Encroachment of Forest reserve land in Gnathang village: SC Story
Gnathang village located at the altitude of 14000 metres under Ganthang-Machong constituency is blessed with the beautiful landscape and bountiful nature. The village has a population of 1500-2500, approximately with more than 70 houses. Located in the foothills of Pangolakha Wildlife Sanctuary, the village came under a media radar recently with some critical news of demolition of structures by the Department of Forest and Wildlife, Government of Sikkim. The video of demolishment of houses went viral over social media platform. Netizens responded to the video with various questions and speculations, thus Sikkim Chronicle reached the village to understand the entire development.
The incident : Demolition of Structures at Gnathang village
“ We have been residing here since ages. Our fore-fathers lived in the village, and we are the third generation born and brought up here. We had no knowledge about the forest land reserve and no any demarcation by the forest department was visible while constructing the houses” said one of the villagers maintaining anonymity.
The Inhabitants in the Ganthang village are mostly labourers working under the Border Roads Organization who are engaged in constructing roads in the borders. As per the information received, the villagers have played a vital role as a civilian force during the Sino-Indian war of 1962. Villages stressed to inhabit the village since early 1880s.
On May 06, Sikkim State Foresters demolished the newly built structures in the village which were built illegally as per the officials of State Forest Department. As per the concerned Department, 56 houses in Gnathang have been build illegally by encroaching forest reserve land. It was revealed through official sources that on 10 plots in Gnathang, 03 in Kupup owns land parcha (deed)
The official sources also revealed that almost 56 houses in Gnathang, 40 in Kupup and 86 in Zuluk are built in the forest reserve land. Almost 8-10 hectares of forest land have been encroached in Gnathang village alone, added the source.
“Forest land is not for any non-forestry activities such as digging, construction, tree cutting or any other activities that hampers the forest land and when any individual or party encroaches the forest land the corridor for wild animals are blocked, and forest lives are disturbed” added the source
A similar kind of demolition took place at Zuluk two years back where a 20 pillar concrete structure was demolished by the forest department. Also in 2021 16 houses which were build after 2020 were sealed at JN road and notice for eviction was served to 16 household by the Forest Department. “The process of vacating the illegal structures at Gnathang village will also initiate soon by the department after the approval from the government. The department will send voluntary eviction notices at first and if the notice is ignored then the Department may initiate the forceful eviction” added the departmental source
As per India State of Forest Report of 2019 Sikkim forest cover in the State is 3,342.49 sq km which is 47.11% of the State’s geographical area. In terms of forest canopy density classes, the State has 1,101.96 sq km under Very Dense Forest (VDF), 1,552.31 sq km under Moderately Dense Forest (MDF) and 688.22 sq. km under Open Forest. Furthermore, the forest land has decreased by 1.51sq km when compared to Forest to the previous assessment reported in ISFR 2017.
Encroachment of Forest reserve land by any private party or an individual is the violation of Sikkim Forest Act 1988. The forest officials demolished the illegal structure which is valid as per the governing laws, but the emotions of the inhabitants of Gnathang village who have been residing in the valley and been the crucial civilian force during Sino- India war of 1962 remains unaddressed. The fear of losing their age-old houses, and identity crisis, bothers the villagers presently. The villagers also exercise their voting rights to form the Government, but now their right to live in the valley is surrounded by uncertainties. The entire development is under many eyes presently.