Their immediate problem should be solved by making new law.
By Biru Nepali
Kathmandu: Extremely marginalized communities including Chepang, Bhote, Majhi, Kumal, and Tharu have been living near forests and river banks for generations. These indigenous tribes are especially dependent on forests, water, and land. But since the government introduced the practice of biodiversity conservation, their condition, settlement, and lifestyle have been put at risk.
Due to lack of access to forests and water resources, conflicts are being created at different times between the Chepang along with other communities and wildlife living in the park-protected area and buffer zone.
During the virtual discussion program organized by Jagran Media Center in collaboration with the UNDP’s Parliamentary Support Program on the problems and issues of the people in the affected areas of Chitwan National Park in Bagmati Province, the experts, speakers, and participants have said that the Chepang people living in the buffer zone of the national park have been greatly affected.
After the establishment of the park, People who are relying on the natural resources of Chitwan National Park under Bagmati Pradesh, have seen additional problems and challenges with various laws and regulations related to forest protected areas made by the government to prohibit water, land, and forest-dependent livelihoods.
The protected area in Nepal covers 12 national parks, 1 wildlife reserve, 1 hunting reserve, 6 conservation areas, 13 intermediate areas and occupies about 23.395 (3.4 million hectares) of the country. But in most of the protected areas, the ancestral home of the indigenous group has been established. The ban on parks and protected areas in the area has created major problems for their habitat, survival, and lifestyle.
Speaking at the program, Madhav Prasad Poudel, Chairman of the State Management Committee under Bagmati Pradesh, stressed the need to enact new laws to establish the rights of communities living in park-protected areas.
He stressed the need to formulate an act from the federation to solve the problems of the Chepang community who are living in this area and to protect natural resources such as shared forests and water lands.
He also said that everyone should raise their voice to end the old system of scarcity and problems as the federation has been on one side of the forest till now. “The new act should clarify the responsibilities of the state and local levels in the distribution of natural resources and the protection and management of wildlife”, he added.
Similarly, Constituent Assemblymember and former president of the Chepang Association Govinda Ram Chepang said that the national park has discriminated against Tharu, Kumal, Bhote, Majhi, and Chepang castes who are living in the area around the national park.
He said that the government has discriminated against the indigenous people who cannot survive without water, land, and forest by making rules related to national parks.
Narrating the incidents of Resham Chepang who was shot dead by the National Park in Lothra River in 2068 BS and of Raj Kumar Chepang who was brutally beaten to death in 2077 BS at Saune Sakrantika Vela Vagar and of Dan Bahadur Chepang, Jit Bahadur Chepang and Bishnu Chepang of Madi Municipality-8 of Chitwan whose houses were destroyed by using the elephants and burned under the rules that were made in 2029 BS and the Act of 2052 BS but that were wrong, he said.
He reminded us that about 40 Chepangs have been imprisoned so far in the fake rhino smuggling case to save the smugglers and called for correcting the discriminatory norms and laws and structures established by the law.
Similarly, MP from Bagmati Pradesh Ram Lal Mahato stressed the need to take special initiative to end various conflicts that have arisen between the Chepangs and Nikunj as they have a long-standing relationship.
He argued that the Act, which was enacted in 2029 BS with the emphasis on wildlife during the establishment of Chitwan National Park, was impractical and stressed the need to enact a new type of development-friendly, human-friendly, and wildlife conservation-friendly act.
“As the local government and the state government have no authority over the Chitwan National Park under the federal government, a new law should be enacted again with the participation of local government, consumers, affected people in the central zone and experts”, he said.
Similarly, the federal government should compensate the park-affected communities living in the border areas of Makwanpur and Chitwan, he said, ” to resolve the conflict with Nikunj immediately, the laws and practices of the conflicting intermediate sector should also be amended”.
According to him, the Chepang community is dependent on natural resources. The area spread over Chitwan National Park is inhabited by communities including Bhote, Tharu, and Chepang in the vicinity of Rapti Municipality and Bharatpur Municipality. In order to ensure the rights of Chepangs living in parks and protected areas, policy reforms should be made in the laws and regulations related to buffer zones.
Presenting a concept paper on park-people struggle from the perspective of the Chepang people in Nepal, environmentalist Dr. Yogendra Yadav of Institute of Forestry Hetauda said that most of the protected areas have ancestral habitats of the Adivasi group but they have been displaced due to the establishment of park protection and this has created a big problem in their lives.
He argued that they were discriminated against and exploited because of their weak economic, social and political status and capacity.
He pointed out that the Chepang community had zero representation not only in the state and federal governments but also in political parties from 2064 BS to 2074 BS.
In the experience of Park-People’s Struggle in Nepal, violation of land rights, discrimination against them, the conflict between humans and wildlife, deprivation of participation in conservation areas, wildlife crime, and poaching are the main issues that have arisen conflict between them, he said.
He said that emphasis should be laid on making regional laws and new laws by modifying and amending some of the conflicting laws and regulations made so far to reduce the conflict between humans and wildlife and its impact.
Similarly, Ekal Silwal, an investigative journalist from Chitwan, said that it was a big mistake to evacuate forcibly the indigenous community while establishing the Chitwan National Park. “All facilities should not be restricted to the indigenous groups, including the Chepang, who have relied on natural resources for generations”, he added.
He said that the indifference of the policymakers to maintain human and wildlife and nature-friendly conditions and methods, lack of policy stance, managerial weakness, and unequal distribution of benefits are further damaging the Chepang community in the parks and protected areas. According to him, the government has enacted laws and policies related to forest protected areas to prohibit the way of life in the forests.
Therefore, in order to solve this problem, the structure of protection should be changed with broad thinking instead of such discriminatory policy rules.
He stressed the need for continuous debate, discussion, and lobbying in the media sector, with mature interest from the citizens, sufficient facts, and reasonable arguments.
Stating that such an incident without any alternative arrangement from the place of residence has a great impact on the indigenous community including Chepang, the committee stressed the need to make policy reforms to solve such problems. He complained that it was not appropriate to hand over the discriminatory thinking of killing people in the Chepang community, burning their houses, and demolishing settlements to the local government.
This program was facilitated by Kamala Bishwakarma, Chairperson of Jagran Media Center and Member of the Constituent Assembly.