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Ailing man allegedly dies few hours after forceful eviction by HP Forest Dept  

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HP Forest land encroachment row

Kundan was ill and lying on his bed and his thumbprint was taken on the papers forcefully. Within hours of the incident, Kundan passed away.

Shimla: Shattered after orders of eviction and felling of apple trees, on January 3, 2018, a retired caption of Indian Army, L.R. Chauhan of Tikkar of Rohru region in Shimla district, committed suicide by consuming a pesticide.

He was given 11 bighas of land in Tikkar as ‘nautod’ in 1971. However, the administration first shifted him to a another piece of land without completing all mandatory document work. He couldn’t prove he owned the land.

In a latest incident, a group of activists, the Himachal Van Adhikar Manch (HVAM), fighting for the implementation of the Forest Rights Act 2006 in the Hill State, alleged that a Dalit man, Kundan Singh, of Salamatpur, Paonta Sahib, Sirmaur district, succumbed to his illness after his family was forcibly thrown out of their home and land by the forest department.

The eviction took place on December 27, 2017, when the forest officials came to remove the dwelling by force. Kundan was ill and lying on his bed and his thumbprint was taken on the papers by force. Within hours of the incident, Kundan passed away.

According to  Kundan’s widow Darshini Devi, they had been living in the village for past several decades. The common village land on which the family was living was given to  Kundan after passing a common resolution.  As Kundan belonged to Dalit community (Schedule Caste) and used to tan the skin of the dead cattle, the villagers found him useful. His family was living a life of hand to mouth, and family used to cultivate some of the land around its dwelling for subsistence.

The ongoing ‘apple tree massacre’ has now become a matter of life and death for the poor or those settled on the forest lands for over three decades or more.

Kundan was given a notice regarding the encroachment in 2015, but, according to his son, he was never given a chance to be heard at the Divisional Forest Office where the case was lodged.

Shockingly,  the DFO who had issued the notice is himself a member of the District Level Committee constituted under the Forest Rights Act 2006. The DFO could have given Kundan a chance to place his claim under the FRA Act 2006 – a legislation precisely passed to protect vulnerable and marginalised sections of the society/communities dependent on ‘forest land’ for dwelling, agriculture and other common uses, said the HVAM.

The very purpose of the act was to undo the historical injustice which the poorest section of Indian populace has faced for the last hundreds of years by being labelled as ‘encroachers’.

As per the ‘HVAM’, there are more such incidents where Dalit families settled in common or private villages lands in the area are being removed.

This disastrous act came after the State High Court cracked the whip against the lackadaisical HP Government over encroachment of the forest land. The district administrations are blindly felling thousands of apple trees and evicting all dwellings. As per the court, it is being done to free the forest land from encroachers.

However, it’s implementation without giving any thought to the Forest Rights Act 2006 is proving to be an undemocratic blunder in several cases. The communities living and dependent on the forest resources are being denied their rights.

The illegal manner in which many vulnerable communities are being evicted from their lands by labelling them as ‘encroachers’ is highly condemnable, said the HVAM.

It further added that the forest and revenue departments are filing cases of encroachment against Dalit and other landless communities under the HP Public Premises & Land (Eviction & Rent Recovery) Act, 1971 and section 163 of HP Land Revenue Act 1954. The felling of full-grown apple trees and evacuation are being carried out under the garb of the order passed by the High Court in April 2015 regarding the removal of encroachments.

As per the HVAM, the Public Premises Act concentrates too much power in the hands of the DFO, who is the complainant, collector and prosecutor – all three under the legislation.

However, it is important to note that the Premises and Land Revenue Acts are State legislation. Therefore, the Central legislation like the Forest Rights Act 2006 can override it, the HVAM emphasized.

This is a gross negligence on the part of the forest administration and also a violation of section 3(g) of the Scheduled Tribes and Castes (Prevention of Atrocities) Amendment Act 2015, asserted the HVAM.

The administration had a choice to use a pro-people legislation in favour of a poor Dalit family. However, instead of the ethically and constitutionally correct move, it chose to act in a draconian manner despite the provision of progressive laws like the FRA Act 2006. The action only aggravated agony of Kundan and his family as its struggle for survival.

The HVAM insists that the State Government needs to take immediate action against the responsible official under the provisions of the Atrocities Act and provide relief to Kundan’s family. The government must ensure no blunders of a similar kind are repeated. The rights of the forest-dwelling communities, especially Dalits, under available laws like FRA, must be protected, said the HVAM.

Misc News/Press Release

Accused arrested in Kotkhai Gudiya case sent to 14-day judicial custody

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Kotkhai Gudiya case update

Shimla: While all eyes will be on the status report to be submitted in the Himachal Pradesh High Court in Gudiya gangrape and murder case, the only accused arrested by the Central Bureau of Investigation on April 13, 2018, was produced in a special court in Shimla. The accused was sent to a 14-day judicial custody.

Officially, the sleuths have not revealed the identity of the arrested accused and are maintained a distance from all media person. The face of the accused covered while he was brought to the special court today morning.

However, media reports are identifying the accused a Neelu of Mandi district.

The agency is also supposed to file a status report in the state High Court during this afternoon. The people are expecting the agency to make identity and findings of the probe public.

They could face disappointment as the agency has made only one arrest in the case. The arrested accused is being speculated to be a woodcutter.

The people do have hope to get justice for Gudiya, they are equally sceptic about the arrest in the absence of any clear clue about the story of Gudiya.

It is pertinent to mention that the High Court in this March had expressed extreme disappointment with the CBI’s pace of investigation and had directed the CBI Chief to be personally present in the court during the next hearing.

However, right after the hearing, the CBI had suddenly announced that it has got its hands on a strong forensic evidence against the real culprits.

Prior to it, the CBI was empty-handed and had even announced a reward of Rs. 10 lakh to anyone who provides it with any substantial clue about the culprits.

After about 10 months of investigation, the agency had in March claimed that it will expose the accused by April 25, which is today.

 

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Misc News/Press Release

Arrested accused in Kotkhai Gudiya case confesses crime: Reports

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Kotkhai accused confession

Shimla: The police in Kotkhai region of Shimla district of the peaceful Hill State is on high alert as the Central Bureau of Investigation brought the lone accused arrested in alleged case of the murder of a 16-year-old girl after a gangrape back to Shimla on Sunday.

The agency has cracked the case and the accused has confessed his crime if the reports of CBI sources and media are to be believed.

The lone accused arrested by the CBI on April 14, 2018, was taken to the agency headquarters in New Delhi for further investigation.

On Sunday, he was brought back to Shimla for the re-creation of the crime scene based on the statement given by the accused. However, the identity of the accused remains unconfirmed because CBI has been maintaining distance from media.

The accused was on Monday morning was taken to the crime spot in the Halaila forests of Kotkhai Tehsil.

A large crowd gathered to see the accused, however, as per a Hindi Daily, they were disappointed as he was reportedly wearing a helmet as a part of the agency’s measures to keep the identity concealed.

A national news channel, however, claimed that the name of the accused is Neelu and he is a lumberjack.

The round of speculations regarding the identity is likely to continue until April 25 – the next date of the hearing in the State High Court.

The agency had earlier assured the court that it would reveal the real culprits in the upcoming hearing. The agency has not made any other arrest so far while the date of hearing is just two days away.

However, sceptic minds are trying to add up the numbers. It is hard to believe that a lumberjack alone could send the entire Special Investigation Team of the HP Police to jail and fool the premier investigation agency of India.  

Therefore, more arrests are expected to be made during the next few days. 

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ECO-Tourism

Himachal seeks Rs. 300 crore from Centre to promote religious tourism circuit and eco-adventure tourism

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Religious Tourism in Himachal PRadesh

Shimla: The Himachal Pradesh Government has urged the Union Minister for Tourism, K.J. Alphons to sanction three schemes worth Rs. 300 crore to promote religious tourism circuit and eco-adventure tourism in the state.

The Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur, during a meeting in New Delhi, apprised the Minister that Himachal was also a major centre of religious tourism and religious tourism circuits will be developed here to provide devotees more facilities.

The Chief Minister also invited Union Minister to Himachal and said that he himself will take him to the tourist destinations of the State. K.J. Alphons whole-heartedly accepted the invitation.

Chief Minister also urged the Centre to provide funds generously for widespread publicity of tourism sites in the state.

The Union Minister of State for Tourism assured the Chief Minister that the Union Government will extend all possible support to this hill state for exploitation and expansion of its tourism potential.

The Chief Minister said that the focus should be on tourism in the state, which was not given before. However, now the state government is giving special emphasis to strengthening infrastructure in virgin natural places, he said.

Himachal has immense potential for adventure tourism and adventure sports like mountaineering, biking, river rafting, and paragliding and the state is considered as a paradise for these adventure sports.

However, it is true that the governments have done very little to polish and maintain the tourism sector.

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