Chitwan park authority accused of burning huts of landless squatters in MadiLocal government criticise the park officials for trying to evict poor families during monsoon.
Dan Bahadur Praja Chepang, a resident at a squatter settlement in Kusumkhola in Madi, was on his way back home from Kirtanpur around 5 in the evening on Saturday. As he approached the settlement, he saw around 20 people riding on seven elephants enter the settlement, which was an unusual sight for him. “As I got closer I saw houses on fire. They had torched my house and my uncle’s and vandalised other houses too,” said the 20-year-old Dan Bahadur.
Dan Bahadur claims the people who torched and vandalised his settlement are employees of Chitwan National Park.
The park employees reached the Kusumkhola settlement of the landless people on Saturday and asked the 10 squatter households to evict the area within a week, according to some locals,
The park administration, however, has refuted the allegation of vandalism and arson in the settlement.
“Some park employees and Nepal Army personnel had gone to the settlement to ask the villagers to evacuate the area. But they did not torch the huts as claimed by the locals. I was informed that some barns were dismantled,” said Narayan Rupakheti, the chief conservation officer at the CNP.
Kusumkhola lies in Ward No 9 of Madi Municipality in Chitwan district. The settlement is in a remote part of the municipality and used by landless people especially those displaced by floods and landslides across the country over the years. The squatters in the area come from several districts and have been living in the area since 1992.
The park claims the land where the settlement is built falls under the park’s territory.
“Settlements in Kusumkhola and some areas of Bandarjhula have been built by encroaching the park’s territory. We are reclaiming them,” said Rupakheti.
According to a report prepared by the municipality three years ago, there were 160 houses of landless people in Kusumkhola area. The municipality in the last two years has resettled most of the squatters to other locations with only 10 households left in Kusumkhola.
The people’s representatives of Madi said the local government has been preparing to move the squatters to another area, but is yet to find a suitable location.
“This is not the right time for the park authority to evict the squatters,” said Shiva Hari Subedi, chief of Ward No 9. “The ward office and the municipality have been searching for a suitable location to relocate the squatters but these things take time,” he said. “The national park did not take action against the squatters in the dry season but chose to give them one-week eviction notice at a time when the local communities, including the squatters, are trying to survive the pandemic and the disaster the rains bring,” he said.
According to Subedi, the landless people in Kusumkhola informed him about the incident that happened on Saturday.
“They told me the park employees torched two houses even without letting them salvage their documents and belongings.”
Most of the squatter families were moved to Bharatpur, near Madi-Thori Postal Highway, but the relocation of the last 10 squatter families came to an abrupt halt when the locals of the area started to protest against allowing squatters to settle in their locality.