"TMJ", popularly known as the century's Rhododendron capital, is located in ancestral lands (Terhathum, Sankhuwasabha and Taplejung districts) of Yakthung, Rai, of eastern Nepal that covers an area of 558 square kilometers has been declared National Rhododendron Environmental Conservation Area (NRECA) in 1997 by the Ministry of Population and Environment without obtaining free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) from Indigenous Peoples.
It is a home to 28 out of 31 species of rhododendron, the national flower of Nepal, and over 250 species of plants out of which 17 are endemic species. Likewise, it is also the habitat of various fauna including snow leopard, clouded leopard and red panda. The Major Indigenous Peoples living in the areas are Rai, Yakthung ("Limbu"), Sherpa and Thamang and the other local communities are Chhetri, B etc. Bahun.
The government has launched a 10-year program declaring "TMJ" region as a protected forest area however the government failed to implement the program due to the protests by Indigenous and locals. The affected communities claimed that the project would impact the livelihoods, bio-diversity, and restrict operating hotels, lodges, public transport, health facility and schools in the area. Recently the government has decided to go ahead with the forest conservation program. Concerned Indigenous peoples suspect that the government may turn the conservation area into a protected area in future eventually leading to displacement of a large number of Indigenous Peoples and restricting them from the use of lands territories and natural resources based on their customary practices.
The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) supported the government to implement the "TMJ" Complex Conservation Project by providing Rs 40 million annually to the project for three years. The three-year project was officially launched from 1st July 2018.
The concerned Indigenous Peoples and non-Indigenous People of Terhathum district, in particular, criticize both the State and the WWF are failing to respect the rights of Indigenous Peoples relating to lands, territories and resources, and to obtain FPIC. LAHURNIP is providing legal support to the affected Indigenous communities to defend their rights to lands territories and resources.