwelling communities as enshrined under Forest Rights Act (FRA) 2006. In Wildlife First Vs Union of India IA no 35782/2019, AIUFWP has, in alliance with CJP, successfully helped two Adivasi women file an intervention application before the Supreme Court.
Among its four pillars of action, the land and livelihood rights of Adivasis and traditional forest dwellers, is one. CJP, with its expertise in navigating cases of human rights violations in the courts and beyond has been active on the issue; partnering with the All India Union of Forest Working Peoples (AIUFWP) since 2017 to battle any setback to these rights in the courts. This includes legally fighting back against malicious prosecution of leaders of the community and defending the Forest Rights Act, 2006 in the Supreme Court. We stand with the millions of Forest Dwellers and Adivasis whose lives and livelihoods are threatened. Please support our efforts by donating here.
Background of the case
On June 16 and June 17, 2020, some police and forest officials arrived at Van Gujjars’ dera (shelter) at Asharodi forest in the Ramgarh range of Rajaji National Park with the intention to destroy a shelter belonging to Noorjahan, daughter of Ghulam Mustafa aka Mustafa Chopra, (75), and started questioning why these shelters were built and started destroying them.
The incident of the first day was caught on camera by one of the children from the community which shows that the police officials assaulted the women of the tribe, while destroying their shelter and it can also be clearly seen how his family members were manhandled and attacked by police officials and forest officials when they objected to the destruction of their shelters. Mustafa has been fighting for the forest rights of his community in the courts as well as with the bureaucracy, for two decades.
Complaint to NHRC
AIUFWP and CJP have been involved in the case from the beginning, with helping getting bail for Mustafa and his family members who were booked in a falsified case, to bringing the case to the notice of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC). In a joint memorandum to the NHRC, they have stated how the police and forest officials defied even lockdown rules specifically laid down for the Van Gujjars which required them to ensure that Van Gujjars remain in their shelters and instead they went ahead and destroyed their shelter.
The complaint also points out how the officials violated provisions of Indian Forest (Uttaranchal Amendment) Act, 2001 which lays down the procedure of eviction whereby a written notice is to be issued to the occupant first.
The complaint further states, “Refusal of forest authorities to recognize the rights of forest dwellers in complete disregard of not just the mandate of the law but also orders of the courts of law and invoking of false cases against these forest dwellers is a clear display of their contempt towards these tribes. The Van Gujjars are a vulnerable class of people sustaining themselves on simple activities such as cattle rearing and selling small scale dairy products and it is imperative that this Commission takes cognizance of such incidents of incidents against them so their oppression at the hands of forest officials can finally come to a halt.”
Being aware of the facts and circumstances of the case and being in possession of much of the evidentiary material as well as first hand testimonies of the victims of the assault, they make a fit case for being included in the inquiry committee. It is imperative that in an inquiry committee probing a particular incident, there is adequate representation from the affected party so that principles of natural justice can be thoroughly followed.
The letter dated July 11, has been sent to the Chief Secretary of Uttarakhand and response is awaited in this regard.
The letter may be read here: