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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)

Environment

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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Himachal Gets First Fully Automated ‘Doppler Weather Radar’, Would Provide More Accurate Short Range Forecast

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Dopper Weather Radar in Himachal Pradesh's Kufari

Shimla-India Meteorological Department (IMD) January 15, 2021, celebrated its 146th Foundation Day. IMD is one of the oldest, scientific service organizations in the country, in existence well before Independence.

On the occasion, Dr. Harsh Vardhan inaugurated Doppler Weather Radars at Mukteshwar, Uttarakhand and Kufri, Himachal Pradesh; Multi-Mission Meteorological Data Receiving and Processing System in IMD in collaboration with ISRO (MMDRPS).

According to the IMD, these modernized Radars would give a more specific short-range weather forecast.

It’s pertinent to mention that accurate and advance weather information is of utmost importance to Himachal Pradesh – a state largely dependent on agriculture and tourism.

The one installed in Kufari, Shimla, is Indigenous dual polarised X-Band Doppler Weather Radar. Two more Radars would be installed at Mandi and Dalhousie in Chamba district of the State. A site had already been finalized at Mandi and a site for Radar at Dalhousie would be finalized soon, the State Government informed.

This specific type of Radar uses the Doppler effect to gather velocity data. The Radar transmits a signal, which gets reflected when hits a raindrop. Based on the changes in the frequency of the reflected signal, data is obtained about the motion of droplets and intensity of the precipitation. Scientists can analyze this data to determine the structure and severity of storms.

Radar installed at Kufri is on test mode for a period of two weeks. Thereafter its data would be used for forecasting purposes. This Radar has a range upto 100 kilometres in radial distance. It would observe and provide the weather data of 100 kilometres in all directions, which would be used for forecasting purpose, especially for the short-range forecast. More précised area-specific weather forecast and warning can be issued for a particular place, for the weather phenomenon like thunderstorm, lighting, hailstorm, heavy rainfall/snowfall, gusty winds etc.    

This Centre would help the horticulturists and farmers of the State by providing them with accurate weather information.

The DWR Kufri would run round the clock and it is fully automatic. It would transmit the data in various digital format and picture form.

 Forecasting monsoons is the lifeline to India’s food security and affect the economy as the nation’s GDP is dependent on agriculture. Moreover, weather prediction is critical to reducing the loss of lives from various extreme events like a cyclone, heavy rain, thunderstorm, heatwave and cold wave, monsoonal floods and droughts.

India Meteorological Department says that it is modernizing its observational network in the Central and Western Himalayas by the installation of Doppler Weather Radars in a phased manner, at different locations.

IMD said that this radar will be providing severe weather information to the weather forecasters, thus, improving the safety of the public in the states of Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh. It will also provide support to the disaster managers and the pilgrims undertaking the pilgrimage to Kailash Manasarovar and Char Dham yatra. 

 

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The GHNP and Tirthan Wildlife Sanctuary Ranked as Best Managed Protected Areas of India

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MEE Rank himachal pradesh GHNP

Shimla-The Great Himalayan National Park and Tirthan Wildlife Sanctuary (WLS) have been ranked as the best managed protected areas in India. Sainj WLS has also been placed among the top five Sanctuaries.

Minister for Environment, Forest and Climate Change, Prakash Javadekar, on January 11 released Management Effectiveness Evaluation (MEE) of 146 National Park and Wildlife Sanctuaries in the Country. At present, India has a network of 903 Protected Areas in the country covering about 5% of the total geographic area of the country. The purpose of it was to assess the efficacy of Protected Areas, evaluation of management effectiveness.

The evaluation process was executed by the Wildlife Institute of India, Dehradun, in which  nation-wide 146 National Parks and Wildlife Sanctuaries, including 13 protected areas of Himachal Pradesh, were assessed through a team of evaluators. The score is given for various parameters including staff position, provision of financial resources, degree of protection, peoples’ participation and awareness of the communities towards the conservation values. Against a national average of 62 percent GHNP and Tirthan WLS scored a high of 84.17 percent while Sainj recorded 82.5 percent.

Currently, Himachal Pradesh has a network of 5 National Parks, 28 Wildlife Sanctuaries and 3 Conservation Reserves covering 8391.42 km2 which is 15 percent of the total geographical area of the state.

Top five and bottom five scored NP&WLS

Management Effectiveness Evaluation (MEE) of 146 National Park and Wildlife Sanctuaries in India 2

Source: MEE Evaluation Report

According to this Evaluation three of the top five best managed Protected Areas in the country are from Himachal Pradesh. However, the Evaluation also mentioned weaknesses in management in these National Parks and Wildlife Sanctuaries. (Scroll down for details info)

Top two highest and lowest scored NP&WLS in five regions

Managemaent Effectiveness Evaluation (MEE) of 146 National Park and Wildlife Sanctuaries in India

Source: MEE Evaluation Report

What is Management Effectiveness Evaluation (MEE)?

Protected area (PA) management effectiveness evaluation (MEE) is defined as the assessment of how well NP&WLS are being managed—primarily, whether they are protecting their values and achieving the goals and objectives agreed upon.

The term ‘management effectiveness’ reflects three main themes of PA management -design issues relating to both individual sites and PA systems, the adequacy and appropriateness of management systems and processes, and delivery of the objectives of NP&WLS, including conservation of values.

 Management Effectiveness Evaluation (MEE) of Protected Areas (PAs) has emerged as a key tool for PA managers and is increasingly being used by governments and international bodies to understand the strengths and weaknesses of the protected area management systems.

MEE is a very important document that provides valuable guidance on various aspects of wildlife and protected area expand MEE of Marine Protected Areas. A new framework for MEE of Marine Protected Areas has been also jointly prepared by WII and MoEF&CC.

In recent years there has been a general concern amongst PA professionals and the public that many NP&WLS are failing to achieve their objectives and, in some cases, are actually losing the values for which they were established (Hockings et al. 2008).

As a result, improving the effectiveness of PA management has become a priority throughout the conservation community. Protected areas that are effectively managed generally lead to improved biodiversity outcomes.

However, only 20% (21,743 NP&WLS) of the total coverage of protected areas reported in the WDPA has been assessed for management effectiveness according to the Global Database on Protected Areas Management Effectiveness (UNEP-WCMC, IUCN and NGS 2018). The result indicated that only 17.5% of the countries have achieved the 60% score of management effectiveness (Coad et al. 2015).

Further, Javadekar also announced that from this year onwards 10 best National Parks, 5 coastal and Marine parks and top five Zoos in the country will be ranked and awarded every year.

Management Strengths and Weaknesses of National Parks and Wild Life Sanctuaries in Himachal Pradesh

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