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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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Himachal: Report Forest Fires on Toll-Free Numbers 1077 and 1070

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helpline for Forest Fires in himachal pradesh

Shimla-Forest fire is a recurrent annual phenomenon in Himachal Pradesh and causes losses worth several crores every year. Dry spell and summers make forests, especially chir pine forests, highly vulnerable to forest fires. These forest fires not only damage the forest wealth but also hit wildlife and biodiversity in general. The forest department attributes most fires to human factors.

Like every year, the forest department has claimed that it is all geared up and ready to combat forest fires this year too. Principal Chief Conservator of Forests Dr. Savita on Monday held a virtual review meeting with Forest Circles on preparedness for forest fires in the state.

She said that the Forest department was well prepared to fight the forest fires and a rapid forest fire fighting force and rapid response teams had been set up at forest division and range levels.

“Approximately 40,000 man-days of fire watchers would be engaged by the department in addition to existing frontline staff for preventing and combating forest fires,” she said. The state disaster control room with toll-free number 1077 at the state level and 1070 at the district level were operational for reporting of the forest fire by the local community, she informed.

Dr. Savita said messages regarding forest fire had been shared with the members of the rapid forest fire fighting force, in which approximately 50,000 volunteers had already been registered. Awareness to the community was also conducted through Nukkar Nataks, songs, speeches and other activities at different locations in the state. Besides, a massive state-level awareness program was also conducted at 45 places from 10 to 17 March 2021

She said that the department had created forest fire lines and did control burning and also constructed water storage structures in the forest areas to combat forest fires. Additional multi-utility vehicles and water loaded tankers in 80 fire-sensitive ranges had been engaged for three months. She that matter regarding Standard Operating Systems (SOPs) for requisition of helicopter services for dousing the forest fires had been sent to the Government for approval. 

Feature Photo: Unsplash@Thematthoward

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Himachal Counts 108,578 Waterbirds of 96 Species This Year With Increase in Habitat

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Annual Bird Count in Himachal Pradesh 2021

Shimla-The habitat of migratory and resident water-birds in Himachal Pradesh has gradually improved, said Forest Minister Rakesh Pathania.

The annual water-bird count at Pong Dam Lake Wildlife Sanctuary was conducted in the first of February, 2021 and the exercise was conducted under restrained conditions due to the prevailing Avian Influenza outbreak in Pong Dam Lake as well as the COVID-19 Pandemic, he said.

The exercise was conducted by Wildlife wing of Himachal Pradesh by deploying 57 staff members in 26 sections of the sanctuary for counting the water-dependent birds.

Total 108,578 birds of 96 species were counted during this year. Out of the total number, 101,431 of 51 species are water-dependent migratory birds and 6,433 of 29 species are water-dependent resident birds. As many as 714 birds of 16 other species were also recorded. The total population of the flagship species, Bar-Headed Geese, is 40,570.

The other species which have higher population count during this year are Eurasian Coot (24,163), Northern Pintail (12,702), Common Teal (8,444), Little Cormorant (3,649), Great Cormorant (3,410), Grey Lag Goose (2,297), Northern Shoveler (2,275) and Common Pochard (2,138). The species which find noticeable mention are Red Necked Grebe, Great Bittern, Lesser White-Fronted Goose, Red Crested Pochard, Ferruginous Pochard, Pied Avocet, Northern Lapwing, Peregrine Falcon etc. During the counting exercise, one Bar-headed Goose and one Grey Lag Goose with collars were also spotted.

This year the Annual bird count exercise assumes significance, considering the Avian Influenza outbreak in the Wildlife Sanctuary. Further, the Minister expressed satisfaction over the timely and effective containment measures taken by Wildlife Wing to control and contain Avian Influenza outbreak in the Wildlife Sanctuary.

PCCF (Wildlife) Archana Sharma and CCF Wildlife (North) Dharamshala Upasana Patial also participated and supervised the Annual Water Bird Count.

The total population of birds, as well as number of species, counted this year are marginally less as compared to last year, probably due to the impact of Avian Influenza outbreak which was first reported on 28th December 2020.

Although the total population of water birds declined during the peak of the Avian Influenza outbreak, there is a gradual increase in the total population of birds, the Minister informed.

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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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