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FRA 2006 implementation only way to provide quick relief to landholder facing eviction threat: Himachal Van Adhikar Manch

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SHIMLA– The members of the Himachal Van Adhikar Manch, a state level forum of social organisations advocating implementation of the Forest Rights Act 2006, ha s again insisted the State government that FRA is the only way to provide relief to landholders facing fear of eviction from forest land after court order in 2015. The forum met in Shimla on Sunday to discuss the issues of landholders with forest land occupations facing the threat of eviction in the state.

As another initiative, the members of the manch plan to meet the High Level Committee constituted to review and resolve the issue of encroachment cases in Himachal and make a submission that the implementation of the Forest Rights Act, 2006 is the key legal option that can be utilised by the government to provide protection to those eligible under FRA. Last month the Himachal Van Adhikar Manch had petitioned the Chief Minister of Himachal Pradesh with the same submission.

How FRA, 2006 Can Help?

The forum states that “the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act” was passed by the Central government in 2006. This Act was historical because it provided the much needed relief to those who had years of “occupations” on forest land for their bonafide livelihood needs, but were under threat of evictions because of Forest legislations in the country. Provisions of central legislations like the Forest Conservation Act 1980, the Wildlife Protection Act 1972 and other orders of the Supreme Court made diversion of forest land for non forest purposes impossible without permission of the Central Government.

The call by the Himachal Government in 2002 to ‘regularise’ forest occupation was untenable given this legal context and any future efforts on similar line can be challenged under any court of law like 2002 regularisation policy, it said.

It is imperative for the government to note that the FRA is the only legal option available to the state government to provide relief to land occupiers facing the threat of eviction because of the Shimla High Court Order of April 2015, said the forum.

However, it’s important to note that the Act neither meant to distribute land nor to regularize the encroachments.

Why FRA, 2006 Passed?

The forum threw light on the provisions and purpose of the act. The Forest Rights Act, 2006 was especially brought about to empower the local communities to be able to give permission for village development activities under Section 3 (2) of the said Act, said the forum. The said Section of the Act has already been implemented by the State of Himachal Pradesh with a clear instruction from the Chief Minister in whole Himachal and guideline from MoTA with reference to HP letter dated 14th December 2015.

In similar way, added the forum, the state government should show its commitment to deal with the cases of land occupation under section 3(1) of the Act which allows filing and settling of claims of individuals and community for their bonafide livelihood needs.

Further, the statement said that even in a developed state like Kerala where forest area is 11309.74 sq kms, less than Himachal, 24,599 individual titles that have been issued for 33,018.12 acres of forest land. In Himachal which has a huge population of approximately more than 1.5 lakhs families of Gaddis, Gujjars, and other pastoral communities and medicinal plant collectors who are directly dependent on forest land for livelihood and 1.65 lakh families who have applied under 2002 encroachment regularisation policy of Himachal Government are possible beneficiary under this Act, there is a huge scope for the implementation of the Act. It is unfortunate that Himachal has lagged behind in the implementation of this Act so far. It is high time that the government does a course correction in the matter.

People Unaware of their Rights under FRA , 20016

According to the Act, the State government has constituted Forest Right Committees (FRCs) in all the villages in Himachal. But people still don’t have any knowledge about the Act. Further, they fear of eligibility criteria issued by the government in 2011. Claims filed under the Act by people have been pending at the SDLC and DLC level for the last 3 to 4 years.

For speedy implementation the Act Himachal Van Adhikar Manch demands that the government should withdraw the eligibility criteria. The matter be put forth to the Cabinet and directions for withdrawal be issued as early as possible.

Under FRA 2006 act, it is the responsibility of the State Government to provide all necessary information and resource materials related to the Act and its procedural aspects to all FRCs and gram sabha members. The forum demanded that the State Government should conduct the required trainings for the dissemination of all relevant information and resource material at the earliest.

Further, the forum added that the government should issue clear instructions to the chairpersons of SDLCs and DLCs of Kangra, Sirmour, Chamba, Bilaspur, Kullu and Kinnaur and others districts to consider and take decision on the claims received under FRA 2006.

Photo: CounterV iew

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Himachal: Report Forest Fires on Toll-Free Numbers 1077 and 1070

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helpline for Forest Fires in himachal pradesh

Shimla-Forest fire is a recurrent annual phenomenon in Himachal Pradesh and causes losses worth several crores every year. Dry spell and summers make forests, especially chir pine forests, highly vulnerable to forest fires. These forest fires not only damage the forest wealth but also hit wildlife and biodiversity in general. The forest department attributes most fires to human factors.

Like every year, the forest department has claimed that it is all geared up and ready to combat forest fires this year too. Principal Chief Conservator of Forests Dr. Savita on Monday held a virtual review meeting with Forest Circles on preparedness for forest fires in the state.

She said that the Forest department was well prepared to fight the forest fires and a rapid forest fire fighting force and rapid response teams had been set up at forest division and range levels.

“Approximately 40,000 man-days of fire watchers would be engaged by the department in addition to existing frontline staff for preventing and combating forest fires,” she said. The state disaster control room with toll-free number 1077 at the state level and 1070 at the district level were operational for reporting of the forest fire by the local community, she informed.

Dr. Savita said messages regarding forest fire had been shared with the members of the rapid forest fire fighting force, in which approximately 50,000 volunteers had already been registered. Awareness to the community was also conducted through Nukkar Nataks, songs, speeches and other activities at different locations in the state. Besides, a massive state-level awareness program was also conducted at 45 places from 10 to 17 March 2021

She said that the department had created forest fire lines and did control burning and also constructed water storage structures in the forest areas to combat forest fires. Additional multi-utility vehicles and water loaded tankers in 80 fire-sensitive ranges had been engaged for three months. She that matter regarding Standard Operating Systems (SOPs) for requisition of helicopter services for dousing the forest fires had been sent to the Government for approval. 

Feature Photo: Unsplash@Thematthoward

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Himachal Counts 108,578 Waterbirds of 96 Species This Year With Increase in Habitat

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Annual Bird Count in Himachal Pradesh 2021

Shimla-The habitat of migratory and resident water-birds in Himachal Pradesh has gradually improved, said Forest Minister Rakesh Pathania.

The annual water-bird count at Pong Dam Lake Wildlife Sanctuary was conducted in the first of February, 2021 and the exercise was conducted under restrained conditions due to the prevailing Avian Influenza outbreak in Pong Dam Lake as well as the COVID-19 Pandemic, he said.

The exercise was conducted by Wildlife wing of Himachal Pradesh by deploying 57 staff members in 26 sections of the sanctuary for counting the water-dependent birds.

Total 108,578 birds of 96 species were counted during this year. Out of the total number, 101,431 of 51 species are water-dependent migratory birds and 6,433 of 29 species are water-dependent resident birds. As many as 714 birds of 16 other species were also recorded. The total population of the flagship species, Bar-Headed Geese, is 40,570.

The other species which have higher population count during this year are Eurasian Coot (24,163), Northern Pintail (12,702), Common Teal (8,444), Little Cormorant (3,649), Great Cormorant (3,410), Grey Lag Goose (2,297), Northern Shoveler (2,275) and Common Pochard (2,138). The species which find noticeable mention are Red Necked Grebe, Great Bittern, Lesser White-Fronted Goose, Red Crested Pochard, Ferruginous Pochard, Pied Avocet, Northern Lapwing, Peregrine Falcon etc. During the counting exercise, one Bar-headed Goose and one Grey Lag Goose with collars were also spotted.

This year the Annual bird count exercise assumes significance, considering the Avian Influenza outbreak in the Wildlife Sanctuary. Further, the Minister expressed satisfaction over the timely and effective containment measures taken by Wildlife Wing to control and contain Avian Influenza outbreak in the Wildlife Sanctuary.

PCCF (Wildlife) Archana Sharma and CCF Wildlife (North) Dharamshala Upasana Patial also participated and supervised the Annual Water Bird Count.

The total population of birds, as well as number of species, counted this year are marginally less as compared to last year, probably due to the impact of Avian Influenza outbreak which was first reported on 28th December 2020.

Although the total population of water birds declined during the peak of the Avian Influenza outbreak, there is a gradual increase in the total population of birds, the Minister informed.

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Himachal First State to Complete Assessment of Snow Leopard and its Wild Prey

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Snow Leopard Population Assessment in Himachal Pradesh

Shimla-The assessment of snow leopard population in Himachal Pradesh has been completed by the state wildlife wing in collaboration with Nature Conservation Foundation (NCF) Bangalore following the protocol aligning with the SPAI (Snow Leopard Population Assessment in India) protocols of the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change. Himachal Pradesh has become the first state to complete assessment of snow leopard and its wild prey.

The state has an estimated population of up to 73 snow leopards.

It is the first scientifically robust estimate of snow leopards and its prey for the State. Since snow leopard is the state animal, the study assumes great significance for Himachal Pradesh.
The exercise revealed that snow leopard density ranged from 0.08 to 0.37 individuals per 100 sq.km., with the trans-Himalayan regions of Spiti, Pin valley and upper Kinnaur recording the highest densities, both of the predator and its prey, mainly ibex and blue sheep.

This study covered the entire potential snow leopard habitat of Himachal Pradesh: an area of 26,112 sq.km., utilising a stratified sampling design. Camera trapping surveys were conducted at 10 sites to representatively sample all the strata i.e. high, low and unknown. The camera trap deployment over the mountainous terrains was led by a team of eight local youth of Kibber village and more than 70 frontline staff of HPFD were trained in this technique as part of the project. Snow leopards were detected at all the 10 sites (Bhaga, Chandra, Bharmour, Kullu, Miyar, Pin, Baspa, Tabo, Hangrang & Spiti) suggesting that snow leopards are found in the entire snow leopard habitat in Himachal Pradesh either as resident individuals of a population or as dispersing individuals navigating through these connecting habitats.

Another revelation from the study is that a bulk of snow leopard occurrence is outside protected areas, reiterating the fact that local communities are the strongest allies for conservation in snow leopard landscapes.

The NCF and wildlife wing collaborated in the effort and it took three years to complete the assessment. MoEFCC had launched the First National Protocol on Snow Leopard Population Assessment in India, on the occasion of International Snow Leopard Day. You can read the complete protocol here.

Snow leopard is the icon of high mountains of Asia. In India, they inhabit the higher Himalayan and TransHimalayan landscape in an altitudinal range between approximately 3,000 m to 5,400 m above MSL, spanning c. 100,000 km2 in the five states of Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh. This area contributes to about 5% of the global snow leopard range.

Snow leopards occur over a vast, relatively remote and difficult to access mountainous area. Together with their elusive nature, this makes a complete population census of snow leopards an unfeasible goal. Even their distribution remains unclear. For example, recent surveys show that they do not occur in 25 % of the area that was thought to be their range in the state of Himachal Pradesh Their density is expected to be variable in space, dependent on several factors such as habitat suitability, prey availability, disturbance and connectivity. Variation in density across space also poses the risk of biased sampling, and, indeed, most of the snow leopard population assessments conducted so far across the world are biased towards the best habitats.

Feature Photo: Pexels/Charles Miller

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