Chepang organisation demands inquiry into Kusum Khola incidentNepal Chepang Sangh has submitted a memorandum to the chief district officer of Chitwan, demanding legal action against the guilty.
Ramesh Kumar Paudel
Nepal Chepang Sangh, an organisation representing the indigenous Chepang community, has demanded an inquiry into the recent incident of enforced eviction of Chepang families from their settlement in Chitwan district.
On July 18, a group of people had torched and vandalised at least 10 huts in a Chepang settlement built in Kusum Khola, Madi. The displaced families have claimed that their homes were destroyed by the employees of Chitwan National Park.
On Thursday, representatives of the Nepal Chepang Sangh in Bagmati Province and the Chitwan working committee of the Sangh submitted a memorandum of appeal to Narayan Prasad Bhattarai, chief district officer of Chitwan, demanding investigation into the incident and legal action against the people responsible. They also demanded immediate dismissal of the park officials involved in the incident.
The organisation has warned of protests if their demands are not met.
The park administration has been refuting the allegation that it had sanctioned the eviction of the Chepang families.
On Wednesday, a team from the Sangh had inspected the incident site.
According to the park officials, the area where the settlement was built falls under the park’s territory. Over the last few years, around 160 Chepang families, except 10, have left the settlement in Kusum Khola and migrated to an area adjacent to Bharatpur Madi Thori Postal Highway with the help of Madi Municipality.
Narayan Prasad Rupakheti, chief conservation officer at the park, claimed that they were forced to evict the encroachers from the park’s land, as some of the people (who had moved away from Kusum Khola) had returned to resettle in the area.
“Photos of the arson and vandalism which have been made public are fake,” said Rupakheti.
He added that the park employees had pulled down six huts and five guard posts in the settlement while denying the allegation of setting ablaze and using elephants to tear down the huts.
Issuing a statement on Wednesday evening, the park authority also said that people from outside the Chepang settlement were cultivating maize and constructing huts in the Kusum Khola area by taking advantage of the coronavirus lockdown.
“Maize was grown in around eight katthas of land and 11 thatched-roof huts were constructed to guard the maize crops. Only those huts and crops were cleared from Kusum Khola on Saturday,” the park said in the statement.
CDO Bhattarai said the park had informed the local administration about clearing the encroached land where maize was being cultivated.
“I was busy with landslide management when the incident happened. I am yet to come across other details,” he said. “There, however, has been no discussion with the park officials about the eviction of the 10 families left in Kusum Khola.”
According to Bhattarai, the park officials have also extended the same claim about not destroying people’s huts in Kusum Khola.
“But I am still gathering details about the incident. If what took place on Saturday went against the law of the land, legal action will be taken.”
Earlier, Amnesty International Nepal had condemned the eviction of the Chepang families from their settlement by the Chitwan National Park authority.
The human rights group asked the authorities concerned to stop enforced eviction of the indigenous community from their settlement, and have asked for those involved in the vandalism and arson to be held accountable.
Kamal Pathak, the coordinator of the committee formed by the National Human Rights Commission to monitor anti-human rights activities during the lockdown in Chitwan, said: “It’s an act against human rights. We came to know that there were no earlier discussions with concerned stakeholders regarding the eviction. In this case, it's a wrong move.”