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Why Forest Rights Act, 2006 is the way to go in Himachal

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Forest-Rights-Act,-2006 in Himachal PRadesh

SHIMLA– To address historical injustice faced by the forest-dependent communities in India, UPA government had passed the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of) Forest Rights Act in 2006. But the Congress, at least in Himachal, has failed to make use of this legislation to provide relief to tribal population. In fact, Himachal is one of the worst performing states in FRA implementation.

People dependent on forests for livelihood are imminently facing the threat of eviction. For instance, consider the moving story of Byaso Devi of Panchayat Kand Kandiyana in Kangra District.

The right of title over occupied forest land by an individual or a group under Forest Rights Act 2006 is important for people like Byaso Devi. Her husband Chaukas Ram, who is no more, was landless and was in possession of barely 10 kanal of land (Khasara no. is 532/3) allotted to him by the revenue field staff of the HP government in 1976. This was done under the Himachal Pradesh Nautor Act 1976, which provided allotment of land to landless for agriculture so as to give them ownership over minimum land considered requisite for respectable survival. He constructed his home on part of this land and farmed on the rest. However, before he could obtain the title on paper for this land, all such common pool land, was transferred to the Forest Department.

Chaukas Ram sent numerous letters to the government to issue requisite certificates/document for the allotment and the revenue department forwarded his letters to the forest department. With the enactment of FCA 1980, where diversion of forest land without due permission from the central government was not possible, the chance of getting a title ended for Chaukas Ram. He saw an opportunity of getting ownership in 2002, when the state government declared a onetime amnesty for people with common land encroachments.

Chaukas Ram filed an affidavit under this policy. But the policy never could see light of day, instead, thousands of people who filed for claims were exposed to the threat of evictions as they now declared their ‘encroachments’. Chaukas Ram’s family has been living under threat of eviction orders since 2004. This is not a one of a kind case. 45 such cases can be found in Byaso Devi’s village, and another 40 cases from a nearby one, and many more all over Himachal, where the rights of local communities have not been settled.

Now, ahead of HP Assembly election in 2017, state government has introduced a new law for land regularization policy to provide relief to the small and marginal farmers who have occupied forest land in Himachal. The policy formulation came as a response to a High Court order which sought eviction of farmers who had such ‘encroachments’. Unfortunately the committee set up by the state government to provide legal relief to evicted people has chosen a failed route.

Watch Video to Know More about Forest Rights Act, 2006 Awareness and Implementation in Himachal

State Govt. isn’t empowered to divert forest land for non-forest use

First of all, state government can’t frame any policy related to diversion of forest land for non-forest use as two Central Laws, namely the Forest Conservation Act 1980 and the Wildlife Protection Act 1972, prohibits it.

Additionally, a series of Supreme Court orders makes such diversion impossible without Central Government consent.

Secondly, if the government really wanted to protect the small and marginal farmers, there is already a Central legislation in form of “Forest Rights Act 2006” (FRA). The key provision and objective of this Act is to recognise the claims of local communities on the forest lands on which they depend for their livelihood. This piece of legislation has high significance in the context of Himachal where two third of total geographical area is designated as forest land and 90% population is dependent on forest land for the livelihood.

Till now, the government has focused on implementation of development rights conferred under section 3 (2) of the FRA, where one hectare of forest land can be diverted for 13 different types of village development activities. This is a boon for Himachal where villages are surrounded by forests and no land other than forest land was available to construct a PHC, school, water schemes and roads etc.

The process under section 3(1) of the act is in initial stage, and in the absence of adequate training and knowhow for ground level government machinery, not much progress has been made in the implementation of this section, which in a way is at the heart of the FRA.

The section 3 (1) (a) of the FRA Act would be a ray of hope for people like Byaso devi. This Act is historical because it provided the much needed relief to those who had years of “occupation” on forest land for their day to day survival, but were under threat of evictions.

People given permits, but their rights not recorded in Jamabandi

On FRA, the position of the Himachal government has been shaky, as it has argued that “rights of communities have already been settled in Himachal”. True that rights have been settled in the forest settlement records and permits issued to the communities as ‘privileges and concessions’ to use forest land for various purposes. However, these are not recorded in the Jamabandi, or the revenue record as a title or right. Section 3 (1) of the FRA to settle the “community forest rights” facilitates this.

This is important because till the record of rights does not become part of the jamabandi, the forest use will be seen as a ‘privilege’, which can be taken away without consent. In the case of Kol dam project, for instance the grazing land of 15 sheep and goat herders got submerged under the dam. When they sought compensation for the grazing rights lost due to project construction, the project proponents said that all the compensation was given according to the ownership titles under ‘Jamabandi records’ not by the grazing permits issued to them.

The scope for extension of community forest rights is estimated to be over 3.2 lakh acres in Himachal but till 2016 no CFR titles were issues under FRA 2006 in the state.

Opposing interests of local communities and forest department

Another major issue is that of management and protection of forests. This, since colonial times has been the domain of the forest department. The goal of the forest department has been to increase the forest cover. As a result it always tends to choose to propagate pine species which cannot be browsed (eaten) by livestock. On the other hand for the local community, forests are meant for grazing. These opposing interests required that the local community be made a partner in protection and management of forests. The earlier efforts at such partnership, under JFM and Social forestry programs have failed because they never gave legal tenure to community. The FRA does.

In the interest of the forests as well as the livelihoods of forest dependent communities, there is no other route but the FRA. The sooner the Himachal government sees this, the better it will be for the health of the state’s environment and people.

Authored by Prakash Bhandari and Manshi Asher

(The authors are members of Himdhara, Environment Research and Action Collective, Himachal Pradesh)

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Environment

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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Environment

Pollution killed 25 lakh people in India in one year – highest in the world: Report

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air pollution deaths in India

Applying similar legislation and regulation from high-income countries to low- and middle-income countries could help to improve and protect health as countries develop.

While the leaders of the ruling political party are trying to politicize the firecracker ban imposed in Delhi by the Supreme Court, India has achieved another milestone – highest number of deaths due to various kinds of pollutions.

The Lancet Commission on Pollution and Health released its report on October 19. As per the report, air pollution is the biggest killer of all.

The report said out of total 6.5 million (65 lakhs) deaths reported worldwide, 28% occurred only in India. Air pollution mainly resulted in diseases such as heart disease, stroke, lung cancer, and COPD.

Almost all (92%) pollution-related deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries.

The findings of the say that in 2015, pollution killed about 2.5 million (25 lakhs) people. China reported the second highest number of deaths at 1.8 million (18 lakhs) during the same year.

Pollution Deaths in India

Info: Global Alliance on Health and Pollution

It implies that air pollution kills doubt the number of people killed by AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria combined.

The next largest risk factor was water pollution the caused gastrointestinal diseases and parasitic infections.Workplace pollution including exposure to toxins and pneumoconiosis in coal workers, bladder cancer in dye workers, and asbestosis, lung cancer, mesothelioma, and other cancers in workers exposed to asbestos.

Finally, lead pollution resulted from high blood pressure, renal failure, and cardiovascular disease caused by lead in adults.

As per the report, human activities, including industrialisation, urbanisation, and globalisation, are all drivers of pollution.

Types of pollution associated with industrial development, such as ambient air pollution (including ozone), chemical, occupational pollution and soil pollution, have increased from 4.3 million (9.2%) in 1990 to 5.5 million (10.2%) in 2015 as countries reach higher levels of development.

The greatest impacts occured in countries that are currently undergoing rapid development and industrialisation – with pollution responsible for up to one in four deaths in the most severely affected countries (such as in India, Pakistan, China, Bangladesh, Madagascar and Kenya).

As countries develop and industrialise, the type of pollution and the related health problems they face change.

For example, water pollution and household air pollution are more common in early stages of industrial development, causing higher rates of pneumonia and diarrhoeal diseases in low- and middle-income countries.

Economic costs of pollution

The costs of pollution-related death and disease are also highly concentrated in developing regions imposing vast costs on national budgets – equivalent to around 1.3% GDP in low-income countries, compared to around 0.5% GDP in high-income countries, and 0.13% GDP globally. Healthcare spending on pollution-related diseases also disproportionately affects lower income countries – accounting for an estimated 7% of health spending in middle-income countries each year, and 1.7% annual spend in high-income countries.

Welfare losses due to deaths and disease from pollution equate to US$4.6 trillion each year (equivalent to 6.2% of global economic output). Proportionately, low-income countries pay 8.3% of their gross national income to pollution-related death and disease, while high-income countries pay 4.5%.

Environmental Injustice

The environmental injustice often violates these people’s human rights.

Pollution, poverty, poor health, and social injustice are deeply intertwined. Pollution and related diseases most often affect the world’s poor and powerless, and victims are often the vulnerable and the voiceless. As a result, pollution threatens fundamental human rights, such as the right to life, health, wellbeing, safe work, as well as protections of children and the most vulnerable

Says Commission author Karti Sandilya, Pure Earth, USA.

In order to tackle pollution, we must prioritise it as an issue that affects us all, integrating it into health planning, and increasing funding to allow more research into pollution, such as monitoring pollution and its effects, and developing ways to control pollution,

says Commission co-lead, Richard Fuller, Pure Earth, USA.

Pollution can be eliminated, and pollution prevention can be highly cost-effective – helping to improve health and extend lifespan, while boosting the economy. This has been seen in high-income and some middle-income countries where legislation has helped to curb the most flagrant forms of pollution, and has led to cleaner air and water, lower blood lead concentrations, removal of hazardous waste sites, and less polluted and more liveable cities, the report further said.

The report suggest that pollution is not the inevitable consequence of economic development, and applying similar legislation and regulation from high-income countries to low- and middle-income countries could help to improve and protect health as countries develop.

Top Photo: Hindustan Times

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Environment

HP Polls 2017: EC directs parties to use eco-friendly & biodegradable material for publicity

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eco-friendly campaing material in Indian elections

Shimla: With the announcement of the polling and counting date for the General Elections to the Legislative Assembly of Himachal Pradesh would come an environmental menace – waste of publicity material left by party workers during campaigning period. Use of flex boards would be an suitable example.

Considering the fact that the public, administration, and the politicians are least concerned about environmental or visual pollution, it was necessary that the Election Commission interfere here.

In its notification issued regarding the schedule for the elections, the Election Commission of India has included separate direction to all the political parties, contesting candidates and their authorized agents etc. to desist from utilizing environmentally hazardous materials like plastics, polythene etc for the preparation and usage election-related publicity materials.

The EC has directed them to use eco-friendly and bio-degradable substances for preparing election campaign or publicity material.

The EC has directed the DEOs and ROs to emphasize the importance of environment protection and preservation during the meetings with the political parties and contesting candidates. They were also asked to ensure that the the political parties adhere to the instructions of the Commission with regard to the usage of non-eco-friendly materials.

The Commission has directed all the CEOs to instruct all the political parties in their respective states regarding the usage of eco-friendly and biodegradable materials.

The concern of the Commission about the long-term deleterious impact of materials like plastics, polythene etc on the life-giving and life-sustaining environment is worth appreciable provided it is actually followed.

The political parties and their leaders bear the moral and ethical duty of passing instruction to their party-workers to adhere to the EC directions and help keep Himachal clean.

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