KOHALPUR, Dec 18: The forest cover along the Nepalgunj - Baghauda section of the Hulaki highway is fast disappearing. Instead, small huts in large numbers have cropped up inside the jungle. In lack of monitoring or necessary action against forest encroachment by the authorities, self-proclaimed flood victims have erected huts in the forest, locals say.
"We are here and seeing all this. They are not flood victims. They are mafias. They have almost finished off the jungle along the highway," reported Hanif Khan, chairperson of Mandapuruwa Community Forest. "We fear they will not leave even a single tree along the highway," he added.
Deforestation has been rapid especially since the past one month. During the election time, the mafia can carry out such activities even more easily, according to locals. "Many trees near Mandpuruwa, Bhagawai and Siddheshwar forests have been cut down. The roadsides are fully occupied by huts," Khan said. "Deforestation and encroachment became rapid especially in the run up to the elections. Forest patches some wards of Raptisonari, along the highway have been cut down completely," he added.
According to Khan, the mafia people who have been encroaching the forests in the name of flood victims have attacked the locals, who tried to prevent the rampant encroachment. In one recent clash between the encraochers and the locals, Khan himself was injured.
"When I tried to stop them from occupying a community forest, they attacked me with axe and I was injured," he said. "The authorities need to tackle the problem without delay."
Khan said his community forest recently wrote to the Armed Police Force, Nepal Police and the Area Forest Office to stop the encroachment, but their request appears to have fallen on deaf ears.
The highway is to be blacktopped soon. After this, the land price along the highway will skyrocket. Locals said per kattha price might go up between Rs 1.5 million and Rs 3 million.
Satatram Maurya's is one of the families who recently erected a hut near the highway. He already owns a house in the village. He told Republica that he also erected the hut as everyone in the village was doing so. "Almost everyone living near the Rapti River has come here and erected a hut, so I also did the same," he grinned. "I thought I should not miss out on this opportunity," he admitted.
Not everyone who posses house here is that vocal however. Most of them say they are genuine flood victims. Maurya said those who have erected huts in the jungle spend the nights at their own homes in the village.
According to Sharmila Gharti Magar of Raptisonari - 6, greenery alongside the highway has almostt vanished. This area is turning into a new village.
Meanwhile, senior officer at Banke Forest Office Pushpa Raj Bartaula said that the forest office has freshly received information about the rampant deforestation and they will take necessary steps to stop encroachment. "We have allowed only genuine flood victims to live in the forest only for three months. We will visit the area and take necessary action," he said.