Encroachment takes toll on forests in the West

  • Political parties accused of protecting illegal settlers from eviction
- AMRITA ANAMOL, Kathmandu

Feb 18, 2017-Around 23,500 hectares of forest land in the western region has been stripped as a result of human encroachment in five decades, according to the Western Regional Forest Directorate.  

A large area of forest cover in the Tarai districts, including Rupandehi, Kapilvastu and Nawalparasi, has been replaced by settlements built by people claiming to be landless. These people have been living there for generations and, every once in a while, they have been demanding the government to provide them land ownership documents. 

Conservationists, however, say that not every family living on encroached forest land are landless. 

Dal Bahadur Gurung, a forest conservation campaigner, claims that many well-to-do, property-owning people are also occupying forest land and that they should be evicted by the authorities.    

“Yes, there are landless, freed Kamaiya and Haliya families living in settlements built on forest land. But there are also people who have no reason to be there,” says Gurung. 

The only reason these so-called landless people are occupying the forest land, Gurung says, is because they are protected by local political parties and their leaders.

In the district of Rupandehi, 8,346 hectares of forest land is under the occupation of landless people. There are several settlements of landless families at Devdaha, Sainamaina, Tilottama, and Butwal areas.

Nimkala Pun lives in one of the settlements at Devdaha. She argues that since her family has been living there for a long time, the government should acknowledge them as the rightful owner of the property.

“Forest land or not, we want land ownership papers,” she demands.

Gurung contends that the government should identify the genuine landless families from the fake ones and come up with a housing programme for them. 

“The government should form a high level commission to solve the problem of landless people and their housing. Or else, the forest land encroachment is going to continue willy-nilly to the point where the government will be unable to contain the situation. At least, save the forests that are still there before it is too late,” he says. 

Dhananjaya Paudel, director of the Western Regional Forest Directorate, says the forest authority alone is incapable of recovering the encroached forest land. Breaking the nexus between political parties and the so-called landless people is crucial to winning back the forest land that has been taken over illegally, he says.

“There should be a political will at the centre as well as at the local level to evict the 

people who have encroached on forest land. However far-fetched the idea may 

be, but that is the only way there is if we are to reclaim the lost forest land.”    

Published: 18-02-2017 08:23

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