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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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Kangra mining mafia assault case: Police held back from taking action

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mining mafia in Indora area of kangra district

Mining mafia active in Indora region of Kangra district abducted Puran Chand of Mand-Myani, almost beat him to death with sticks and iron rods, and threw him near Nangal Boor bordering Punjab.

Shimla: Though the Chief Minister Jairam Thakur led Bhartiya Janata Party has been harping about the elimination of mining, forest, and drug mafia in Himachal Pradesh, but in speeches and media statements only.

In its media statements, the new government has taken expeditious action and is up in arms against the mafia, just like the previous government.

The mining mafia had only emboldened during the previous Congress-led government, and it continues to grow after the BJP romped into power in assembly elections held in November.

Now, the situation has become such that mafia has begun to abduct and assault villagers, who are daring to protest against the destruction of the rivulet. The police is yet again held back by the patrons of the mafia.

On January 30, the mining mafia active in Indora region of Kangra district abducted Puran Chand of Mand-Myani, almost beat him to death with sticks and iron rods, and threw him near Nangal Boor bordering Punjab.

He was first taken to the Civil Hospital in Pathankot, and then to Tanda Medical College, Kangra, in a critical condition.

After nine days of the attack, the culprits, identified as stone-crusher owners, are at large not because our police is incompetent, rather because our leaders and government have always been ceding the control to the mafia.

The cause of failure of police needs no explanation considering the fact that the police had filed a complaint against eight assaulters named by the victim. The Chief Minister had visited the victim and had assured him justice, which proved to be only a media statement so far.

Enraged over the inaction of the police, the people had gheraoed the police station, Indora on January 31. They demanded booking the culprits for an attempted murder (Section 307 IPC). The district administration failed to pacify the situation and had to face the wrath of people, who shouted anti-police slogans.

Isn’t it strange that despite the establishment of the Sub-divisional Magistrate (SDM) office in the region, illegal mining still goes on with no fear of the law?  

As per the allegations labelled by villagers,  the explanation of this inaction of the district administration and police lies in the fat monetary benefits offered by the stone crushers and miners.

This conflict between the common people and growing influence of the mafia is going on for years, but the situation worsened between 2014 to the current date.

As per the Kisan Sabha Unit of Kangra, Puran was playing a leading role in the protest against the illegal miners since 2014, which is why he was targeted to terrorize locals.

Now, the villagers are opposing the movement of tippers carrying mining material. In return, the stone crushers are also obstructing a small bridge to harass the villagers.

Along with the mafia,  the government seems to have lost the fear of law too, because the State High Court and the National Green Tribunal (NGT), in 2017, had made serious observations regarding the illegal mining and had imposed a complete ban on mining in tributaries of the Beas. 

Following the orders, the administration and the mining department registered several cases for a while but soon discontinued their surveillance due to reasons unknown.

The transfers of IPS Gaurav Singh from Baddi and Sanjeev Gandhi, former superintendent of police, Una, are sufficient to support the allegation of patronage to mafias by the government.

Gandhi had tightened the noose around the mining mafia by launching a special drive for this purpose. In March 2017, the police had even caught the offenders red-handed in Damtal region of the district and seized JCBs and vehicles found on the spot.

However, the amount of money and politicians or their relatives who are, directly or indirectly, involved in illegal mining, make the government agencies accede to mafia raj.      

In 2017, Gandhi was slapped three different transfer orders in just 17 days.

He went after the miners in the district who was supplying the illegally mined material to the neighbouring state of Punjab and registered 27 cases against illegal mining.

However, as a reward, his transfer order was issued in his absence within two days after the stone crusher owners and illegal miners exerted pressure on the BJP government.

Previously, during the Congress government, Gandhi, then posted as SP Kangra, had launched a similar drive against the mining mafia. He had registered 17 FIRs alongwith action against 950 violations in just seven months during his tenure in 2016-2017.

During that period, several machines and vehicles were seized by the authorities, which were later released unlawfully.  

The mining mafia in the district heaved a sigh of relief when the administration released impounded vehicles in a gross violation of rules and the NGT in its specific orders had directed the state agencies not to release such vehicles.  Sources said with the intervention of senior officers of the state government, these vehicles were released,

said a report published in the English daily.

He had even conducted a survey of stone crusher units set up near the Chakki rivulet, a tributary of Beas that marks the boundary between Himachal and Punjab, in the Nurpur and Indora jurisdiction.

Chakki rivulet in the subdivision bordering Punjab and Himachal Pradesh is a witness to the rampant and illegal mining that is threatening over 10 panchayats.  The people in the area are dependent on the Chakki water for irrigation.

Illegal and access mining with heavy machinery is turning the fertile fields into barren land. The mafia has destroyed local paths, water channels, and cremation ground, alleges the villagers.

The rivulet is marked by huge ditches as the mining mafia are not adhering to the rules and regulations for extraction of mining material. The government is bearing the huge loss of revenue as the mafia easily evades royalty and local taxes.

At that time, he was transferred to Una. Within four months, he was again transferred.

In 2016, the state High Court had also taken suo-motu- cognizance of the matter, and the Division Bench comprising Chief Justice Mansoor Ahmad Mir and Justice Sandeep Sharma had questioned the Congress government over regressive actions against honest officials.

Earlier, the Kisan Sabha’s protest had compelled the authorities to visit the mining spots, and they had admitted that illegal mining activity was prevalent in the area. The inspection team had found that the miners had excavated upto a depth of about 40 feet. Despite that, no action was ever taken against the culprits, alleged the Kisan Sabha.

The Sabha has expressed doubts over the intentions of the new government as no action is being taken against the perpetrator. The Sabha has also threatened the government that it will launch a massive protest against it if appropriate action is not taken against the assaulters and other stone crushers and mining mafia active in the region illegally.  

As the government, which has failed to keep the mining mafia at the bay, has recently asked Punjab for demarcation of its boundary. The unclear boundary line makes it easier for miners from Punjab to intrude into Himachal.

In a report published in another English daily, the police officials in Kangra had admitted that when they chase mafia, the Punjab police raise the issue of jurisdiction.

A similar attempt was made during 2015 to take up the matter with Pathankot counterparts seeking demarcation of the boundary along the Chakki Khud.

By delaying the right action, the government is not only condoning the offenders, but also ignoring the gravity of the environmental debacle that the excess, unscientific, and illegal mining is causing.

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Response to Shimla STPI cleanliness drive depicts poor psycho-social conditioning

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STPI Cleaning 6

The civic body is required to conduct extensive surveys to assess the causes of littering behaviour, study the psycho-social aspects associated with lack of awareness that encourages littering.

Shimla: On last Saturday, the Software Technology Park of India, located at the SDA Complex in Kasumpti, Shimla, made a call for the cleaning of the building premises, which houses 12 information technology and software companies. It was part of the Swacchta Pakhwada organized by the government from time to time. 

Some of the employees of Flexinet Technologies Pvt. Ltd, who are also the Community Members of Himachal Watcher, were also present. So, it was an excellent moment to observe the nature and effect of psycho-social conditioning of all persons employed with various offices and their respective bosses/company owners.

STPI Cleaning 6

The total number of employees in all offices including the STPI staff exceeds 250.  Majority of the employees are educated including males and females aged between 20 -40 years. These employees included natives from almost all districts of Himachal.

STPI Cleaning 17

The available data and conditions make it a perfect sample for a sort of survey that could be conducted with a qualitative method. In fact, let us consider that the number of participants was (n = 250). It was a random sample.

Location

The location chosen was the STPI block (24). There are total 12 companies/offices in the block, namely 31 Parallel, Covenant Info Solution,  NIELIT,  Kaith Group of Technologies, Himachal Pradesh Kaushal Vikas Nigam, Saraswati Dot Com, Himachal Media Pvt, Flexinet Technologies Solutions, Netgen IT Solution, Zasaya, and Snowmicro.

Conditions

STPI Cleaning 2

The area around the premises was badly littered around by the same employees. The bottles of whisky and beer, plastic packaging of online stores and snacks, packets of cigarette etc., were littered all over the place. If that was not enough, some offices had disposed of window glasses, marble tiles, and debris of concrete generated after renovations.

The most recent renovation was conducted by the office of Kaushal Vikas Nigam, housed at the second floor of the block. Prior to that, 31 Parallel, a BPO, had undertaken some renovation work.

To the demise of nature-lovers, all this construction waste including broken glasses was disposed of near the building instead of proper disposal.

The parking lot was full of potholes.

The cleaning was an arduous and risky affair due to the glass pieces disposed of with waste, broken bottles, and a steep slope.

 Literature Review

Shimla city is the capital of Himachal Pradesh and was known for its greenery, pure breathable air, and a serenity that its hills used to offer. Currently, Shimla city is heading towards an ugly future as the district administration and Municipal Corporation are in deep slumber. The Shimla’s civic body is the first one in India to implement the door-to-door garbage collection facility. A special body ‘Shimla Heritage, Environment and Beautification (SHEB) Society exists for the purpose of sanitation and solid waste management. Unfortunately, the civic body and SHEB Society are busy in a tug of war over the long-pending demands of the SHEB workers for regularisation. The sanitation work is mismanaged to such an extent that the SMC has allowed its workers to burn daily garbage all over Shimla – a grieve and deliberate violation of the Air (Prevention and Control) Act, 1981.

Sub-section (5) of Section 19 of the Air Pollution Act empowers the State Government after consultation with the state Board to prohibit the burning of any material (not being fuel) in any air pollution control area or part thereof, which may cause or likely to cause air pollution.    

In April 2015, a bench headed by NGT Chairperson Justice Swatanter Kumar, in a judgment, had clearly stated:

It is on the record before us that burning of garbage and other materials is not only source of air pollution but forms 29.4 per cent of air pollution with reference to PM10. The burning of material also causes serious respiratory problems and are even carcinogenic….There shall be complete prohibition on burning of any kind of garbage, leaves, waste, plastic, rubber or any such other materials in open areas.

The bench had further directed,

We direct that for every incident of burning of such material, the person who is actually found burning or responsible for burning would be liable to pay compensation in terms of Section 15 of the National Green Tribunal Act, 2010 under the principle of polluter pays.

The SMC is supposed to ensure proper disposal of garbage but, here in Shimla, the body is itself burning garbage daily. Except for the core or VIP areas, sanitation in the urban Shimla is only worsening with the passage of time.  

The jungles and slopes of Shimla are being buried beneath garbage and illegally dumped muck.  As far as the matter of over-construction is concerned, most of us, we are sure, would be aware of the situation.

The people, even the highly educated, don’t mind littering. It implies that our education system is not focusing on moral education and environmental awareness and its protection.

Moreover, the words such as a ‘vision’ or ‘planning’ are alien to our bureaucrats.

Methodology

Without any safety guidelines or accessories like gloves and masks, these participants were given a common verbal stimulus in the form of a call for the drive to clean their own work environment where they spend most of the time daily.

Results

At about 1:30 PM out of those hundreds of employees, not more than 30 were present on the spot. It implies, only 30 subjects responded to the stimulus including only two girls. Almost 50 percent of these 30 came ahead only after seeing the remaining 15 already engaged in cleaning.

SDA Complex cleaning

The STPI staff filled some of the potholes while some others were only partly covered.   

It is no co-incident that the boss/employer of these girls was also present with them, which motivated them.

Most respondents belonged to the 31 Parallel followed by Flexinet. Only two offices did not take part in the drive.  

Observations

This group did a fantastic job. Watching each other working diligently kept them motivated.

Out of approximately 100 females, only two girls were visible taking part in this small cleaning drive. Both of the girls are employed with the Flexinet. Interestingly, one of the girls, who had resigned a few days ago to pursue her studies, came back especially to join her ex-colleagues in the drive.

While the bunch of concerned people cleaned the premise, all girls chose to be onlookers, gossiping with sarcastic giggles. One of the girls was even seen taking a selfie.

It is a matter of contemplation as to why 98 percent of girls felt reluctant to join the doers’ camp.

As expected, only the owner and bosses of the Flexinet and Zasaya got their hands dirty to collect the kaleidoscopic garbage without any protective measures.

STPI Cleaning 7

However, the best part of this activity was that those who had chosen to be one of the doers did it with commitment.

STPI Cleaning 8

The most poignant fact that requires attention is the poor psychological and social conditioning of this small sample, which is the main reason why even educated citizens ignore all messages or rules regarding littering. They don’t find it embarrassing to litter but show reluctance when it comes to cleaning.  

STPI Cleaning

Most common aspect observed during the activity was yet again the reluctance of majority to come ahead or to join people in causes like cleanliness drives. We wonder how any logical person can ignore the satisfaction, which the group of doers found at the end of the day over a cup of tea with samosa’s (refreshment).

STPI Cleaning 9

In a couple of hours, the doers wrapped up the task, segregated the glass waste from other solid waste, and collected it at a single spot.

Shimla Cleaning Campaign

The Municipal Corporation of Shimla later collected the garbage for proper disposal (if any). SMC sanitation workers can be seen burning garbage in open daily. So, there is still no guarantee about the proper disposal of this solid waste collected during the cleaning.

Conclusion

Even though the majority did not participate, the group of doers was hoping to leave a message to them.

It is for sure that those who did participate in the cleaning would think before abandoning a disposable cup or cigarette packets in open.

Though we are skeptic of it, the STPI staff has assured that at least two dustbins would be placed inside the premise soon.  

As a vitriolic reality, however, litterbugs again set to work and a fresh lot of garbage begins to appear from the very next day. No message was taken from the cleaning drive. The onlookers failed the doers yet again.

We hope that group of doers won’t let these litterbugs spoil the place again. On being caught red-handed, these bugs will be given appropriate demonstration through sensible arguments, by debating the logic and reason.

Further, the civic body is required to conduct extensive surveys to assess the causes of littering behaviour and study the psycho-social aspects associated with lack of awareness that encourages littering.

Due to poor social conditioning related to disposal of garbage in open, most of us do not develop aesthetic sense. Because no one objected to littering, an individual doesn’t consider it a malpractice. We can say that they don’t feel guilty for littering and do not develop a sense to correct things as we grew up regularly witnessing this malpractice by people of all ages despite being educated. 

The State government need to encourage researchers including students in the local institutes to take up the task of conducting studies to find out causes for littering behaviour and other aspects related to the environmental protection. 

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Watch: An interesting case of leopard sighting in Shimla’s Dhanda locality

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Shimla: People of Dhanda, a sort of suburb near the Totu in Shimla city, on Saturday found a leopard roaming around in their neighborhood in broad daylight. Leopard sightings in Himachal Pradesh are not unusual and Shimla is no exception. After all Himachal has 65 percent forest cover, as per official statistics.

However, this leopard was behaving like a stray dog that is used to living among humans. The big cat was not responding to the noises made by the people to scare off the animal.

The animal was not aggressive or afraid.

Watch: An interesting case of leopard sighting in Shimla’s Dhanda locality

The leopard casually walked onto an under-construction floor of a residential building.

Luckily, the people did not harm the cat at all. In other parts of India, animals like leopard pay with their lives for straying into a human habitat. The people beat them to death with sticks and stone pelting.

But here, in Shimla, people informed the forest department about it, which was the right thing to do. Meanwhile, they just tried to scare it off so that it returns to the jungle. The people were discussing why the animal was behaving in an unusual way.

The people deserve appreciation for it because in most cases these animals revert as a defense to any sort of assaults by humans. 

A resident posted some pictures and two videos of the incident. One of the video showed the animal roaming inside the residential locality. The other one showed the forest officials carrying the leopard on a stretcher and the crowd including kids following them.

They speculated it might have escaped from a zoo, which is why it was accustomed to human presence.

They spotted some wound on leopard’s body and assumed that perhaps the cat was injured.

Watch: An interesting case of leopard sighting in Shimla’s Dhanda locality

The wildlife wing of the forest department arrived at the scene (this time with tranquilizer guns) and spotted the leopard in nearby bushes.

The animal was carried to the Rescue and Rehabilitation Centre situated in Tutikandi. It was identified as a seven-months-old female. It is not clear how it happened to stray into the locality. 

The matter also pertains to the critical issue of man and animal conflict due to depletion of natural habitat. HW will try to get hold of the vet on Monday for a follow up.

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