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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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Watch: Baddi’s Kenduwal dumping yard exposes hypocrisy over Swachh Bharat

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Baddi solid waste management plant

Solan: The government agencies in Himachal Pradesh are quite infamous for disrespecting court orders, especially those relating to environmental protection. This time, we have a case where the local civic body first created an illegal dumping yard on a site selected and cleared for an integrated waste management facility and now covering it with soil and mud after the matter reached the State High Court.

In fact, the government does only what the court orders it to do after activists or the common people file petitions. There is a very clear hypocrisy going on over the Swachh Bharat campaign, which is often used to gain political mileage.

So far, the government has given no sign about being serious when it says, “The government is committed to protect and preserve the environment and ecology of the State.”

The ground-level situation of Solid Waste Management (SWM) in Himachal Pradesh can be best used to demonstrate this hypocrisy by both the current and succeeding governments and the public itself. There is no limit to the callousness of the government agencies at both local as well as the state levels.

Baddi MC waste

If we take up a particular case, then Baddi-Barotiwala-Nalagarh area in Solan district is perhaps in the worst state. The Municipal Council of Baddi and BBN Development Authority (BBNDA) are responsible for the collection and scientific disposal of waste generated in the area. Both agencies had joined hands with a proposal of managing waste disposal in the BBN area.

The MC and BBNDA were supposed to establish a facility where collected waste could be disposed of scientifically. 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, as expected, the facility never came into existence. Instead, the MC and BBNDA began dumping MC waste at the selected site and turned it into a big open dumping yard. Within a couple of years, the life of the locals residing very near to this illegally created dumping site became a hell as every day they faced foul smell, flies, mosquitoes.

The nearest house is located merely at a distance of 30 meters while the Sirsa river floodplain is not far at about 100 meters from the dumping site. The locals, supported by an environmental group Himdhara Collective, approached the local civic body and the district administration several times with their grievance. None of the two disappointed the locals and, as usual, didn’t move a muscle.

About 1200 villagers wrote to the President of India after they were disappointed by their own government. 

The State Pollution Control Board confined itself to issuing repeated notices to the local bodies to solve the grievance of the locals. While the MC and BBNDA didn’t care about these notices, the HP PCB did not proceed to take proper action.

Very recently, the matter reached the State High Court pleading for justice.

In the interregnum, we direct that no garbage shall be dumped into the land owned by the present petitioner or dumped at any other site, save and except, in accordance with law. We further direct the Senior Environmental Engineer of respondent No.3 to visit the site and after inspecting the same, submit his report with regard to the compliance of the statutory provisions,

a bench of then Acting Chief Justice Sanjay Karol and Justice Ajay Mohan Goyal had said in its order passsed on October 4, 2018.

However, both responsible bodies violated these orders as well and continued to dump garbage at the same site. The villagers captured videos of the same and wrote an application to the Superintendent of Police, Solan. The SP was informed regarding the violations of the court orders.

Letter to the SP Solan by Kenduwal petitioner

Letter written by villagers to SP Solan

The Court directed the Senior Environmental Engineer of the HP PCB to file a status report regarding this matter within four weeks

As per the report of the Chief Engineer dated October 15, 2018, the MC, Baddi and BBND hardly collect 30-40 percent of total solid waste generated, which is about 50 tons per day in this case. The collected waste is dumped at Kenduwal while remaining can be found scattered near the BBN area.

HP PCB has repeatedly directed the Municipal Council and BBNDA to dispose of the waste in a scientific manner in accordance with the provision of SWR,

2016, the report submitted to the court said.

The Municipal Solid waste is being collected unsegregated and transported to MSW site at Kenduwal where it is being dumped unscientifically. Most of the time it remains exposed in an open atmosphere and sometimes covered with soil layer, which is a breeding place for flies, mosquitoes, rats etc. The nearest human habitation is a house located at about 30 meters from the boundary of the dumping site, whereas the flood plain of river Sirsa is about 100 meters away from the site,

the report said.

The court concluded that despite having a clearance for the proposed facility to dispose of this waste scientifically, the MC and BBNDA failed to perform their duties.

We have gone through the contents of the report and are satisfied that prima facie, Municipal Council, Baddi, as well as Baddi-Barotiwala-Nalagarh Development Authority (BBNDA), have failed to perform their duties towards collection of solid waste and its dumping in a scientific manner at the MSW disposal site at Kenduwal, for which requisite clearance has been already granted by the Ministry of Environment and Forests,

a Bench of Chief Justice Surya Kant and Justice Ajay Mohan Goel directed the MC and BBNDA.

The court also directed the local agencies to take immediate action on the report of the Senior Environmental Engineer.

We direct both the aforesaid Agencies to immediately act upon the report of the Senior Environmental Engineer and submit their respective compliance reports within four weeks. Any delay or defiance will be viewed seriously,

the court directed the MC and BBNDA.

However, the entire waste at the dumping site is being buried under mud and soil.

MC Baddi/BBDNA may be asked to transport the waste as per the past practice of disposing the waste to the Jaypee Plant in Sector 25 of Chandigarh or to Mars Envirotech Ltd. Lalroo (Dera Basssi), Punjab or setting up of ward level compositing/shredding machines till the erection, commissioning and time-bound setting up of Solid Waste Management facility at Kenduwal Baddi, for the cluster of Baddi-Barotiwala-Nalagarh area,

the report submitted to the court said.

According to the 2011 Census, the total pollutions of the Baddi MC and BBNDA area were 29911 and 29293 respectively while the total amount of waste generated per day was 25.50 tons and 20.30 tons respectively. The number of migrant labourers or workers from other states was not included in this Census. The populations in both the areas have increased by 2018, which implies growth in a waste generation too. But the responsible government bodies, as well as the district administration, are completely blank when it comes to the chapter on waste management. The Solid Waste Rules, 2016, do exist but only in papers.

The report of the PCB Environmental Engineer aptly proves it.

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Baddi MC and BBNDA first create illegal dumping site, now trying to cover it with mud

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Baddi MC Dumping Site

Solan: The State Government had been bragging about environmental conservation in announcements and speeches. In papers, the status of waste management has improved during the first year of the new Government. The Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur says his government is committed to promoting Swachh Bharat campaign as it is the flagship initiative of the current government.

However, on the ground level, the insensitivity and indifference of the government towards environmental protection is only growing. More startling is the way in which the State Pollution Control Board (PCB) and district administrations respond to public complaints regarding illegal dumping of waste.

Rather, the government bodies are violating laws to create illegal dumping sites.

Related Story: Baddi MC turns site of Rs 9.7 crores proposed Waste Management Facility into illegal dumpyard

For the last two years the Municipal Council, Baddi, and BBNDA have openly been dumping municipal waste of Baddi town in Kenduwal village which has become a potential health hazard and nuisance for the residents of nearby villages. Since the last four months, the villagers, distraught by the illegal dump, have been petitioning several authorities to stop the dumping.

Now, the BBNDA, instead of cleaning up and ensuring scientific disposal of the garbage, is covering the illegal dump yard with mud and soil. JCB machines are simply grabbing mud/soil from nearby and throwing it on the dumped waste with an intention to bury it.

Last week we met with the BBNDA officials and asked them to stop putting the garbage there. Not only are they continuing to dump the garbage but also put piles of mud to cover the stinking heaps of garbage during the last five days. We are being told that the area will now be turned into a shed and our problem will be solved

said Ghulam Nabi a resident of Kenduwal in front of whose home the piles of garbage has come up.

It needs to be noted that the BBNDA had proposed an Rs.9.7 crore Integrated Solid Waste Management facility in the area in 2012 and obtained a clearance for the same in 2015. But for the last three years, it made no move to set up the plant and was dumping in violation of the Solid Waste Management guidelines 2016 as well as the environment clearance conditions.

Related Story: Families living in inhuman, hazardous conditions due to Baddi MC’s dumping ground

On August 12 and 13, the Sirsa River flooded and the dumping site, which is adjacent to the river became waterlogged making the rotting garbage stink badly. The boundary wall was then broken to release the water from the dumping site and the contaminated water eventually made its way into the Sirsa River.

Now they are just burying the garbage and the leachate will contaminate the groundwater too

, said Ramanathan of Himdhara Collective a watchdog group that monitors environmental issues in Himachal.

The State PCB has sent about five notices to the Baddi MC, which were not entertained at all. Despite that, the PCB never proceeded to take action and continue to supply notices.

Through an RTI application we have learned that the Regional Office of PCB in Baddi has served five show cause notices to the Municipal Council in this regards but no further actions were taken,

he added

The BBNDA, in a statement in a newspaper on September 19, has claimed that it has finally identified the firm from Ludhiana for setting up the Solid Waste Management facility.

If they have identified a company to set up the disposal plant why did they cover up the garbage, rather than letting the company take care of it. This is not a solution and neither is it in compliance with the guidelines of solid waste management,

said Ramanathan.

While BBNDA has gone into damage control mode, it still seems least concerned about the laws or the demands of the people.

Our demand is clear, we want this nuisance removed and a proper waste management plant should be set up in an appropriate location. Not near the river or in front of people’s homes,

added Nabi

The Solid Waste Management Rules have clear criteria regarding the selection of a site for waste management plants and landfills, which cannot be on floodplains or near habitations.

Municipal Solid waste has become a serious nuisance across the state of Himachal and a National Green Tribunal appointed committee has recently asked all states to formulate their waste management plans in compliance with SWM rules within a month,

said Manshi Asher of Himdhara Collective.

Long-term solution of solid waste requires an integrated approach involving resident welfare associations of municipal areas, waste pickers and municipal bodies. Decentralised segregation and disposal at source would help to reduce the quantum of waste,

Asher added.

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After NGT orders, Govt forms Special Task Force to check pollution in Ghaggar tributaries

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stf for ghaggar river pollution

Shimla: Bound by the orders passed by the National Green Tribunal on August 7, 2018, the Himachal Pradesh Government has constituted Special Task Forces (STFs) at the state and district levels to check discharge of effluents in into the tributaries of river Ghaggar.

The National Green Tribunal, in its order, had directed the chief secretaries of Haryana, Punjab, Himachal Pradesh and Chandigarh to form STFs to deal with the pollution in the said river within a month.

It’s pertinent to mention that the neighbouring States have been blaming unlawful discharges of effluents from the industries established in Kala Amb into Markanda river. The pollution in the tributaries is reaching alarming levels. The court had to take Suo motu cognizance in the matter and pass orders to the state governments.

The NGT had also given directions regarding the officials to be included into these STFs. The will of the government in this entire process was completely missing.

The District level STF will identify the persons responsible for discharging of industrial and municipal effluents causing water pollution in river Ghaggar and its tributaries and will submit a monthly action taken the report to the State level STF, the government informed.

It said the State level STF will furnish a quarterly report or an action taken report to the Central Pollution Control Board. These reports will be uploaded on the websites of the State PCB as well as the Department of Environment, Science and Technology.

The state-level special task will include the Chief Secretary, Additional Chief Secretary (Environment, Science and Technology), Additional Chief Secretary (Urban Development), Member Secretary, H.P. state pollution control board as the Member Secretary of the State Level STF.

The officers in the district Level Special Task Force for Solan and Sirmour will include concerned Deputy Commissioners, the nominee of the concerned district and Session Judge, concerned Superintendent of Police, executive officer of the local bodies of concerned district, Regional officer, State Pollution Control Board of the concerned district.

Ghaggar river originates from the Shivalik Hills and passes through Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan before entering Pakistan.

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