Local units are at forefront of forest encroachmentAll 88 local units in the Sudurpaschim Province have encroached on forestlands to build offices, schools and other infrastructures, forest officials say.
Almost all the local units in various districts of Sudurpaschim Province have been encroaching on forestland to construct physical infrastructures such as public offices for their own use, according to forest officials.
Mayor of Godawari Municipality Birendra Bhatta laid the foundation for a building to be used as an Integrated Agriculture and Livestock Service Centre inside the Chahan Community Forest in Kailali district last week. Earlier, the centre had signed a project agreement with the contractor to construct the building at a cost of Rs20.6 million.
Upon learning that the building was being constructed on encroached land inside the community forest, the Division Forest Office, Kailali wrote to the community forest users’ group to stop the work.
In another similar case, ward 4 of the municipality has already started constructing an office building inside the Khairana Women’s Community Forest at the cost of Rs10.38 million. Work on the foundation of the building was carried out during night hours to avoid potential disruption by locals and the forest authorities, according to forest officials.
All 88 local units in the Sudurpaschim province, have encroached forests while constructing physical infrastructures, according to forest officials. The provincial forestry ministry estimates that around 11,000 hectares of forests have been encroached by roads, which were constructed without conducting environmental impact assessments. An additional 6,000 hectares of forests have been encroached upon to build infrastructures like buildings for ward offices, community halls, schools, colleges, temples, and sport fields, among other things, in the province.
In Kanchanpur, the district that borders Godawari Municipality of Kailali, half a dozen public buildings have been constructed on forestland in Krishnapur Municipality. Around half a dozen other public buildings are being constructed inside forests near the Bani Sub-Division Forest Office.
In Dadeldhura, the Aalital Rural Municipality, which lies on the foothills of the Chure range, constructed its offices, and a police building, among other facilities, on forestland.
“The local unit not only built infrastructures on forestland but it also used smuggled timber in the construction,” said Hari Singh Dhami, a local. “Other local units of Dadeldhura have also built infrastructures on forestland.”
A report made public a few days ago by the Division Forest Office, Baitadi shows that 577 hectares of forests have been encroached in the district. A total of 466 hectares have been encroached by roads while 110 hectares have been encroached for the construction of various physical infrastructures, the report shows. Although the forest authority does not have actual data on the encroachment, it estimates that around 3,000 hectares of forests have been encroached in Kailali and Kanchanpur—the Tarai districts in Sudurpaschim Province.
The integrated institution for the conservation of forest and environment recently conducted a study on forest encroachment along the East-West Highway from Chisapani Karnali in Kailali to Mahendranagar in Kanchanpur. The study reveals that local units are foremost when it comes to encroaching forestlands. There are nine local units from Chisapani Karnali to Mahendranagar.
“Of the total encroached woodlands in the district, around 90 percent are occupied by local bodies. The land mafia encroaches on forests by erecting huts in the name of landless squatters and the local units recognise such encroachment by building roads and schools and other amenities there,” said Shibaraj Khanal, coordinator at the institution.
According to him, the provincial and federal governments too have invested millions of budget funds on the encroached land on the recommendation of the local units.
The forest authorities are unable to check the encroachments mainly due to political pressure. “The Department of Forest and Soil Conservation has written to local units not to construct any infrastructures inside forests without conducting environmental impact assessment,” said Suresh Chandra DC, acting chief at the Division Forest Office in Dadeldhura. “But the people’s representatives blatantly violated the provisions of the Forest Act 2019 by misusing the political power they wield. The people’s representatives will be punished if legal action is taken against them as per the Forest Act.”
The provincial forest minister Ramesh Dhami, meanwhile, says he will take stringent steps to control the encroachment and punish those responsible. “I have instructed forest officials to file lawsuits against everyone involved in such encroachment. The employees will face legal action if they don’t take the encorachers to court,” he said.