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Biodiversity & Environment

Rights of Van Gujjars

  • 27 May 2021
  • 5 min read

Why in News

The Uttarakhand High Court has reprimanded the State government for stopping some Van Gujjar families on the way to Govind Pashu Vihar National Park and said their right to life is being violated by the authorities.

Key Points

  • Background:
    • The Van Gujjars pursue seasonal migration from the Terai-Bhabar and Siwalik region of Uttarakhand to the higher bugyals in the Western Himalayas in summer and vice versa in winter.
      • This phenomenon of transhumance pursued by the community is among the few climate-adaptive and resilience strategies that ensures their pastoral livelihood remains viable and sustainable.
    • The Van Gujjars possess legitimate permits across their summer (Govind Pashu Vihar National Park) and winter homesteads. However, they are not permitted by authorities to enter the Park.
  • Rights of Pastoralists under Forests Rights Act 2006:
    • It has ensured that even pastoralists possess rights to access grazing pastures in lieu of the Community Forest Resource right they are eligible for.
      • Section 2 (a) prescribes for the rights of pastoral communities on customary common forest land within the traditional or customary boundaries of a village.
    • It also prescribes the seasonal use of a landscape in case of pastoral communities, including in unclassed forests, reserve forests, un-demarcated forests, deemed forests, protected forests, sanctuaries and national parks.
  • High Court’s Order:
    • Upholds the right of Van Gujjars to migrate to their summer homesteads in the bugyals (Himalayan alpine meadows) located within the Govind Pashu Vihar National Park.
    • The court relied on Article 21 (Protection of Life and Personal Liberty) of the constitution.

Article 21 of the Constitution

  • It declares that no person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law.
  • This right is available to both citizens and non-citizens.
  • The right to life is not merely confined to animal existence or survival but also includes the right to live with human dignity and all those aspects of life which go to make a man’s life meaningful, complete and worth living.
  • About Van Gujjars:
    • Van Gujjars are the forest-dwelling nomadic community inhabiting the foothills of Himalayan States such as Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir.
    • Usually, they migrate to the bugyals (grasslands) located in the upper Himalayas with their buffaloes and return only at the end of monsoons to their makeshift huts, deras, in the foothills.
    • They traditionally practice buffalo husbandry; a family owns up to 25 heads of buffaloes. They rely on buffaloes for milk, which gets them a good price in Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh markets.

Govind Pashu Vihar National Park

  • Location:
    • It is located in the Uttarkashi district of the state of Uttarakhand. The park lies in the higher reaches of the Garhwal Himalayas.
  • Establishment:
    • The park was established as a Wildlife Sanctuary in the year of 1955. It was declared as a National Park in the year of 1990.
  • Flora and Fauna:
    • Fauna include the Snow Leopard, Brown Bear, Musk Deer, Western Tragopan etc.
    • Some of the noteworthy trees present in the sanctuary include deodar cedar, chir pine, silver fir, blue pine and several deciduous species.
  • Other Features:
    • Within the park is the Har-ki-dun valley which is a known spot for trekking, while the Ruinsara high altitude lake is also popular as a tourist destination.
    • The park creates an upper water catchment of River Tons.
      • Tons river is a significant tributary of Yamuna River and reaches the upper stretches of Garhwal.

Other Protected Areas in Uttarakhand

Source: DTE

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