Muzaffarnagar's refugee camps being used to grab forest land?

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The Barnavi refugee camp in Shamli district

Barnavi refugee camp, Shamli district:  In Barnavi refugee camp in Shamli district, home to nearly 300 families who fled the Muzaffarnagar riots, they tell us the camp was settled on wheat fields owned by the village pradhan.

But the records of Uttar Pradesh's forest department tell a very different story about the ownership of the land, and of the village pradhan.

Girish Kumar, the District Forest Officer of Muzaffarnagar, says that the pradhan, Aluaddin, is a notorious land grabber with five cases registered against him for encroaching on forest land.

He says Aluaddin is using the refugees as a proxy to grab land, and that the government is planning to declare him a 'forest mafia'.

When we spoke to Aluaddin, he denied these charges. He said the land on which the camp was settled belongs to the gram sabha, and is therefore common land, on which he's been cultivating.

He says these charges are simply an excuse to evict refugees.

The flashpoint in Barnavi has become the latest twist in the attempts by the Uttar Pradesh government to close down refugee camps. They allege that not one, but five major camps are squatting on forest land, the work of vested interests who want to use refugees to grab land, or leverage the political benefits of being a patron to the dispossessed.

The patron of the biggest existing refugee camp, Malakpur, which is also on forest land,  is Kanwar Hassan, who will make his political debut in the Lok Sabha elections on a BSP ticket from Kairana, under which the camp falls. 

Mr Hassan told NDTV that he did not settle the camp for political gains, but out of humanity.

But the government has already sent an eviction notice to one of the smaller camps. More are to follow. Officials say they are targeting powerful land grabbers, not the refugees themselves.

But when the bulldozers come, that might be a meaningless distinction for displaced families, caught between a government that has failed to address the refugee crisis, and patrons who look to profiteer from their tragedy. 


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