Thursday, November 03, 2016

6,000 plus Himachal tribals evicted from forest land, Himalaya Niti Abhiyan seeks ST Commission intervention

A recent demonstration for forest rights in Himachal Pradesh
By Our Representative
The Himalaya Niti Abhiyan (HNA) has sought the intervention of the National Commission for Schedule Tribes (NCST), New Delhi, for stopping illegal eviction of STs and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers from the forest areas of Himachal Pradesh, saying that the state forest and revenue departments have launched a big drive “to evict forest dwellers in the state starting on November 1, 2016.”
Signed by Guman Singh, coordinator, and RS Negi, co-chairperson of HNA, their letter to the NCST dated November 2, 2016, says that already “internal directions have been given to local officials” in the matter.
Giving details how the state forest department, under Congress rule, has been undermining the Forest Rights Act, 2006, the letter says, in all, 10,307 cases have been identified for eviction. Of these, for a whopping 8,912 cases, the eviction order has been passed, while for 5,143 cases the evictions have already taken place.
Over and over this, says the letter, the revenue department has identified 4,299 cases for eviction, out of which 1,277 cases “stand decided and remaining 3,022 cases are pending before various revenue authorities.”
Of the 1,277 decided cases, the letter says, “encroachments in respect of 908 cases stand removed and process for eviction with respect to remaining 369 cases is in progress”, the letter says, adding, the Principal Chief Conservator of Forests, Himachal Pradesh is personally monitoring and ensure that “all cases of at least districts Shimla and Kullu be firmly dealt with and encroachments over government/forest land removed.”
Worse, the letter complains, “The forest department has cut down more than 40 thousand fruit bearing apple and other trees and destroyed orchards and farm land of several small farmers having even less than 10 bigha occupation.”
It adds, “Many residential houses were demolished in many parts of state, water and electricity connections were also disconnected in all parts of states even in tribal areas.”
The letter says, the HNA is of the view this is happening in direct violation of the Forest Rights Act (FRA), 2006, as also the Supreme Court judgment dated April 18, 2013 in the case of Orisha Mining Corporation Ltd vs Ministry of Environment & Forest & Others (Niyamgiri judgment).” 
The letter quotes the judgment as confirming the provision of FRA’s Section 4(5) as saying, “Save as otherwise provided, no member of a forest dwelling STs or other traditional forest dweller shall be evicted or removed from forest land under his occupation till the recognition and verification procedure is completed.”
The letter accuses the Himachal Pradesh government, starting with 2008, it has been trying to “evade implementation of the FRA, 2006 and issued many such orders claiming that rights have been settled by the British through the imperial settlement process and hence recognition under FRA, 2006 is not necessary.”
The letter further says, under the constant pressure of the Ministry of Tribal Affairs, the state government made “feeble attempts” in tribal areas “with several illegal riders such as claimant should not be a government employee, income tax payee” so as not to be considered as “encroachers.”
“Forest dwellers were not provided information, nor was there wide publicity. Training to Gram Sabhas or local officials was never properly imparted. In fact in several places, the forest department threatened and pressurised dwellers not to file claims”, the letter concludes.

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