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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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After 15 Years of Passing of Forest Rights Act, Implementation in Himachal Still in Doldrums, Jeopardizing Ecological Conservation

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Forest rights fight in himachal pradesh

Shimla-‘Planting a tree to celebrate World Environment Day has been reduced to a symbolic tradition. But is this enough for the conservation of our ecology? The efficacy and use of plantation drives are being questioned all across the world today. These drives, especially when conducted by the government tend to be a wastage of resources due to poor survival rates, said environmental and community groups in Himachal Pradesh in a joint statement released recently on World Environment Day.

Further, trees are just one part of our ecosystem which comprises soil, grasslands, scrubs, wetlands, wildlife and even human beings, the statement said.  

In India, especially in the Himalayas communities have co-existed with nature since times immemorial – dependent on it for day-to-day life and livelihoods, the groups said. Because of this connection between forests and local livelihoods and culture-communities across the landscape fought to protect the ecosystems they inhabit from destruction – be it the Chipko movement in Uttarakhand 50 years ago or the recent struggles in the tribal district of Kinnaur to highlight the ill-effects of dams and hydropower projects – indigenous and forest-dependent people have protected forest resources, they said.

“It is unfortunate then that these historical custodians of forests were labelled ‘encroachers’ and ‘thieves’ as their livelihoods were displaced from forests sometimes to build dams, highways and cities and at other times in the name of conservation were restricted from using the forests citing forest laws,” the statement said.

The groups said this has happened in Himachal too, where communities like pastoralists and farmers are slowly getting alienated from the forests. This jeopardizes their capacity to protect the forests too – whether from natural calamities like fires or indiscriminate felling. 

Forest revival and afforestation programs, it is understood the world over, are only successful when local communities are made in charge and are given full access to use the forest and make decisions about its management.

“We have examples of community forest management like Gramya Jungles of Orissa and Van Panchayats of Uttarakhand. This became part of the Forest Policy in 1988 which is why programs like Joint Forest Management were planned for participatory governance of forests. However, in these too the forest department retained their control and communities were used as labour to plant trees,” the groups highlighted.

Based on these experiences and the repeated evictions of forest-dependent people from their rightful use it became apparent that there was a need for a law that recognised the community’s right to both use and protect/ govern the forest, they said.

It was after years of struggle that the Forest Rights Act 2006 was passed by the parliament of India. The Act recognises individual and community rights over any kind of forest lands for those dependent on these for their bonafide livelihood needs before 13th December 2005. The act also recognises development rights and community management rights. Himachal, where 2/3rd of the landscape is legally classified as ‘forest’ – there is a tremendous need and potential to implement this law to secure the land and livelihood rights of people on forest lands be they for fuelwood, fodder, pastures as well as farming and shelter. 

The statement said today it has been 15 years since the passing of FRA but in Himachal, its implementation is in the doldrums.

“While 20 lakh forest rights claims have been accepted all across the country in Himachal only 164 claims have been recognised whereas 2700 are pending with the administration at various levels. The key reasons for the poor implementation include – lack of political will, misinformation about the act amongst the line officials, distrust of the people leading to non-filing of claims and inadequate awareness amongst common people,” the statement said.

It further said that, ironically, the state government has shown great enthusiasm in using this act to grant forest land for village development activities, the rest of the rights namely individual and community forest use and management rights are languishing due to state negligence and actively blocking the granting of these rights. 

The groups further highlighted that in the last 5 years, community voices from Kangra, Chamba, Kinnaur, Lahaul-Spiti, Sirmaur and Mandi have been raising the demand for the implementation of this law in the state.  It was after this that the state government was forced to announce that it would implement the Forest Rights Act in a mission mode in the state in 2018. The tribal department also worked on training and making educational material on the act. However, these are yet to be properly distributed at the village level.

The joint statement further added that in March 2020 post the pandemic led lockdown the FRA implementation process received a setback. Even as gram sabha meetings and FRC processes came to a grinding halt the economy too got hit. During this time, it became evident more than ever that it is the land and forest-based livelihoods that are available to rural communities to fall back on for survival. 

“Whereas the Government should be focused on strengthening land and nature-based livelihoods for the local communities. However, the focus of the state remains on pushing destructive commercial ventures in ecologically fragile areas and valuable farmlands of the state,” the groups said.  

The coronavirus has taught the world what the climate crisis had already indicated – that we will continue to be victims of such crisis as long as the ecological destruction continues unabated, the statement said.

“This calls for a change in the model of ‘development’ which prioritises the basic needs and services rather than run blindly after economic growth which is meant to profit companies and contractors”, the groups said.

The statement also said that it is the communities who will now have to believe in their own capacity to manage lives and resources and also call the government to account if our natural resources have to be protected for future generations. 

Signatories

  • Ajay Kumar, Sanjay Kumar, Advocate Dinesh, Bhoomiheen Bhoomi Adhikar Manch, Himachal
  • Birbal Chaurhan, Shamlat Sangharsh Samiti, Sirmaur
  • Gulab Singh and Dhaniram Shamra, Sirmaur Van Adhikar Manch
  • Joginder Walia Balh Ghaati Kisaan Sangharsh Samiti, Mandi
  • Jiya Negi, Van Adhikar Samiti, Kinnaur
  • Kulbhushan Upmanyu, Himalaya Bachao Samiti, Chamba
  • Lal Hussain, Ghumantu Pashupalak Mahasabha, Chamba
  • Meera Devi, Nekram,Shyam Singh Chauhan, Paryavaran evam Gram Vikas Samiti, Karsog, Mandi
  • Himshi Singh and Prakash Bhandari, Himdhara Environment Research and Action Collective
  • Prem Katoch and Kesang Thakur, Save Lahaul Spiti, Lahaul
  • Tenzin Takpa and Sonam Targey, Spiti Civil Society, Spiti  

Image by OpenClipart-Vectors from Pixabay

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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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