The tribal district Kinaur has witnessed a huge protest rally against the refusal of the Himachal Pradesh (HP) government for the implementation of Forest Right Act (FRA), 2006. The state government has taken the stand that there is no need to implement FRA, as the issue was “settled” decades ago by the British through the imperial settlement process.
The procession began at the Ambedkar Bhawan with the slogan “adivasiyon aur anay van nivwasiyon ke van adhikar sunishit karo” (recognize the forest rights of schedule tribes and other traditional forest dwellers), and reached the Ramleela Maidan.
People from the rural areas of Kinnaur district, as also hundreds of activists of the Himalaya Niti Abhiyan from all parts of the state – Chamba, Kangra, Mandi, Kullu, Lahaul and Spiti , Sirmour, and Solan – joined in the procession and public rally. Especially present were national secretary, Ashok Shrimali of Mineral Mines and People, and deputy secretary general Roma Malik of the All Indian Forest People’s and Worker’s Union.
Shrimali told the gathering in thousand s of hectare land had been transferred to the hydro power projects, industries and other big projects “without upholding the legal mechanism”, yet schedule tribes and other traditional forest dwellers, who have been living on the forest resources for ages and managing resources traditionally, were denied their rights as provided in the FRA.
Malik said, the UPA government promulgated FRA in 2006 with the objective of undoing the historical injustice to people living in and around the forests and are dependents; “but it is unfortunate that the Congress government in the state has taken no action in recognizing the rights of the peoples even after ten years of the Act in place.”
“It gives the impression that the state government is under the pressure of industry and the forest department”, Malik said, adding, “The forest department all over the country tried to mystified the provisions of the forest right Act, but finally came to the conclusion of recognizing the rights. But in HP the scenario seems just the opposite.”
RS Negi of the Him Lok Jagriti Manch said that in Kinnaur district alone around 5,500 claims had been submitted to the district level committees appointed for allocating forest rights, but these committees are refusing to look into the claims.
Worse, Negi said, the forest department is filing false cases against the forest rights claimants, giving them eviction notice. “This is open neglect of FRA. People of Kinnaur will fight against this and ensure their rights under FRA”, he added.
Guman Singh, coordinator, Himalaya Niti Abhiyan, said, a delegation under him met with Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi and former forest and environment minister Jai Ram Ramesh on October 27.
“Gandhi has assured us that the state government would implement FRA in its letter and spirit”, Singh said, adding, “Tribals have been fooled by the state government by asking them to file affidavits they were encroachers on the promise that their lands would be regularized.”
“The situation is unique kin HP. The eviction process can’t be started without recognizing the forest rights under the FRA, the evictions are illegal and unconstitutional”, he declared.