Himachal’s small farmers reach Secretariat to stage 24 hour protest to stop eviction, claim community forest rights, (PICS)
SHIMLA- On Tuesday, Himachal Kisan Sabha(HSK) and Himachal Seb Utbadak Sangh (HSUS),and HP Fruits and Vegetables Growers Association held a protest in front of HP Secretariat in Chotta Shimla seeking amendments in Forest Conservation Act 1980 and implementation of Forest Rights Act 2006 (FRA) to provide relief to small farmers as promised by the Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh. HSK president Kuldip Tanwar and state president, HSUS, Rakesh Singha showered allegations against Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh.
When Indian government faced conflict between its forest conservation laws and tribal people and traditional dwellers living in Indian forests, it passed the Forest Rights Act 2006 (FRA) to solve the problem. The rights of forest and its resources were given to the dweller community instead of evicting people after declaring them encroachers. Lakhs of hectares of encroached land was regularized across India. Most of the Indian states provided relief to agrarian and traditional dwellers in forests by implementing the FRA 2006 act.
Surprisingly, the Himachal Pradesh Government didn’t implement it, saying the state doesn’t need it. The state government was informed regarding the shortcoming of not adopting the new regulations, but it didn’t bother to implement it.
Now, the surveys tell that states where forest rights are given to community or in states that implemented FRA 2006, the forest conservation has become easier task as entire community/villages take responsibility for its protection because its resources are their livelihood. It’s working fantastic across India.
HP Govt. can still adopt it and provide relief, at least, to small farmers, and that is why these farmers are forced stage protests, which aren’t being heard either. In a democratic state where people had elected its representatives in hope that they would understand and safeguard their rights, the government is allowing eviction of families and axing of fruit-laden, green apple trees.
That’s why the farmers are protesting and it’s quite justified because it’s been 14 years since the FRA 2006 was passed and the deserving dwellers are not given relief under it. The reason is simple – the shortsightedness of our politicians.
Virbhadra himself had disagreed with HP High Court’s orders and, time to time, promised small farmers that policy would be introduced to regularize land encroached by small, poor farmers. In fact, the communities have filed claims for their rights and according to the FRA 2006, no farmer can be eviction until the court doesn’t dispose all the claims.
In April 2014, The Himachal Pradesh High Court had ordered eviction of farmers from encroached forest land after which the forest department had started felling green apple trees laden with season’s crop. Electricity and water supply to homes of encroachers were also suspended. No surprise, the forest department started with evicting small farmers with 1-2 bigha land, but it didn’t dare to touch VIP fish sitting on hundreds of bigha forest land.
After farmer unrest, Virbhadra Singh had said in HP Assembly that his government was democratically elected and had the powers to legislate or amend any law and restraining the government from formulating or revising a policy was contrary to the Constitution. He had further added,
I do not personally agree with the High Court order of removal of all encroachments but there is no question of any confrontation with the judiciary, as executive, legislature and judiciary have their own demarcated areas of jurisdiction. However, I am of the firm opinion that the policy for small and marginal farmers and big encroachers should be separate and the two sections should not be clubbed There is no such discrimination and if at all it is being done then I assure that strict action will be taken against the erring officials.
In August 2015, the CM had constituted a high-power committee to look after the matter and had assured formulation of a policy to safeguard interests of small, poor farmers as soon as possible. Small farmers were told that their encroached land would be regularized. However, nothing was done, and that’s why now the farmers are forced to stage regular protests including the present two-day protest to secretariat.
The Kisan Sabha alleged that the government could have represented the farmers in High Court better, but it didn’t bother to do so, which doesn’t make any sense. What’s wrong with the government and the CM? The only reason appears to play politics by ignoring the protest because CPI(M) and Communist leaders are representing these farmers. Choosing politics over people’s livelihood and shelter is a really bad choice and it’ll backfire in assembly polls 2017
Farmers were also disappointed with government for its negligence of farmer hunger strike in Tihra, Dharampur that has entered 42 day. The farmers are protesting for a number of genuine demands including solution for wild animal menace, construction of public toilets. Even opposition BJP was herd mocking at the farmers.
While the agrarian section, especially small farmers are in unrest, the government is busy in mud-slinging and BJP couldn’t do anything better than walking out of assembly session, like always. So, who is left to represent these small farmers, some of which were cultivating on encroached land for past many decades?
Same is the case with laborers protesting for their pending wages and rights at Shongtong-Karcham project. The labor laws are being flaunted openly by the company, but the government has chosen to assist the company in suppressing their protesting voices. Every time the laborers try to protest, administration imposes Section 144 to suppress it.
Clearly, Himachal need to vote for right people who are actually looking to provide solutions instead of complicating them by playing politics.