Community forests in Bardiya encroached upon by squatters, local consumersAccording to the Forest Act 1993, it is illegal to build infrastructures on forestland. But encroachers have been building structures in Bardiya’s forests for years now.
According to the data of the district’s Division Forest Office, a majority of the forest cover of 33 community forests has been encroached upon in the name of landless people, freed Kamaiyas (former bonded-labourers) and flood victims. Forest users say they cannot clear the forest area, as the encroachers are backed by political parties.
Meanwhile, the squatters say they moved to the forest area 15 years ago, as they had nowhere else to go.
“Various organisations, including government institutions, have also encroached upon the forestland for setting up their offices,” said Drona Sharma, information officer at the Division Forest Office.
Community forests cover 19,079 hectares of forestland in the district, whereas national forests cover around 4,000 hectares.
“Landless squatters, consumers of community forests and various governmental and non-governmental organisations have encroached upon more than 378 hectares of forestland in the district,” Sharma said.
According to the Forest Act 1993, it is illegal to build infrastructures on forestland. But encroachers have been building structures in Bardiya’s forests for years now.
In Madhuban Municipality, land belonging to Kisan Community Forest was donated to an organisation named Manab Kalyan and Saving Cooperatives. Seven shops and a three-room building have been constructed there. In the forestland of Ramnagar Community Forest, several shops, a Red Cross building, a health post, huts and hotels have been built by encroachers.
In Bansgadhi Municipality, the Area Police Office building was constructed in the land of Saptidevi Community Forest.
“Most of the organisations have constructed roads and buildings, and installed utility poles after grabbing the forest lands,” Sharma said.
Officials at the Division Forest Office said the government should form a high-level commission to address the issue. Mohammad Kar Khan, a central member of the Federation of Community Forestry Users Nepal, said the rampant felling of trees might cause desertification of the district’s lands.
“It is difficult to evict encroachers from the forestland,” said Khan, adding that it’s illegal to build infrastructures in the forestland according to the Forest Act 1993.