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'Van Gujjars' Forced To Survive In Conditions Below Animal Existence: Uttarakhand HC Directs Govt To Provide Them Food, House, Medicines Etc

Sparsh Upadhyay
25 May 2021 3:54 PM GMT
Van Gujjars Forced To Survive In Conditions Below Animal Existence: Uttarakhand HC Directs Govt To Provide Them Food, House, Medicines Etc
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Observing that Van Gujjars families are forced to live in open tents, in an open field, under the open sky, the Uttarakhand High Court on Tuesday (May 25) prima facie ruled that the fundamental right to life under Article 21 of the Constitution of India of Van Gujjars families was being violated by the respondents.[About Van Gujjars: "Van Gujjars" are the largest forest-dwelling community...

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Observing that Van Gujjars families are forced to live in open tents, in an open field, under the open sky, the Uttarakhand High Court on Tuesday (May 25) prima facie ruled that the fundamental right to life under Article 21 of the Constitution of India of Van Gujjars families was being violated by the respondents.

[About Van Gujjars: "Van Gujjars" are the largest forest-dwelling community in Uttarakhand. "Van Gujjars" have been residing in the forest areas for last more than hundred years.]

Noting their condition, the Bench of Chief Justice Raghvendra Singh Chauhan and Justice Alok Kumar Verma remarked,

"It is, indeed, trite to state that Article 21 of the Constitution of India forbids the State from reducing the lives of its people below the animal existence. Every citizen not only has a right to live, but also has a right to live with dignity."

The matter before the Court

It was submitted before the Court that during this part of the year, Van Gujjars come down to the lower areas of the State and that a few of the families of the "Van Gujjars" have migrated to Govind Pashu Vihar National Park, Uttarkashi.

It was further submitted that since these families are valid permit holders of the Park, they should be permitted to enter the park to eke out their living in the forest itself, however, it was stated before the Court that ever since they have reached the Park, they are not being permitted to enter the Park.

Therefore, it was submitted that these families are forced to live in open tents under the sky and moreover, due to the Covid-19 pandemic and due to the lock-down, it was stated, these families cannot sell their milk to the neighbouring villages.

Thus, the petitioner, party-in-person argued that these families are reduced to hand to mouth existence and that their lives have been reduced to "below animal existence", for, they have neither any shelter to live in, nor any economic means to survive.

Hence it was prayed that immediate arrangements should be made for these 3 families by the District Magistrate, and by the Deputy Director of the Park.

On the other hand, the Advocate General, informed the Court that migration of these persons may endanger the wildlife within the Park as Corona Virus may spread from human beings to animals, hence, it was submitted that until and unless the families are declared to be negative in Corona Virus test, they cannot be permitted to enter the Park. 

Court's observations

Perusing the photographs of the Van Gujjars which showed small children, and new born babies, being wrapped in blankets, and sleeping on the ground, the Court remarked,

"However, it seems that the callous attitude of the Deputy Director of the Park, and of the Civil Administration has forced these families to survive in conditions, which are below the animal existence."

Therefore, the Court, prima facie ruled, the fundamental right to life under Article 21 of the Constitution of India is being violated by the respondents and therefore, the Court directed the Collector, District-Uttarkashi, and the Deputy Director of the Park to ensure that these families are comfortably accommodated in "Pacca 5 houses".

Further, the Court directed:

  • They shall be provided with food, water, and medicines.
  • They shall also be provided with fodder for their cattle.
  • All the families shall be tested for Covid-19.
  • In case, they are found to be negative, and if they are valid permit holders, arrangements shall be made to permit them to enter the Park for the duration allowed by law.

The District Magistrate, District-Uttarkashi, and the Deputy Director of the Park were also directed to submit their reports with regard to the substantial steps taken by them to implement the directions issued by this Court.

The said reports have been directed to be submitted on or before 15th June, 2021. The matter has been listed for further hearing on 16.06.2021.

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