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Mass slaughter of full-grown, fruit bearing apple trees to free forest land: An ecological & economical blunder

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SHIMLA- Thousands of apple trees are being axed after Himachal Pradesh High Court directed the state clear encroachment on forest land in the state including apple orchards. The court took a suo motu cognizance on complaint filed by a resident of Shimla that about 40 people in four Chaithala villages in Kothkhai Tehsil have encroached 500 bighas of land for apple growing.

After HC’s directives, full-grown trees, laden with fruits are being cut by forest department to free the forest land in district Shimla, Kinnaur, Kullu and Mandi.

While it’s an appreciable move to use stringent actions to free forest land encroached illegally, it’s highly condemnable and ridiculous decision to axe thousands of full grown, green trees, which took decades to attain their present growth. Huge apple trees, some of them 20-30-years-old, have been cleared.

So far, according to the forest department, 823 trees in three enclaves under Rampur territory have been axed. The department further adds that three hectare of forest land has been freed. The department has identified 71 hectare land encroached by 354 people under Rampur territory.

The next round of massacre will continue from 23-24 July. Thousands other apple trees are likely to be felled unless Himachal does not react against it. The apple season has begun and these trees are bearing apple crop worth crores.

The forest land encroached by hoteliers for commercial structures in places like Kullu-Manali and Dharamshala must be demolished, but small huts of poverty stricken cultivators need to be attended, rehabilitated by the state government. It’s the responsibility of the state in any democracy.

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Similarly, in order to free forest land, apple trees needed a different strategy. The state should have acted wisely.

First of all, the High Court states that people are clearing cedar and other trees to plant apple trees on forest land, and then, it doubled the blunder. Full grown apple orchards contribute a lot in soaking carbon from atmosphere and preserve ecological balance. New plantation will take decades to attain such position, if it survives.

Secondly, the encroachments of forest land for apple growing could have been solved in other productive ways. Standing trees are not the enemies, those who encroached forest land are. The forest department could reclaim the land and sell this season’s apple crop that would have fetched them revenue worth crores. Not just this season, but these trees would have fetched a fat amount of revenue for the state every year along with maintaining the greenery and ecological balance.

The BJP government had called for all the farmers and agrarian associations to come ahead and help in regularize cultivation of apples on encroached forest land. Lakhs of people had come ahead with affidavits. However, it appears to be a trap to identify encroached land. In a way, the government tricked apple growers.

Himachal Pradesh Government itself encouraged encroachments for years. The encroachers were granted electricity connection and water supply by the respective departments. Now, the government stepped back and followed the orders blindly.

It was mentioned by the petitioner too.

“They have felled deodar trees on the land. Some of them even took financial assistance from the government for constructing apple grading and packing house and water storage tanks. The government also provided the encroachers electricity and water connections,”

the petitioner alleged.

At one hand, NGT puts complete ban on commercial activity in Rohtang-Pass following reports of rising air pollution, one the other hand, the High Court is adding to deforestation. Deforestation is directly related to air quality of any region on earth.

The revenue from the apple could have been claimed and spent for the welfare of orphanages, home for destitute women, school for visually impaired, all of which are in pathetic condition. There are mentally ill people roaming on roads, eating from garbage. The money could have ensured annual fund generation for many other small-public grievance or needs.

However, Himachal Pradesh government and the HC bench consisting of honorable Chief Justice of Himachal Pradesh, Chief Justice Mansoor Ahmad Mir and Justice Tarlok Singh Chauhan , came out with a solution that is highly condemnable and injustice with ecology and economy of the state.

Only one political party came ahead to protest this decision. The state Secretariat of Communist Party of India (CPI-M) criticized the cutting apple trees at Kandroo in Theog and Mandholi in Jubbal-kotkhai. CPM also insisting on initiating the process of leasing land to farmers instead of axing full grown apple trees.

Condemning the idiotic decision to fell fruit-bearing trees, CPI (M) said:

The state government’s decision to axe tree and evict farmers isn’t justifiable at all. Even if it can be believed the government is serious about getting rid of encroachments on forest land there are various other alternatives. These include fencing of forested areas and leasing out land to farmers as has been done in the case of entrepreneurs. The same government was benevolent enough to change land use norms and lease out land to the Jaypee group for cement and hydropower plants. The government has leased out hundreds of hectares of land to private entities in the name of ecotourism. When it can promote ecotourism in the state, then why not horticulture?

CPI (M) has called for the launch of a “Chipko movement”.

The CPM has urged the public to ensure their trees are not cut and are protected from inept state government officials. The Congress party led government is using the Himachal Pradesh High Court order as a pretext to willfully evict horticulturists from lands where they have been cultivating crops for years.

said CPI (M).

The Himachal Kisan Sabha and State Apple Grower Association have also called their eviction an injustice. Himachal Kisan Sabha president Dr Kuldeep Singh Tanwar said”

Of the total 55, 67, 00 hectares land in Himachal Pradesh, farmers have only 9, 55,651 hectares in their possession which is just the 17.14%. Of this only 6, 22,156 hectares land is cultivable while farming is not possible on remaining land. The state government is removing apple trees from its land in the districts of Shimla, Mandi, Kullu and Kinnaur. It is the poor, marginal, dalit and landless farmers who are facing the harsh impact brunt of the drive. No one dares to lay hands on the influential persons.

The apple growers alleged that the state is selling forest land to real estate firms when law doesn’t permit it. The real-estates are building luxury villas by clearing deodar forest. The DLF luxury villa in Kanlog, slaughter of hundreds of trees in Tara Devi hill in Shimla district and mass felling of trees in Chamba serves as some instances that support the allegation.

It’s highly condemnable to encourage deforestation in any way when the world is facing sensitive problems such as climate change and global warming. Both of which are directly associated with deforestation. The whole incident shows that leaders elected by Himachal’s people are somewhat mentally impaired. Moreover, it’s huge blow that the HC allowed mass slaughter of trees and state’s agrarian resources.

Madan has studied English Literature and Journalism from HP University and lives in Shimla. He is an amateur photographer and has been writing on topics ranging from environmental, socio-economic, development programs, education, eco-tourism, eco-friendly lifestyle and to green technologies for over 9 years now. He has an inclination for all things green, wonderful and loves to live in solitude. When not writing, he can be seen wandering, trying to capture the world around him in his DSLR lens.

Environment

Govt Legitimizing and Legalizing Environmental Violations for Business by Amending EIA Rules: Activists  

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Himachal pradesh EIA Notification 2020 Amendments news

Shimla-While in statements, the politicians in power at the Centre and State Governments have been expressing concerns over environmental issues and ensuring the people that they are committed to protect and preserve the environment, the reality is contrary to it. The most recent evidence is the proposed 2020 draft amendments to the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) Notification. With these amendments, the process of environmental assessment before granting permission to execute commercial projects, like hydropower projects in Himachal Pradesh, would be reduced to merely a formality.

Environmental activists and people’s organisations from across Himachal have written to the Union Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) to scrap the 2020 draft amendments to the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) Notification proposed by it.

These activists and environmental protection groups are of the opinion that the EIA Notification, first issued in 1994 under the Environment Protection Act 1986, is a critical mechanism that regulates clearances granted to all kinds of development projects and economic activities in the country. It is one of the environmental decision-making processes that makes it mandatory for project developers to not just study the socio-economic, ecological and other impacts of a proposed project but also place them in front of the affected communities for their opinions and objections, thus, ensuring the process of a free, fair and informed consent. However, this notification has been amended and read down several times in the last two decades, in favour of ‘easing the norms’ for business. The latest draft continues to move in the direction of rendering the EIA process a mere formality. 

The submission made by HP groups states,

“In the context of the already vulnerable and sensitive Himalayan region, flouting of various provisions of even the present EIA notification has heavily impacted the local ecology and livelihoods of the people. The new amendments will only legitimize and legalize these violations and this will mean irreparable damage to the Himalayan ecosystem”. 

The key objections raised are around exemptions of a variety of projects from the mandatory  Public Consultation’ process as well as the dismantling of this process itself.

“The reduction of the time prior to public hearing from 30 to 20 days is also highly objectionable. In the given 30 day period itself, the information about Public hearings does not reach all the affected areas which are often spread out widely in case of mountains with some project-affected communities residing in remote and inaccessible terrains. Here accessing information takes a long time and reducing this time to 20 days will completely exclude such people from raising their grievances and suggestions in the public consultation. This is a clear attempt to block their participation in the environmental decision-making process”

said R.S Negi of Him Lok Jagriti Manch, Kinnaur. 

 

“It is shocking that the amendments include allowing post-facto clearance, which means that the project proponent can start work and before they have obtained environmental clearance. If the basic precautionary principle on which the EIA notifications is grounded is itself not followed it can lead to a disastrous situation for the ecology and local people. In this situation who is going to be responsible for the losses? If the project proponent is not in a position to pay for losses, will the MoEF&CC take the responsibility of losses? This provision will encourage project developers to bypass the process of environmental decision making. We absolutely oppose this amendment”,

said Prakash Bhandari of Himdhara Collective.  

The 2020 draft also dilutes the guidelines for monitoring and compliance of Environment conditions.

“Already the system of monitoring is weak, the conditions lose, the pollution control board and companies non-accountable, thus, leading to widespread destruction of local ecology and impacting health, lives, and livelihoods of project-affected communities. In the case of hydropower projects, for instance, the illegal and unmonitored dumping of muck along river beds, in forests and on common lands, has damaged pastures, disrupted the flow of the rivers, and caused massive disasters when floods occur. The proposed changes will give a free reign to those profiting from extractive and polluting projects,” 

according to Kulbhushan Upmanyu of Himalaya Bachao Samiti. 

It is ironic that on one hand, the global COVID crisis has thrown up several studies showing that pandemics like COVID emerge from ecological degradation and forest loss, and on the government is pushing for policy changes which will accentuate the environmental crisis that the country is already reeling under.  

“If the MoEF&CC wants to change the environmental laws, it should carry out countrywide regional consultations”,

added Uma Mahajan of Himachal Van Adhikar Manch.

The country, especially ecologically diverse yet climate-vulnerable regions like the Himalayas need a robust and strong environmental regulatory and governance regime that makes project proponents accountable and keeps the affected communities and ecological concerns at the centre of the EIA and environmental decision-making process. 

Notably, MoEF&CC had called for citizen’s comments before May 11 but this deadline was extended upto  June 30 and now August 11 as environmentalists and concerned groups expressed outrage that calling for public inputs on this critical law amidst the COVID led lockdown was unjustified. The MoEF&CC has in this period received thousands of objections highlighting the new draft as anti-people and environment.

The demand is to scrap these proposed amendments for the sake of the environment. 

Submission Made to Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change by Activists and Organizations

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SC’s Forest Diversion Regulation a Blockade on Forest Rights Act Implementation in Himachal: Himdhara

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Supreme Court On Forest Diversion in Himachal Pradesh 2

ShimlaHimdhara Collective, a Himachal-based environment research and action group, has released a report on the implications of the regulation imposed by the Supreme Court on forest diversion under the Forest Rights Act 2006 in Himachal, through a series of orders passed last year. This brought to a screeching halt the implementation of Section 3(2) of the FRA which grants powers to gram sabhas and Divisional Forest Officers to divert upto 1 hectare of forest land for 13 types of village welfare activities like roads, schools, community centres, PDS shops etc. 

The court orders were based on the conclusions drawn by a Supreme Court Monitoring Committee, headed by a retired PCCF, V.P Mohan, that the diversions were leading to green felling and deforestation in the state. Initially, a stay was imposed on all green felling in the state (in a matter of forest diversions under FCA 1980 and FRA 2006) on 11th March 2019. This stay was partially relaxed but the Supreme court sought all FRA proposals to be brought before it for further diversion.

The report titled ‘Missing the forest for Trees’, assesses the ground reality behind the conclusions drawn by the Supreme Court Monitoring Committee based on which these diversions have been restricted.

“We have found that the Supreme court’s orders need to be reviewed because the alarm raised by the V.P Mohan committee with regard to FRA was a false one”,

stated authors of the report which is based on analysis of RTI information as well as field research.

RTI data sought from the Forest department for all cases under section 3(2) of the Forest Rights Act 2006 from 2014 to 2019 (up to January 2019), was analysed to reveal that 17237 trees were felled in an area of 887.56 hectares for 1959 activities in 41 of the 45 forest divisions of the state.

Roads, followed by schools and community centres dominate the type of activities carried out. Of the total land diverted 91% is for roads. It was found that almost 64% of these diversions showed ‘nil’ trees felled. The average number of trees felled per hectare is very low (19.52) and it may be induced that most activities have been carried out in areas with open forest or no trees.

Rohru (Shimla), Nachan(Mandi), Kinnaur and Chopal were some of the divisions which had a large number of diversions, again mostly for roads.

Case studies we carried out in Mandi and Kangra district showed the desperate need for amenities like village link roads and schools. In Himachal, there remain about 41% villages that have no road connectivity which affects access to health, education and market centres.

On the other hand, large development activities like four lane highways, hydropower projects and transmission lines, have had a much larger ecological footprint in terms of tree loss in the state compared to the very minute, incomparable diversions under FRA.

The report also finds that as far as green cover is concerned in the period corresponding to the high number of forest diversions under FRA (2015-2019), the forest survey of India’s statistics show a 333 sq.km increase in the forest cover.

Why development rights under FRA important for Himachal?

1.No Land available with revenue departments and panchayats for ‘welfare activities’ thus forest land only option

The report concludes that given the fact that 2/3rd of the geographical area of the state is recorded ‘forest area’ where strict forest laws have restricted non-forest use, the FRA provides relief for communities to access basic welfare facilities, which should be seen as their fundamental right and therefore should not be hindered.

2.Cumbersome, costly and lengthy process under FCA 1980

Before FRA it was the Forest Conservation Act, 1980 which governed forest diversion even for small local development activities. This required not only permission from the Central Government (MoEFCC Regional or Delhi Office) but also warranted that user agencies deposit funds (Net Present Value of trees) to carry out Compensatory Afforestation. The whole diversion process under FCA was cumbersome, lengthy and costly, and thus a major hurdle in providing the rural areas, especially remote areas, access to basic welfare development facilities.

 “The section 3(2) of the FRA provides relief for both governmental departments and local communities as it overrides the FCA and puts in place a simple and decentralized process for diversion”states the report.

3.FRA is meant to correct the problems that were posed by strict central forest laws

The Forest Rights Act was passed by the parliament of India in 2006 recognising that across the country there are lakhs of communities dependent on land which is legally categorised as ‘forest land’ and are unable to exercise their basic livelihood and development rights due to extremely strict forest laws. Under this act’s Section 3(1), forest-dependent communities can file claims for their individual and community rights exercised before the cut-off date of 13th December 2005.

“As it is Himachal has been sluggish with FRA implementation and only 136 titles have been issued under section 3(1). But atleast the government was proactive with the implementation of section 3(2). With the Supreme court orders regulating this provision, there seems to be an impression amongst the implementing agencies and officials that there is an over-all blockade on FRA in the state”

added members of the collective.

The report has recommended that the state government and nodal agency for the Act – the Central Ministry of Tribal Affairs, put forth the case in favour of section 3(2) of the FRA strongly in front of the Supreme Court and also move swiftly to ensure implementation of all provisions of this law in Himachal.  

 

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HP Govt Exempts Use of Plastic Straws Attached with Beverages for 6 Months

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Plastic straws in himachla pradesh

Shimla: The use of integrated plastic straws attached with tetra pack of beverages are exempted temporarily for a period of six months in Himachal Pradesh, informed a spokesperson of the state government on January 31, 2020.

He informed that the exemption would be a subject to the implementation of Action Plan submitted by M/s Tetra Pack India Pvt. Ltd., AARC under Extended Producer Responsibility.

During the relaxation period, the manufacturers and producers are to come out with an alternative to plastic straw, which is bio-degradable, he informed. A notification in this regard has been issued recently.

He said that other provisions of the notification issued by Department of Environment, Science and Technology of HP on September 20, 2019, which imposes complete ban on plastic cutlery such as spoons, bowls, katories, stirring sticks, forks, knives, straws made of plastic, would remain banned.

He said that this notification will come into force with immediate effect.

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