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Did HP Govt finish Dharamshala’s ‘Core Area’ to facilitate illegal construction?

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Dharamshala illegal construction in core area

Dharamshala: One by one, every popular town of Himachal Pradesh is nearing irreparable environmental damage along with adoption of an ugly look due to haphazard and even illegal constructions without facing any resistance from the past or current State Government and local authorities.

After Shimla, Dharamshala is one of the worst victims of lawlessness.

A large number of multistory buildings, including those having as many as seven storeys, mushroomed in the Core Area of Mcleodganj by violating a number of Municipalities, Town and Country Planning, and Environmental laws. Everything happened under the nose of those government officials who were being paid to monitor illegal activities.

The core area was spread from the main crossing to the Dalai Lama temple.

As a shocker, one of such buildings was allegedly raised in front of the office of the Dharamshala MC by one of its own officials.

Meanwhile, in 2005, one Ghazala Abdullah approached the State High Court to bring the ongoing destruction of the internationally acclaimed tourist destination – Dharamshala – to its notice.

A bench of then-Chief Justice Mansoor Ahmad Mir and Justice Tarklok Chauhan had begun the hearings in the petition and passed some strict orders to prohibit further construction activities in the planning area.

The court had also ordered to disconnect water and electricity connections to such structure that stand in violation of the laws. Surprisingly, the departmental support reportedly continued to these violators. Alongside the hearing, illegal activities also continued. Therefore, in 2018, a Bench of Acting Chief Justice Sanjay Karol and Justice Ajay Mohan Goel had to appoint advocate Deven Khanna as the local commissioner as the trust on government machinery was lost.

Prior to it, by the end of 2017, the Town and Country Planning appears to have tried a master-stroke to facilitate illegal construction.

Rajeshwar Goel, Director, Town and Country Planning, had told the court that the development plan for Dharamshala Planning Area was changed and was later notified on January 27, 2018. It made changes to the previous development plan notified on June 15, 1994. The “Core Area” in the previous plan was re-notified as “Mixed Land Use Area”.

At that time, Minister for Urban Development was Sudhir Sharma. 

It would not help to legalise previous structures raised by violating laws but has opened the door for new ones.  Further, the old buildings could be demolished and new ones can be raised at their places. 

The purpose of declaring the area as the Core Area was to protect degradation and natural disasters due to excess of construction. The aim was to keep such activities to minimal.

The TCP had reasoned that no heritage or other such old properties remain in the Core Area so the status was changed, which do not sound a wise decision at all because area falls under high seismic zone v/vi. On the top of that, rampant illegal felling of and damage to trees were also reported.

But to the demise of the State Government, now, the Bench found it fishy, therefore, directed the Principal Secretary, Town and Country Planning, to explain the reasons and circumstances, which led to such change in the rules. The said official is expected to file an affidavit regarding the same by the next hearing scheduled for July 30.

We notice that under the new development plan, certain areas which were defined as “Core Area” stand re-notified as “Mixed Land Use Area,”

the court observed on July 6, 2018.

He shall explain as to whether at the time of taking such decision, the factum of Dharamshala (District Kangra) being prone to earthquake, falling within high seismic zone v/vi, was considered or not. Let such affidavit be filed within a period of two weeks,

the court said.

It’s pertinent to mention that if the court had not appointed amicus curiae and local commissioner, only lies would have reached the court and the government officials would have portrait the situation to be perfectly fine.

The local commissioner Deven who was direct to visit the area physically exposed alleged lies of the officials of the Municipal Corporation, Town and Country Planning, Mining Department etc.

Also Read: Shocking video/photos expose Govt Officer’s lies about illegal slate mining in Dharamshala

Further, if such state of non-governance and lawlessness continued, Himachal’s town would become one of the worst examples of poor planning. Shimla’s Core Area could be the next victim. After all, the government would only need to temper with existing laws.

Sadly, things do not seem to be changing even with the change in the government. 

It is to be seen whether the TCP Director could justify this decision in his personal affidavit to be filed in the court before July 30.

Madan has studied English Literature and Journalism from HP University and lives in Shimla. He is an amateur photographer and has been writing on topics ranging from environmental, socio-economic, development programs, education, eco-tourism, eco-friendly lifestyle and to green technologies for over 9 years now. He has an inclination for all things green, wonderful and loves to live in solitude. When not writing, he can be seen wandering, trying to capture the world around him in his DSLR lens.

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Himachal Govt Fails on Promises Made to Pulwama Martyr’s Family

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Himachal Pradesh's Martyr Tilak raj

Shimla– On this day, last year, India was shaken by one of the deadliest terrorist attacks. On February 14, 2019, a terrorist rammed a car loaded with over 300 kgs of explosives (IED and RDX) into one of the 78 buses carrying about 2500 jawans of Central Reserve Police Force on the Srinagar-Jammu national highway in South Kashmir’s Pulwama district.

In this deadly attack, 44 CRPF jawans were martyred and several others injured.

Entire India stood in solidarity with the families of the martyred and protests erupted across the nation. While the people sought justice for families of martyrs, the Centre government made a lot of promises to the families of the martyrs followed by Balakot Airstrike in the wee hours of February 26. The Indian government claimed that hundreds of terrorists were killed in the attack. Thought, this claim remained unconfirmed and in question. However, the people found some solace in the fact that Indian Army Forces had avenged the martyrs.

Thereafter, the sentiments of the people associated with the Indian armed forces were exploited by the ruling party led by Prime Minister Narender Modi in every possible way to win the Lok Sabha Elections in 2019. Every issue was swept aside under the landslide of nationalistic sentiment. The ruling government fought 2019 Lok Sabha Elections by seeking votes in the name of the brave jawans of Indian Armed Forces who laid their lives to protect the country from external enemies, terrorists. While the bravery and capabilities of Indian Armed Forces never remained in question, the political exploitation by politicians to win elections is in fact unacceptable.

At the same time, state governments in BJP ruled states are in question over unfulfilled promises made to the families of these martyrs.

Tilak Raj, a resident of Kangra district, Himachal Pradesh was one of the martyrs in Pulwama.  He is survived by his wife, a 3-year-old son and a 22-day-old newborn.

He was cremated with state honour in his native village Dhewa in Nauna panchayat of Jawali region.

The State Government had announced financial assistance of Rs. 20 lakh to the kin of the martyr. Chief Minister Jairam Thakur had assured that State would provide government employment to the wife of the martyr. In addition, promises were made to provide pension to parents and construct a playground, roads, gate, cremation ground etc., in the martyr’s village.

The family did receive financial aid of announced Rs 20 lakh but none of the other promises were kept. Some members of a student organization- Student Federation of India- on February 13 paid a visit to the house of the martyr Tilak and talked to his father (video). These members included Amit Thakur, Saurabh Kaundal, and Aman Avasthi.

The student organization condemned the Bharatiya Janata Party ruled governments in states where the families have not received what was promised to them a year ago, not even the announced amount of compensation. The martyred CRPF jawans in Kerala, Andra Pradesh, and Delhi have already received Rs. 1 crore as a relief. However, other BJP-ruled states have still not fulfilled their promises made to the families of the martyred CRPF jawans, the student organization said.

The organization alleged the ruling BJP of politicizing the sacrifice of such martyrs and Indian Armed forces for its personal gains. The organization also said that the effect of economic slowdown on Armed Forces is evident from the fact there has been a delay in payment of various allowances to jawans for February month. It’s the second occasion when payment of allowances to the jawans of para-military forces has been put on hold.

The organization has termed this indifference as an insult to the martyrs. The organization demanded a judicial inquiry in the Pulwama attack, status of a martyr for the jawans of CRPF who lay their lives while performing their duty, and the facility of pension. Further, the organization has demanded that promises made to the families of these martyrs should be fulfilled.

Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad also paid homage to Pulwama attack martyrs in an event organized at the campus of Himachal Pradesh University in Shimla. ABVP also demanded an inquiry into the attack to find out how 300 kgs of explosive could reach the convey of the buses carrying CRPF jawans.

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Environment

SC’s Forest Diversion Regulation a Blockade on Forest Rights Act Implementation in Himachal: Himdhara

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Supreme Court On Forest Diversion in Himachal Pradesh 2

ShimlaHimdhara Collective, a Himachal-based environment research and action group, has released a report on the implications of the regulation imposed by the Supreme Court on forest diversion under the Forest Rights Act 2006 in Himachal, through a series of orders passed last year. This brought to a screeching halt the implementation of Section 3(2) of the FRA which grants powers to gram sabhas and Divisional Forest Officers to divert upto 1 hectare of forest land for 13 types of village welfare activities like roads, schools, community centres, PDS shops etc. 

The court orders were based on the conclusions drawn by a Supreme Court Monitoring Committee, headed by a retired PCCF, V.P Mohan, that the diversions were leading to green felling and deforestation in the state. Initially, a stay was imposed on all green felling in the state (in a matter of forest diversions under FCA 1980 and FRA 2006) on 11th March 2019. This stay was partially relaxed but the Supreme court sought all FRA proposals to be brought before it for further diversion.

The report titled ‘Missing the forest for Trees’, assesses the ground reality behind the conclusions drawn by the Supreme Court Monitoring Committee based on which these diversions have been restricted.

“We have found that the Supreme court’s orders need to be reviewed because the alarm raised by the V.P Mohan committee with regard to FRA was a false one”,

stated authors of the report which is based on analysis of RTI information as well as field research.

RTI data sought from the Forest department for all cases under section 3(2) of the Forest Rights Act 2006 from 2014 to 2019 (up to January 2019), was analysed to reveal that 17237 trees were felled in an area of 887.56 hectares for 1959 activities in 41 of the 45 forest divisions of the state.

Roads, followed by schools and community centres dominate the type of activities carried out. Of the total land diverted 91% is for roads. It was found that almost 64% of these diversions showed ‘nil’ trees felled. The average number of trees felled per hectare is very low (19.52) and it may be induced that most activities have been carried out in areas with open forest or no trees.

Rohru (Shimla), Nachan(Mandi), Kinnaur and Chopal were some of the divisions which had a large number of diversions, again mostly for roads.

Case studies we carried out in Mandi and Kangra district showed the desperate need for amenities like village link roads and schools. In Himachal, there remain about 41% villages that have no road connectivity which affects access to health, education and market centres.

On the other hand, large development activities like four lane highways, hydropower projects and transmission lines, have had a much larger ecological footprint in terms of tree loss in the state compared to the very minute, incomparable diversions under FRA.

The report also finds that as far as green cover is concerned in the period corresponding to the high number of forest diversions under FRA (2015-2019), the forest survey of India’s statistics show a 333 sq.km increase in the forest cover.

Why development rights under FRA important for Himachal?

1.No Land available with revenue departments and panchayats for ‘welfare activities’ thus forest land only option

The report concludes that given the fact that 2/3rd of the geographical area of the state is recorded ‘forest area’ where strict forest laws have restricted non-forest use, the FRA provides relief for communities to access basic welfare facilities, which should be seen as their fundamental right and therefore should not be hindered.

2.Cumbersome, costly and lengthy process under FCA 1980

Before FRA it was the Forest Conservation Act, 1980 which governed forest diversion even for small local development activities. This required not only permission from the Central Government (MoEFCC Regional or Delhi Office) but also warranted that user agencies deposit funds (Net Present Value of trees) to carry out Compensatory Afforestation. The whole diversion process under FCA was cumbersome, lengthy and costly, and thus a major hurdle in providing the rural areas, especially remote areas, access to basic welfare development facilities.

 “The section 3(2) of the FRA provides relief for both governmental departments and local communities as it overrides the FCA and puts in place a simple and decentralized process for diversion”states the report.

3.FRA is meant to correct the problems that were posed by strict central forest laws

The Forest Rights Act was passed by the parliament of India in 2006 recognising that across the country there are lakhs of communities dependent on land which is legally categorised as ‘forest land’ and are unable to exercise their basic livelihood and development rights due to extremely strict forest laws. Under this act’s Section 3(1), forest-dependent communities can file claims for their individual and community rights exercised before the cut-off date of 13th December 2005.

“As it is Himachal has been sluggish with FRA implementation and only 136 titles have been issued under section 3(1). But atleast the government was proactive with the implementation of section 3(2). With the Supreme court orders regulating this provision, there seems to be an impression amongst the implementing agencies and officials that there is an over-all blockade on FRA in the state”

added members of the collective.

The report has recommended that the state government and nodal agency for the Act – the Central Ministry of Tribal Affairs, put forth the case in favour of section 3(2) of the FRA strongly in front of the Supreme Court and also move swiftly to ensure implementation of all provisions of this law in Himachal.  

 

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“When Our Country is Burning in Silent Phase”

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Poem on Citizen Amendment Act by Bharat Bhushan Sharma shimla f

2020 is upon in a haste
When our country is
Burning in silent phase
Our doors are closed on
A religion, few nations chosen
And you and I stand without treason

Yes, on the road a few
At work some unable to chew
This unconstitutional view
Our country’s regime
Has thought and holds due
Basing someone’s identity
On his attire
How shrewd will we be
Dear sire

You have the golden number
But fret the day
When we stand a count
Not long will you have a sigh
You’ll be heading to the door neigh
Power is yours
But not your virtue
In the helm you are
Take control but sanely
And uplift our glorious country

Your deeds have put us in upheaval
Steady the ship ‘coz
We’r not going to be for long in slumber
We choose not to see
But our eyes don’t wear a veil
If you choose to fail
Us again in this run
We have certain chutzpah
And it’s not going to be fun

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