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Environment

Kangra mining mafia assault case: Police held back from taking action

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Mining mafia active in Indora region of Kangra district abducted Puran Chand of Mand-Myani, almost beat him to death with sticks and iron rods, and threw him near Nangal Boor bordering Punjab.

Shimla: Though the Chief Minister Jairam Thakur led Bhartiya Janata Party has been harping about the elimination of mining, forest, and drug mafia in Himachal Pradesh, but in speeches and media statements only.

In its media statements, the new government has taken expeditious action and is up in arms against the mafia, just like the previous government.

The mining mafia had only emboldened during the previous Congress-led government, and it continues to grow after the BJP romped into power in assembly elections held in November.

Now, the situation has become such that mafia has begun to abduct and assault villagers, who are daring to protest against the destruction of the rivulet. The police is yet again held back by the patrons of the mafia.

On January 30, the mining mafia active in Indora region of Kangra district abducted Puran Chand of Mand-Myani, almost beat him to death with sticks and iron rods, and threw him near Nangal Boor bordering Punjab.

He was first taken to the Civil Hospital in Pathankot, and then to Tanda Medical College, Kangra, in a critical condition.

After nine days of the attack, the culprits, identified as stone-crusher owners, are at large not because our police is incompetent, rather because our leaders and government have always been ceding the control to the mafia.

The cause of failure of police needs no explanation considering the fact that the police had filed a complaint against eight assaulters named by the victim. The Chief Minister had visited the victim and had assured him justice, which proved to be only a media statement so far.

Enraged over the inaction of the police, the people had gheraoed the police station, Indora on January 31. They demanded booking the culprits for an attempted murder (Section 307 IPC). The district administration failed to pacify the situation and had to face the wrath of people, who shouted anti-police slogans.

Isn’t it strange that despite the establishment of the Sub-divisional Magistrate (SDM) office in the region, illegal mining still goes on with no fear of the law?  

As per the allegations labelled by villagers,  the explanation of this inaction of the district administration and police lies in the fat monetary benefits offered by the stone crushers and miners.

This conflict between the common people and growing influence of the mafia is going on for years, but the situation worsened between 2014 to the current date.

As per the Kisan Sabha Unit of Kangra, Puran was playing a leading role in the protest against the illegal miners since 2014, which is why he was targeted to terrorize locals.

Now, the villagers are opposing the movement of tippers carrying mining material. In return, the stone crushers are also obstructing a small bridge to harass the villagers.

Along with the mafia,  the government seems to have lost the fear of law too, because the State High Court and the National Green Tribunal (NGT), in 2017, had made serious observations regarding the illegal mining and had imposed a complete ban on mining in tributaries of the Beas. 

Following the orders, the administration and the mining department registered several cases for a while but soon discontinued their surveillance due to reasons unknown.

The transfers of IPS Gaurav Singh from Baddi and Sanjeev Gandhi, former superintendent of police, Una, are sufficient to support the allegation of patronage to mafias by the government.

Gandhi had tightened the noose around the mining mafia by launching a special drive for this purpose. In March 2017, the police had even caught the offenders red-handed in Damtal region of the district and seized JCBs and vehicles found on the spot.

However, the amount of money and politicians or their relatives who are, directly or indirectly, involved in illegal mining, make the government agencies accede to mafia raj.      

In 2017, Gandhi was slapped three different transfer orders in just 17 days.

He went after the miners in the district who was supplying the illegally mined material to the neighbouring state of Punjab and registered 27 cases against illegal mining.

However, as a reward, his transfer order was issued in his absence within two days after the stone crusher owners and illegal miners exerted pressure on the BJP government.

Previously, during the Congress government, Gandhi, then posted as SP Kangra, had launched a similar drive against the mining mafia. He had registered 17 FIRs alongwith action against 950 violations in just seven months during his tenure in 2016-2017.

During that period, several machines and vehicles were seized by the authorities, which were later released unlawfully.  

The mining mafia in the district heaved a sigh of relief when the administration released impounded vehicles in a gross violation of rules and the NGT in its specific orders had directed the state agencies not to release such vehicles.  Sources said with the intervention of senior officers of the state government, these vehicles were released,

said a report published in the English daily.

He had even conducted a survey of stone crusher units set up near the Chakki rivulet, a tributary of Beas that marks the boundary between Himachal and Punjab, in the Nurpur and Indora jurisdiction.

Chakki rivulet in the subdivision bordering Punjab and Himachal Pradesh is a witness to the rampant and illegal mining that is threatening over 10 panchayats.  The people in the area are dependent on the Chakki water for irrigation.

Illegal and access mining with heavy machinery is turning the fertile fields into barren land. The mafia has destroyed local paths, water channels, and cremation ground, alleges the villagers.

The rivulet is marked by huge ditches as the mining mafia are not adhering to the rules and regulations for extraction of mining material. The government is bearing the huge loss of revenue as the mafia easily evades royalty and local taxes.

At that time, he was transferred to Una. Within four months, he was again transferred.

In 2016, the state High Court had also taken suo-motu- cognizance of the matter, and the Division Bench comprising Chief Justice Mansoor Ahmad Mir and Justice Sandeep Sharma had questioned the Congress government over regressive actions against honest officials.

Earlier, the Kisan Sabha’s protest had compelled the authorities to visit the mining spots, and they had admitted that illegal mining activity was prevalent in the area. The inspection team had found that the miners had excavated upto a depth of about 40 feet. Despite that, no action was ever taken against the culprits, alleged the Kisan Sabha.

The Sabha has expressed doubts over the intentions of the new government as no action is being taken against the perpetrator. The Sabha has also threatened the government that it will launch a massive protest against it if appropriate action is not taken against the assaulters and other stone crushers and mining mafia active in the region illegally.  

As the government, which has failed to keep the mining mafia at the bay, has recently asked Punjab for demarcation of its boundary. The unclear boundary line makes it easier for miners from Punjab to intrude into Himachal.

In a report published in another English daily, the police officials in Kangra had admitted that when they chase mafia, the Punjab police raise the issue of jurisdiction.

A similar attempt was made during 2015 to take up the matter with Pathankot counterparts seeking demarcation of the boundary along the Chakki Khud.

By delaying the right action, the government is not only condoning the offenders, but also ignoring the gravity of the environmental debacle that the excess, unscientific, and illegal mining is causing.

Environment

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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Environment

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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