Allotment of land to Van Gujjars (shepherds) in the Rajaji National Park and tiger reserve has always remained a challenging issue for long. The increasing number of the said community had been giving sleepless nights to the park authorities since illegal poaching increases under their pretext and the natural resources of the park have a continuous depleting trend.
The park area is shrinking on account of the rising population of van Gujjars. Allurement to get a piece of land and all basic amenities of water and electricity has led to the ambiguity in the exact number of van Gujjars in every census and it has become a challenge for the authorities to relocate these invaders.
Some success has been met in the past 6 months in the process of rehabilitation of the shepherds and the park authorities are hopeful that very soon the forest area would become human free.
In 1988 survey, the count of the van Gujjars in the park was to the tune of 500. In 1998 census, it became 1395 and 2009 census showed the total number as 1510. In Chillawali range alone, as per 1998 census 260 families were listed out of which 209 families were shifted to Gaindikhata village.
Of remaining, 41 did not accept the proposal of rehabilitation. 104 again came back to the forest saying they would not move until all their family members are rehabilitated. Now recently the counseling efforts of the park authorities have borne fruit. 51 families have been shifted and some more would move out in the next week.
“It is so difficult to arrive at a certain figure and thereby a solution in terms of Gujjar counting since every time the census is done, some more names of the community people come up,” says director of Rajaji National Park Neena Grewal.
Wild life warden Komal Singh of Haridwar range told The Pioneer, “We had been counseling these Gujjars since long and we took them to Bindal bridge to show the conditions in which people were surviving. Comparing with the facilities given in Gaindikhat
village where road, water and electricity is available and each adult gujjar is allotted 8200 sq m land area for house and pasture land.” This move made the gujjars give consent willingly to relocate. “51 families shifted recently and next week some more are ready to move in Gandikhata,” added Komal Singh.