The forests of Nepal are under threat. Due to illegal encroachment and timber extraction, the livelihoods of community forest users are being challenged. In a recent article by Pragati Shahi on Kantipur Online, she focuses on the seizure of both community and national forest lands which 'land mafias' subsequently distributed to fake squatters.
The Federation of Community Forestry Users Nepal (FECOFUN), a RRI partner organization, estimates that 5.5 million hectares of land in Nepal is covered by forest, with 65 percent of it managed by local communities. About 100,000 hectares of forested land in Nepal was encroached upon last year alone, the Federation said. Ghanshyam Pandey, the chairperson of FECOFUN, stated, "In the name of land rights, land mafias backed by some political parties are actively involved in the encroachment of forest areas."
Forestry officials within the new Maoist majority government refute allegations that political parties are involved in the illegal encroachment of forest land. "Encroachers are not prompted by any political party," said Krishna Chandra Poudel, joint secretary at the Ministry of Forest and Soil Conservation (MoFSC). "All the political parties have shown serious commitment to protecting forest land and stopping its illegal encroachment."
As reported by Gorkhapatra, the oldest national daily newspaper in Nepal, newly appointed Minister for Forest and Soil Conservation (MoFSC) Kiran Gurung has pledged to end both corruption within the ministry and forest encroachment, especially in the tropical and subtropical Tarai district of southern Nepal.
"I will do my best to give a new message to the people by preventing the past mistakes like safeguarding corruption and delaying the act of handing over community forests to the consumers against peoples’ aspirations," Gurung stated while addressing a workshop organized by FECOFUN.
When asked whether the Ministry would hand over the community forests in the Tarai district to community users, Gurung replied that the task necessitated extensive discussions among stakeholders. “I will try to forge a consensus among the consumers about handing over the community forests in the Tarai region," he added.
FECOFUN general secretary Bhola Bhattarai announced that the hand-over of more than 5,000 community forests was pending due to widespread forest encroachment in Dhading, Nawalparasi, Palpa, Banke, Bardiya, Kailali, Kanchanpur, Udayapur and Rautahat districts. He reiterated this as being in part due to mainstream political parties protecting illegal forest land encroachers.