Despite assurance (click HERE) by Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi that the Forest Rights Act (FRA), 2006 would be implemented in Himachal Pradesh, a state governed by his party, latest incidents suggest that the state government is going ahead withwith fresh eviction notices to forest dwellers, allegedly in violation of FRA.
A top civil rights organization, Himalaya Niti Andolan's (HNA's) Guman Singh, in a strongly-worded letter to the sub-divisional magistrate, Banjar, District Kullu, responsible for implementing FRA, has asked him to urgently stop eviction six scheduled caste (SC) families, who have been served notice of eviction by the district forest officer (DFO), Banjar.
Pointing out that these persons have less than 5 bigha of occupation, the letter says, they have even their houses on forest land, for which applied for regularization in year 2002.
Those who have have given notices are Krishan Kumar of village Buhara; Balk Ram of village Shahil; Bhakat Ram S/O Shri Kadshu Ram of village Dehuri; Dola Ram of village Dehuri; Inder Kumar of village Seri Alehda; and Rup Chand of village Bhadech.
Singh says, the notices have been given “under the garb of a Himachal Pradesh High Court order”, adding, these are fresh notices following huge number of them belongs SC having been already “evicted or \ordered to evict them from forest land without following the procedure of verification and recognition of rights under FRA.”
“All these all SC families are having very small land holding with them and have constructed their residential houses, cow shed and toilet for the last 30 years on forest land and have been cultivating small patches of forest land for their livelihood needs”, the letter says.
“More than 1.65 lakh applications for regularization were submitted to different tehsil offices of Himachal Pradesh, but not even single patta has been granted”, Singh alleges, adding, “The forest and revenue departments registered cases of encroachment against them under the HP Public Premises & Land (Eviction & Rent Recovery) Act, 1971 and section 163 of HP Land Revenue Act 1954.”
Calling these evictions “illegal” the letter says, they cannot take place “till verification and recognition of forest rights under FRA, 2006, which “provides right to occupy forest land for residential house and self-cultivation to schedule tribe and other traditional forest dwellers if occupation is prior to 13 December 13, 2005.”
According to Singh, “Eviction of forest dwellers are in direct contravention to protection provisions under FRA, 2006 Section 4(5), which says, “No member of a forest dwelling scheduled tribe 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 evictions are taking despite Union ministry of tribal affairs issuing the clarification to Himachal Pradesh on dated December 14, 2015, “categorically explaining that recorded rights in settlement record needs to be recorded and recognized under FRA”, Singh says.
Singh observes, “Farmers of Himachal Pradesh are living here for the last three generations and are traditionally dependent on forests land and forest products, hence rightfully come under the definition of forest dwellers. The eviction proceedings intentionally initiated by the forest department/authorities is illegal and has hampered the implementation of FRA.”