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Rajaji National Park and Tiger Reserve, Uttarakhand, India


Rajaji is a national park that encompasses the Shivaliks, near the foothills of the Himalayas. The Park was declared a wildlife sanctuary in 1983, and later a tiger reserve on 15 April 2015. The area is mostly inhabited by the community of Van Gujjars, an indigenous pastoralist nomadic community originally from the Kashmiri area. According to a Times of India report, there are currently a number of 1.610 Van Gujjars families living within the Rajaji Tiger Reserve (RTR), while 1.593 families have been relocated in the last 15 years (Fanari, 2019).

The attempt to relocate the Gujjars from the forest goes back to 1975, but it became a priority in 1985, just after the announcement of the Rajaji National Park project. In all these years the community has been facing several eviction notices and harassment by the forest department, to convince them to leave their territory and give space to the national park [4, 5]. Indeed after creation of the Park, the Van Gujjars were asked to shift to a resettlement colony at Pathari near Haridwar [9]. The forest authorities prohibit the communities to exercise their traditional pasture and grazing activity recognized under the Forest Rights Act, 2006 and blame them for poaching and timber smuggling from the park.

In 2005, after years of struggle, the Van Gujjars approached the Nainital court under the banner of Van Gujjar Kalyan Samiti (BGKS), and started a legal battle. This went on for the next few years till September 2008, when the Uttarakhand High Court sent a letter of contempt to the RTR director asking to stop the illegal relocation and acknowledge the right of the community as per Forest Rights Act (FRA). This has been the first time in India that a high court explicitly expressed in favour of the Forest Rights Act within the protected areas [2]. 

However, relocation and harassment did not stop and the Van Gujjars have continuously been pressurized by the forest department to leave their territory. Many Van Gujjars have been criminalized by the authorities, as was the case of 28 June 2011, when the leader of the movement, Noorjamal, got arrested on false charges. On that occasion, thousands of Dalits and Van Gujjars protested taking over the police station for one day [10]. The Van Gujjars are claiming their forest rights under the Forest Rights Act (FRA), but most of their claims have been rejected. In 2011 the Uttarakhand government gave an order to relocate a number of 228 families from the Chillawali range of Rajaji National Park [3]. Later in 2017, the forest department gave the order to evict 200 families from the Gohri tiger core area, denying them any rehabilitation package as considered ‘encroachers’. 

The Van Gujjars are struggling to get first of all their rights recognized, in order to have a proper rehabilitation package and be relocated under the rule of the law [7]. In the last years, the Uttarakhand High Court has tried to evict the Van Gujjars overpassing the law. First, on 19 December 2016, an order declared the Van Gujjars dangerous for the wildlife and cause of forest fires, and hence needed to be evicted within one year time [high court order numb. 54 OF 2016]. Later, in August 2018 a High Court order termed as illegal the stay of the Van Gujjar in the buffer area of both Rajaji and Corbett Tiger reserve, ordering the eviction without rehabilitation. This has activated a wave of protests,  and on September 24, 2018, the Supreme Court asked the government to maintain a ‘status quo’ on the matter [8, 9].

The last event of harassment against the Van Gujjars of Rajaji National park, came under the COVID19 pandemic, when on 16th and 17th June, 2020, in the Dehradun’s Asharodi forest in Ramgarh range, the armed force of the Forest Department, led by Officer Aan Singh Kandali, reached Gulam Mustafa’s inhabitation in the forest which is about 500 meters from the Dehradun-Delhi highway, and without any prior information began to destroy his camp (information shared by AIUFWP). The entire incident has been recorded by the children of the Van Gujjar family on their phones [11]. On seeing the video being made, the Forest Department's force opposed the making of the video and said that "cases under various sections will be registered against you in order to send  you and your family to jail". Mustafa informed the police they have the rights under FRA, but the police officers did not listen and started destroying their huts and along with his wife, 4 women and children got arrested. As per the news shared by the activists of the area, Mustafa was later highly beaten up by the police, and women were also beaten up [10]. Mustafa who has been fighting for his rights under FRA has been falsely accused in the past too (AIUFWP, press release) [12,13].

Basic Data

Name of conflict:Rajaji National Park and Tiger Reserve, Uttarakhand, India
State or province:Uttarakhand
Location of conflict:Dehradun
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)

Source of Conflict

Type of conflict. 1st level:Biodiversity conservation conflicts
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Establishment of reserves/national parks
Specific commodities:Land
Ecosystem Services
Tourism services

Project Details and Actors

Project details

The Rajaji National Park spreads over 820 km2, in three districts of Uttarakhand: Haridwar, Dehradun and Pauri Garhwal. In 1983, three wildlife sanctuaries in the area namely, Chilla, Motichur and Rajaji sanctuaries were merged into one.

Final approval was accorded to Kudremukh (Karnataka) and Rajaji (Uttarakhand) for declaring as a tiger reserve on 15 April 2015. Rajaji became the second tiger reserve in Uttarakhand. The critical tiger habitat (CTH) of the Tiger Reserve was notified on 10 April 2015, for an area of 819.54 sq km, and a buffer of 255.63 sq km.., In total the tiger reserve spread for 1075.17 sq km.

The nomadic Van Gujjar tribes and the forest village communities known as Tongiya cultivators are found in the Shivalik hills area of North India. The Van Gujjars follow Islam, have their own clans, are a pastoral semi-nomadic community, practising transhumance. In the winter season, the Van Gujjars migrate with their herds to the Shiwalik foothills, and in summer, they migrate to pastures high up in the mountains.

Project area:107,517
Type of populationRural
Affected Population:1610
Start of the conflict:01/01/1985
Relevant government actors:Uttarakhand Forest Department
National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA)
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:All Indian Union of Forest Working People (AIUFWP).
Van Gujjar Kalyan Samiti (BGKS).
Van Panchayat Sangharsh Morcha.

Conflict & Mobilization

IntensityHIGH (widespread, mass mobilization, violence, arrests, etc...)
Reaction stageIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups mobilizing:Indigenous groups or traditional communities
Local ejos
Ethnically/racially discriminated groups
Van Gujjar
Forms of mobilization:Involvement of national and international NGOs
Land occupation
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Street protest/marches


Environmental ImpactsPotential: Food insecurity (crop damage), Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Displacement, Lack of work security, labour absenteeism, firings, unemployment, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Militarization and increased police presence, Violations of human rights, Land dispossession, Other socio-economic impacts
Potential: Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors, Increase in violence and crime, Loss of livelihood, Specific impacts on women, Loss of landscape/sense of place


Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Court decision (failure for environmental justice)
Strengthening of participation
Violent targeting of activists
Development of alternatives:The Van Gujjars communities are demanding the recognition of the forest rights under FRA, upon the inhabited forest land. As pastoralist and nomadic group the community is asking for the recognition of the right of 'grazing (both settled and transhumant) and traditional seasonal resource access of nomadic or pastoralist communities' as sec. 3(1) d of the FRA.
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:The High Court order continues to not recognize the rights of the Van Gujjars giving the order of eviction both from core and buffer area. This denies the rights recognized under Forest Rights Act (FRA).

Sources & Materials

Juridical relevant texts related to the conflict (laws, legislations, EIAs, etc)

Wildlife Protection Act, 2006 Amendment

The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers Act, 2006

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

[2] Rakesh Agrawal. 'No Rights to Live in the Forest'. Economic and Political Weekly. Jan 4, 2014.

[8] The Time of India. 'HC slams Uttarakhand government over rehabilitation of Van Gujjars in CTR'. Author: Vineet Upadhyay. Aug. 17, 2018.

Uttarakhand government making intense efforts for relocation ..

[7] The Time of India. 'Uttarakhand government making intense efforts for relocation of Van Gujjars from Rajaji Tiger Reserve'. Author: Seema Sharma. Sept. 24, 2017.

[3] The Pioneer. 'Van Gujjars in Chillawali range to be rehabilitated'. 28 Nov, 2013.

[9] The Times of India. 'Shifting of Van Gujjars from Rajaji Reserve begins'. Author: Seema Sharma. Nov. 26, 2017.

The Times of India. 'Van Gujjars protest demanding forest rights'. Dec. 29, 2018.

[1] The Times of India. 'To save Rajaji, Gujjars relocation must'. Author: Seema Sharma.

[4] The Pioneer. Rehabilitation of Van Gujjars: A major challenge for park authorities. April 25, 2016.

[5] Down to Earth. 'No more bribes, Gujjars tell foresters.' Author: Amit Mitra. Jul 4, 2015.

[11] Down to Earth, "Uttarakhand Van Gujjars allege forest officials assaulted women; probe underway". Author: Sushmita. June 30, 2020.

[12] नुक़्ता-ए-नज़र. "उत्तराखंड के वन गूजरों पर क्यूँ हमलावर है वन विभाग ?" Author: नुक्ता-ए-नजर . June 20, 2020.

[13] Sabrangindia "Uttarakhand: Van Gujjars injured, property destroyed in clash with forest officials" June 19, 2020.

[10] The heroic role of women in the van Gujjar struggle.

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

A leader of the Van Gujjars speaks about the attack by the forest department towards the Van Gujjars community.

[11] Forest Rights: Van Gujjars assaulted in custody, NHRC complaint filed

Other documents

(PIL) No.54 OF 2016 Uttarakhand High Court order in the matter of the Protection of Forest Environment from the Forest Fire, mentioning the need to rehabilitate the Van Gujjars as dangerous for the wildlife.

Other comments:We are thankful for the information shared by Tarun Joshi from Van Panchayat Sangharsh Morcha.

Meta information

Contributor:Eleonora Fanari, ICTA (UAB). [email protected]
Last update19/02/2019



Van Gujjars cattle

Van Gujjars herding their cattle for grazing. Retrieved from

Van Gujjar woman

A Van Gujjar woman preparing 'chapatis' at a rest stop during the tribe's semi-annual trek in the Himalayas. Retrieved from:

Gulam Mustafa beaten up by forest guards

Gulam Mustafa was beaten up by the forest guards while trying to evict him and his family from their home in the forest. Photo shared by AIUFWP.