The government must see to it that the evicted people are adequately compensated and not left on their own

Nepal's wildlife conservation is a success story, with its national parks and other protected areas now teeming with the endangered one-horned rhinoceros, Royal Bengal tiger, Asiatic elephant, red panda and the gaur. While Nepal's conservation efforts have been lauded worldwide, its success seems to have come at a cost, especially for the indigenous peoples, which is rarely talked about. A new report by Amnesty International and the Community Self-Reliance Centre depicts how the indigenous peoples have suffered human rights violations as a result of the abusive conservation policies. The report 'Violation in the Name of Conservation', released Monday, shows how the establishment of national parks and other protected areas has resulted in the eviction of tens of thousands of indigenous peoples from their ancestral lands while denying them access to those lands so necessary for their subsistence. Worse still, the enforcement of these policies has resulted in arbitrary arrest, torture and even unlawful killings of the these people while foraging for food and medicines in the forest lands that once belonged to them.

Efforts to conserve Nepal's endangered wildlife began with the formulation of the National Park and Wildlife Conservation Act in 1973 and the establishment of Chitwan National Park that today covers 932 square kilometres. Excessive hunting and poaching had reduced the rhino population to less than a hundred by the Sixties, sending alarm bells across the world. The tiger population had fared even worse, which had become nearly extinct, with the eradication of malaria in the Tarai and influx of migrants from the mid-hills. With its 12 national parks, one wildlife reserve, one hunting reserve and six conservation areas, the total protected areas now make up about a quarter of the country's area. So the indigenous population that has been evicted should be sizable. The report focuses only on two national parks – Chitwan and Bardiya. Thus, a study of all the protected areas would provide the true cost that the indigenous peoples have had to pay as a result of the harsh conservation policies.

It is not only conservation but also development projects and programmes that push indigenous people out of their ancestral lands. Tens of thousands of people are evicted from their lands when highways, large hydropower plants and mining projects are undertaken.

In Kathmandu, thousands of people lost their farms that they had been tilling for generations when the Tribhuvan University was established at Kirtipur in the late Fifties. So did many Muslim inhabitants when the Lumbini Master Plan was launched in the Seventies. As conservation and development projects and programmes speed up in the country, they will definitely require a lot of land, which will need evicting many people. Hence, the government must see to it that the evicted people are adequately compensated and not left on their own.

They could be resettled in nearby areas that have a similar geography and are also safe from natural disasters that the country has been prone to in recent times. They must be given alternative livelihoods so that they are economically better off than previously and happier, too.

Let the panel work

The Supreme Court on Monday dealt a blow to the Sher Bahadur Deuba-led government by overturning its decision to dissolve the Land Related Problems Solving Commission formed by the erstwhile KP Oli-led cabinet on March 22, 2020. Issuing a temporary interim order, a single bench of Justice Ishwar Prasad Khatiwada ordered the government not to make changes in the record related to the work and activities of the dissolved commission, its physical resources and means and the work related to its management till August 17. The apex court has stated that the government cannot dissolve it as it was formed as per the constitutional provision.

The aim of the commission, led by Devi Prasad Gyawali, is to provide a piece of land to the landless people and manage the informal settlers. Access to shelter, education and health are the fundamental rights of citizens, and it is the duty of the government to ensure these basic needs to them. Squatter problem has been a thorny issue all the governments have been facing for decades. Many families become homeless every year because of natural disasters. A commission like this can resolve this problem if it is allowed to function without political interference.

A version of this article appears in the print on August 11 2021, of The Himalayan Times.