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

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.

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