This photo taken recently is of the Shivaratna village of ward number 4 of Kairali Rural Municipality, Kailali. Photo: Dil Bahadur Chattyal/Republica
Around 900 families forced to pay a 'fee' and contribute 5-15 days labor each
KAILALI, March 7: Locals of Kairali Rural Municipality, many wards of which share border with India, have complained that officials from the Indian forest department have been exploiting them for years. Families living in some of these villages have been forcefully made to work for free and even pay these officials.
“We have to work for them for free. It has been years,” said a local of Kairali – 3, requesting anonymity. “If we refuse to work, we are beaten, threatened, tortured. They threaten us that they would frame us in big cases like poaching and smuggling and put us behind bars if we don't do what they say,” he added.
If we refuse to work, we are beaten, threatened, and tortured. Indian forest department officials threaten us that they would frame us in big cases like poaching and smuggling and put us behind bars if we don't do what they say. - A local of Kairali Rural Municipality– 3
While grazing cattle in the jungle sides, shepherds generally cross the border. Cattle from India graze in Nepali jungle and vice versa. But according to local, the forest staffs take advantage of this cross border connection. “Their cattle also graze in our lands. Their people also come to our forest area for fodder and other things but we are being victimized by them,” he added.
Apart from five to 15 days of free labor, around 900 families ward number three, five and seven of this rural municipality have to pay around 300 rupees each to these officials.
To avoid being beaten and being framed, villagers have been working and paying the money to the forest officials.
“We have to go to India for grazing our cattle, and for shopping. If we don't do what the officials say, it will bare us from our day-to-day necessities,” he said. The village chief takes one member from each family of the village and visits the place where the Indian officials have told him to come for work. They generally work there for five to 15 days, locals said.
Residents of Shivaratnapur, Mohanpur, Nimwabhojhi and Lalpur villages of ward number 3, Chotki Paliya, Bisanpur, Batka Paliya of ward number 5, and Hausalpur, Ratnapur, and Mohanpur village of ward number 5 are being victimized by such demands.
Dudwa National Park is situated on the other side of the border these villages and Indian officials charge the villagers as annual fees for grazing their cattle in the national park. Locals claim that they have repeatedly urged the administration of taking initiative on the matter but so far things have not changed.
Birman Chaudhari, Provincial Assembly member from this area, said that the Indian officials have not desisted from such actions though he has raised the issue many times.
Locals of these settlements, located near the temporary capital of Sudhurphaschim Province, Dhangadi, claim that such abuses by Indian officials have remained unaddressed for years even though political leaders had promised to resolve the issue during their election campaign.
Another local of ward number 7 said that the Indian officials force them to clean the roads, dig drains among others.
Even local government representatives from these villages have been paying the charges and contributing labor for free. “Though everyone protests against the abuses, we nonetheless pay the charges and work for free fearing that they might frame us and put us in bigger troubles,” said a chairperson of one these wards requesting anonymity.
He said that if the villagers deny obeying their orders they are threatened, beaten and framed for various crimes. “If we don't obey their orders, they make you stand on timber and take your photos accusing you of timber smuggling, sometimes they frame you of poaching or smuggling wild animal parts including tiger skin, bones,” he said adding that as such no one dares to disobey.
Indian officials themselves visit these villages and have the chief of the village to collect the 'fee', informed a local of ward number 5. “We are being abused most by the Indian forest department officials. They have the contact numbers of all the village heads. They call and threaten them to collect the 'fee' within a certain number of days or face no-entry into India,” he said.
Chief District Officer of Kailali, Baburam Shrestha, denied being aware of the issue earlier and informed to Republica that he has instructed the Armed Police Force to probe into the issue after the issue came to his attention. He also said that he will be raising the issue in the next Counterpart Meeting with Indian officials. “It is illegal to ask for labor and charge for grazing,” he said.