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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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HP Sports Policy Will be Amended For Specially Abled Students: Govt

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HP Sports Policy Amendment

Shimla-Himachal Pradesh Sports Policy will be amended to provide equal participation in sports to visually impaired and specially-abled students, announced the state government on August 7, 2019.

This announcement was made by the Sports Minister Govind Singh Thakur during Van Mahotsav function at Baldeyan panchayat of Shimla district. The event was organised by the Non-Profit Organization Umang Foundation for visually impaired and specially-abled students.

About 200 specially-abled students of Himachal Pradesh University, Govt. Degree College Sanjauli, Special School Dhali and Portmore school along with members of Umang Foundation planted around 250 Deodar plants in association with the forest department.

Visually impaired and other specially-abled persons could also equally contribute in the society if given ample opportunity, the Minister said. He also announced to provide 15 laptops to Umang Foundation for visually impaired students for pursuing higher education. Rs 50 thousand were also announced for these students.

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Garbage Dumping Polluting Giri Ganga River – A Drinking Water Supply Source of Shimla

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Giri Ganga River pollution in Shimla

Shimla– The Gumma Nagar Panchayat in Kotkhai, Shimla district, like most of the other rural areas, lacks a proper solid waste management system. As a result, the usual method adopted here is dumping daily solid waste down the hill in an official dumping yard.

The locals from the panchayat wrote to Himachal Watcher regarding the adverse effect the dumping site in Gumma causing.

Gumma dumping yard in Shimla district 03 (2)

Overflowing dumping site in Gumma

They said the panchayat has allocated the site shown in the photo above to dump their garbage. This garbage is mostly left unsorted. 

With the growing population and increasing number of shops, the hillside is now overflowing with rubbish. This overflowing waste from the dump finds its way down to the Giri river water. 

It not only looks unsightly but also emits a foul smell. Moreover, the half-burnt rubbish flies in all directions, mostly downhill into the water.

Gumma dumping yard in Shimla district 3

The office of the Assistant Engineer, IPH Subdivision Gumma, is located near to this location. Still, the issue is being ignored. 

“Interestingly, the Department of Irrigation & Public Health is sitting above the location, blind and oblivious to it all,”

Devanshe Chauhan Lidgley, a local told Himachal Watcher.

IPH Office in Gumma

Office of the Assistant Engineer, IPH, Gumma

She further added,

“Complaints have been made to the Gumma Panchayat Pradhan who showed helplessness since it was a decision made by higher officials,”

The panchayat pradhan of Gumma told HW that, indeed, the area is facing a problem with daily garbage. There are five wards in the Nagar panchayat, and villagers do not have any common dumping ground. 

“The villagers have found suitable spots near their habitats where they dump their daily garbage,”

Tara Chauhan, the Pradhan of the panchayat told HW

“The dumping site shown in the pictures is particularly created to accommodate daily waste generated by shops in the market. The market has about 300 shops, and the daily waste is transported through pic-ups to the dumping site,”

she added.  

Gumma dumping yard in Shimla district 03 (1)

A Pick-up dumping Gumma Market’s daily waste downhill

She also accepted that this dumping site is now overflowing as the amount of waste dumped is increasing. The issue has been brought to the attention of district administration of Shimla, she said, adding that the administration has asked the panchayat to find a new location for the creation of another dumping yard. However, it’s hard to procure land for it as no one would allow the creation of dumping site on private land, she said. 

“Earlier, we used to set the garbage ablaze when dumping reached on the verge of overflowing. However, now, we have directions not to burn garbage as it causes air pollution,”

Chauhan told HW. 

Gumma dumping yard in Shimla district

As a matter of fact, the said dumping site is overflowing and, in monsoon, a lot of waste is likely to find its way into the Giri Ganga. 

Giri Ganga is one of the main sources of drinking water supply to Shimla, and there is no need to say more why it requires immediate intervention of the district administration and the state pollution control board to prevent water pollution.

In the past, Shimla has already witnessed instances of jaundice outbreaks due to contaminated water that had killed about two dozen people.  However, it appears, we are waiting for another catastrophe to happen before appropriate action is taken.  

The garbage dumped here needs to be removed regularly and disposed of properly before the next truck of garbage is dumped. 

“Is the ‘Swaacch Bharat’ campaign only on papers? How can the National Mission for Clean Ganga (NMCG) succeed if the sources of Ganga are being polluted?”

asked the local.

It is a matter of concern that the district administration is still stuck at creating dumping yards, which is not a proper way to dispose of solid waste. At the same time, the villagers are left at their own to deal with the daily waste they generate. The State government needs to provide a solid waste treatment facility in rural areas.  

However, there are reasons to believe that the government is hardly concerned about this gigantic environmental issue. The only waste treatment plant that was supposed to convert Shimla town’s municipal waste into energy, is lying defunct. Instead, the locals allege, the plant has been turned into a dumping yard, which was on fire last month. The fire kept smouldering for over a week. 

A similar example was witnessed in Kenduwal of Baddi in Solan district where the Municipal Council and the Baddi-Barotiwala-Nalagarh Development Authority (BBNDA) were supposed to construct a solid waste treatment plant. They had obtained the clearance for the same on August 13, 2015, and were allotted 42 bighas and 13 Biswas of land in Kenduwal. 

However, the plant never came up and the two responsible authorities created a huge dumping site by violating a number of environmental laws and guidelines. Not only they created this site on the flood-plains of Sirsa river but also ignored human habitat located at a distance of 30 meters from it.  The families living in this habitat had to approach the state High Court to get relief from the hellish conditions created by this illegal dumping site. 

 

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Neglecting Warnings of Environmental Groups, Studies, HP Govt to Sign MoU for 5 More Hydro Power Projects

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Five more SJVNL hydroproject in himachal Pradesh

Shimla-Ignoring the appeals of the environmental groups and studies indicating devastating effects of hydro power projects on Himalayan ecology and on the lives of the locals, the State government of Himachal Pradesh has decided to allocate five more projects.

An Environmental group Himdhara Environment Research and Action Collective had in June 2019 released their report titled “The Hidden Cost of Hydropower” to highlight the risks associated with hydro power construction, especially in Himalayan regions like Himachal Pradesh.  Echoing the fragility of the Himalayan region due to geological instability and climate change-related disasters like flash floods and cloud bursts, the report had highlighted the role of construction activities that accentuate this fragility.

However, in a meeting Chaired by the Chief Minister Jairam Thakur on July 6, 2019, the government has decided to sign 5 MoUs with SJVNL.

“Proper memorandum of understanding (MoU) would be signed for five hydro power projects most likely in the month of August, this year, which have been allocated to the SJVNL,

Chief Minister said.

These projects include Luhri stage-1 (210 MW), Sunni Dam (382 MW), Dhola Sidh (66 MW), Luhri, stage-2 (172 MW) and Jangi Thopan (780 MW).

“These five hydro power projects have the potential of investment of Rs. 15,000 crores and would provide employment to around 8,000 people,”

he said.

He also suggested that the Chenab river basin would also be developed as it has a capacity of 3000 MW hydro-power generation. The five projects allocated in the Chenab basin have been cancelled and now the government would consider the viability before further allocation of these projects and providing concession to the investors, he said. 

The Chief Minister termed the decision as best possible efforts to boost investment in the hydro power sector. He claimed that this sector is not only an engine of growth but also has immense potential to provide employment. He said the government would expedite the pace of execution of power projects, which had slowed down during the last few years.

The above-mentioned report of the Himdhara Collective had also found that over the last few years, increasing evidence has emerged that hydro power production may not be so ‘clean and green’ after all.  This report, that compiled primary and secondary pieces of evidence of the impacts triggered by underground construction for the run of the river (ROR) hydropower projects, highlighted the issues of environmental hazards and risks involved.

The Report had also mentioned that there are severe environmental hazards linked to the construction of these projects, which the government was not ready to admit. As a result of this deliberate neglection, the villagers, rivers, local water sources, farming lands, local wildlife etc. were suffering. Houses of people were destroyed due to seepage of water from tunnels of hydropower projects and they were forced to evacuate.

The Report had also said that the Ministry of Power had issued an order in March 2019 recognizing hydro power projects with a capacity of more than 25 MW as ‘renewable’ source of energy, thus eligible for further subsidies. Himdhara’s report, however, had brought out that hydro projects do not deserve the ‘green’ tag and the government should stop further subsiding the sector, especially large projects.

You can read the complete Report Here

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