Elderly Woman in Mandi Dies due to Bureaucratic Apathy and Intimidation: Fact-Finding Report
Mandi-The Forest Department, Himachal Pradesh, has been alleged of grave apathy and discrimination due to which an elderly lady died of a heart attack in Mandi district in July. It was alleged in the report of a fact-finding committee that was submitted to the Deputy Commissioner, Mandi, Rugved Milind Thakur on October 15, 2019. Not only the district administration, but the state government has also been alleged of showing apathy toward the victim and selective targeting of marginalized communities such as women, landless, Scheduled Caste, Pastoral and other marginalized communities while evictions from forest lands.
The committee comprised of public representatives and civil society groups, who were investigating the case of the deceased lady.
Members of this fact-finding team included Vimla Vishwapremi, State Convener, Mountain Women Rights Forum, Savitri Devi, Zila Parishad Member, Majhwaad Ward, KhemDaasi, Member State Women Welfare Board, Manju Devi, Member, Sub-divisional Level Committee on Forest Rights Act, Gohar, Mandi, Aditi, Himdhara Environment Research and Action Collective, B.R Bhatia, State Secretary People’s Campaign for Socio-Economic Equity and Independent journalist, D.R. Koundal, Journalist, Dainik Bhaskar & Social Worker, Bhagat Ram, Block Convener People’s Campaign for Socio-Economic Equity, Sukhdev Vishwapremi, Convener, People’s Campaign for Socio-Economic Equity.
As per the report submitted to the DC, on July 26, 52 year old healthy and active Dama Devi, a resident of Village Daangel (Tehsil Chachyot) in Mandi District, died of a sudden heart attack when six officials of the Forest Department, without issuing any prior notice, arrived on the land she had been cultivating for generations and intimidatingly started questioning her about her “occupation” on forest land.
After the complaints filed by the family of Dama Devi, the Police Station, Gohar, finally registered the FIR under section 3(1)(6) of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act. The investigation in the matter is still under process. An independent 10-member fact-finding team comprising of public representatives, social activists and civil society groups visited the place of incident and after interaction with the local villagers and the affected family members, assessed the facts behind the matter. The team, on October 15, met the DC, Mandi, submitting their detailed fact-finding report.
The fact-finding team, upon investigation, found that Dama Devi belonging to Scheduled Caste Community, hailed from a very poor family who only had a land size of three Biswas under their legal ownership. The family thus to sustain basic livelihood needs had been dependent upon 1-2 bighas of forest land under their occupation which they had been cultivating since many generations. Adjacent to this land, few families of the village also had occupied a small piece of forest land over which they had constructed a temple. The two parties have had a land-related dispute going on for a few years, the report said.
Few villagers who were present at the time of incident mentioned that Dama was following her usual routine of fetching water from the water spring (baavdi) July 26, 2019, when she was called out to her land, in a loud and rude tone, by the officials of forest department. The six officials thereafter started shaming her in front of a gathering of villagers and questioning her intimidatingly, pressured her with accusations and threats of eviction from forest land under her occupation.
Having never seen so many officials together, Dama Devi, nervous and traumatized by the sudden intimidation and threats, continued responding in tears pleading about her family’s dependence on this land for sustenance. But when the Forest officials did not stop with their intimidation tactics, Dama Devi suddenly collapsed, falling unconsciously on the ground.
“It is most shocking that after Dama Devi collapsed the officials from Forest Department, instead of providing her with any assistance in accessing medical support, just left the spot”
states the fact-finding report.
By the time, Dama Devi’s son Desh raj reached the spot and took his mother somehow to hospital, she was already dead due to cardiac arrest.
As per Desh raj, he had approached the police Station Mandi on the evening of July 26 to file an FIR against the six forest department officials but his complaint was registered as an FIR only on August 28. Even after that, the Police Department has been laggard and apathetic in their conduct and investigation, the fact-finding team reported. It’s saddening that both the State government and the Administration have been silent on the whole issue. The Fact-finding team stressed,
“This is clearly a case of death due to the pressure of forced and illegal eviction from forest land.”
The fact-finding report also revealed that this was a case of selective targeting whereas there were other such “occupations” in the village and in fact across the state where no action is being taken.
Adding further, the fact-finding team emphasized that the death of Dama Devi is not the first case but the State in past few years has seen a rapid rise in similar cases of forced eviction from forest land.
It’s pertinent to note that lakhs of families in Himachal Pradesh have been dependent and holding occupations over forest land for agriculture and habitation. Most of these occupations are many decades old and of less than 10 bighas but have not been regularised or given legal titles. The distressing fact is that the worst victims of the violence of eviction are the people from the most marginalized communities such as women, landless, Scheduled Caste, Pastoral and other marginalized communities, the report stated.
Though, the central government in 2006 enacted Forest Rights Act (FRA) to secure such forest-dependent communities and to give their occupations on forest land legal recognition, the implementation of this historic legislation has been extremely laggard and depressing. Most importantly, FRA under section 4(5) clearly lays out that till the process of verification and recognition of forest rights is not completed, no person can be evicted from the forest land under their occupation. But the state government has neither been able to provide awareness or training on the legislation nor has it succeeded in building faith about FRA amongst the common masses.
The report noted that noteworthy in this regard is the case of District Mandi which stands further ahead in case of gross violation of forest rights as here the District Administration, in the year 2014, instead of conducting any training, had made the Forest Rights Committees issue affidavits saying ‘nil claims’ received in context of forest rights. The forest dependent public of Mandi has since then been demonstrating against such grave violations and echoing the demand for declaring these ‘nil claims’ null and void.
Lakhs of families resembling Dama Devi, who have been historically dependent upon forest land for fulfilling their bonafide livelihood needs, are eligible to file forest rights claims under FRA. But if the state government and the administration continue with their apathy in recognizing the forest rights of these communities then many more such poor and marginalized families will continue to suffer a similar fate as Dama Devi and drown further down in the pits of marginalization.
In regard to this case, the fact-finding team has submitted a 10-point demand charter along with the report. Few major demands include:
- A high level monitored detailed police investigation must be efficiently and effectively carried out without any further delay
- A High-Court monitored investigation be conducted against the intimidating behaviour and illegal actions of the Forest Department.
- Chief Secretary, GoHP must immediately issue executive orders for speedy, effective and inclusive implementation of FRA, clearly directing that eviction of any family eligible under FRA is punishable by law.
- Declaring the Nil Claims issued in Mandi as Null and Void, DC Mandi must ensure the training of FRCs on awareness on FRA and immediate filing of forest rights claims.
- Prioritize on granting immediate titles to the Individual Forest Right holders under the FRA with occupations below 5 bighas of land
The fact-finding team will also be submitting the report to various other departments, State Government and Central Authorities like the National Human Rights Commission, Scheduled Caste commission, Ministry of Tribal Affairs etc.
PIL Filed in HP High Court Re-Ignites Quest for Recognizing Pahari (Himachali) as Hill State’s Official Language
Shimla- November 10, 2021, Himachal Pradesh High Court on Monday passed an order concerning a public interest litigation (PIL) seeking to recognize Pahari (Himachali) as an official language of the state. The petition also sought effective steps on the part of the government to preserve and promote the Pahari language in the State as its culture and language give it a distinct identity.
The Public Interest Litigation was filed by Arsh Dhanotia with a prayer that the state be directed to declare Pahari (Himachali) as one of the official languages in the State of Himachal Pradesh in any script and also promote further research towards a long-term formal Pahari (Himachali) nuclear language structure and nuclear Tankri script.
Bhawani Pratap Singh Kutlahria, the advocate for the petitioner, argued in the court that the State Government be directed to promote Pahari (Himachali) and other local languages as the medium of instruction in primary and middle-level schools as per the New Education Policy, 2020. On behalf of the petitioner, he also prayed the court to direct the state government to include Pahari (Himachali) language as a separate category for the 2021 Census and simultaneously undertake an awareness campaign to create awareness amongst the masses, especially the youth of the State who speak Pahari (Himachali), to get it marked as their mother tongue in the upcoming Census.
A bench of Chief Justice Mohammad Rafiq and Justice Sabina while disposing off the PIL stated,
“The direction as has been prayed for, cannot be issued to the State Government until and unless it is established on record that the Pahari (Himachali) language has its own script and that a common Pahari dialect is spoken throughout the State of Himachal Pradesh. We, however, set the petitioner at liberty to approach the Department of Language Art & Culture to the Government of Himachal Pradesh with his demand for undertaking research to promote a common Pahari (Himachali) nuclear language structure and nuclear Tankri script. If the petitioner approaches the respondents-State through its Additional Chief Secretary (Language Art & Culture) to the Government of Himachal Pradesh) for the prayer made in the Civil Writ Public Interest Litigation, it would be for the said authority to consider the same in accordance with the law.”
Additionally, the petition had emphasised that Sanskrit, which is the second official language of the state, had only 936 speakers according to the 2011 census and Pahari (Himachali) dialect chain which is spoken by more than 40 lakh people was being neglected and has not been made an official language even after having so many speakers.
The petition also highlighted works of Former Chief Minister Late YS Parmar and Former Education Minister Late Narain Chand Parashar towards the promotion of the Pahari (Himachali) language.
What’s Pahari (Himachali) Language, How Many Districts It Covers
It is to be noted that according to the petitioner, Pahari (Himachali) is a combined term used for the Western Pahari dialect chain spoken in Himachal Pradesh and majorly includes Kangri, Mandeali, Chambeali, Kulvi, Mahasu Pahari and Sirmauri. According to him ever since the creation of Himachal Pradesh, there has been a demand for recognition of Pahari (Himachali) under the Eighth Schedule of the Indian Constitution and it is also officially listed with 37 more languages as a language which is in significant demand to be included in the scheduled languages category.
In his plea, he also stated that the Himachal Pradesh Vidhan Sabha in 1970 and 2010 have also passed resolutions concerning the promotion and development of Pahari (Himachali).
Himachal’s Snow Covered Area Has Decreased, Poses Big Threat to State Economy’s Lifelines: Report
Shimla-The area under snow cover in Himachal Pradesh has declined by 18.5% according to a recent report published by State Centre on Climate Change (SCCC) and Space Application Center (ISRO) Ahmedabad. The report revealed this decreasing trend for the five major river basins in the State.
As the report points out, the high altitude regions of Himachal Pradesh receive precipitation mainly in the form of snow during the winter season. One-third of the geographical area of the state is covered by a thick blanket of snow during the winter season. Rivers like Chenab, Beas, Parvati, Baspa, Spiti, Ravi, Sutlej and its tributaries flowing through Himachal are dependent on snowfall in winter. These rivers mainly feed into the Indus water system and a decline at this rate rings a death knell for water and also food security for millions of people from Himachal to Kashmir, the plains of Punjab, the food bowl of the country.
Using images and data received from satellites, the report states, that the winter precipitation was mapped in all the basins from October 2020 to May 2021 (a period of two years). The findings indicate that there has been an average decrease of 8.92 percent in Chenab basin, 18.54 percent in Beas basin, 23.16 percent in Ravi basin, 23.49 percent in Sutlej basin compared to last year. The ice covered area of Chenab basin was 7154.11 sq km in 2019-20, which has come down to 6515.91 sq km in 2020-21. Similarly, Beas basin was reduced from 2457.68 to 2002.03 square kilometer, Ravi basin from 2108.13 square kilometer to 1619.82 square kilometer and Sutlej from 11823.1 square kilometer to 9045 square kilometers. Overall, the snow covered area was reduced from 23542 square kilometer to 19183 square kilometer in the entire Himachal.
Sutlej Basin covers 45 per cent of the total geographical area of Himachal and it is the longest river of the state. It flows for around 320 kms here, passing through Lahaul and Spiti, Kinnaur, Shimla, Kullu, Mandi, Solan and Bilaspur districts, along its course. The above study shows that the maximum reduction in snow cover has occurred in the Sutlej basin. An area of 4359 square kilometers under snow cover has decreased for the whole state, of which more than half of the Sutlej Basin.
Just two years ago another study had indicated that more than half of glaciers in Sutlej Basin are set to vanish by 2050. Yet another study also showed that the Sutlej basin has the highest 562 number of glacial lakes. These lakes stand the risk of sudden outbursts, which then causes flash floods downstream as the valley has already experienced. So, while the crisis that is unfolding, be it deglaciation, lake formation or reduction in area under snow cover, it seems that the Sutlej river basin is more vulnerable to these changes.
Prakash Bhandari, an environmental researcher and activist and member of Himdhara Collective expressing his concern states that the situation in the Sutlej river basin is certainly indicative of a serious climate emergency and it is critical to look into the drivers of this both local and global.
“The Sutlej basin catchment is the largest and so the changes visible here are more significant. Many factors have worked together to create this crisis which should be studied closely. There is no doubt that global warming is contributing to these changes. But the local conditions also play a role in reducing or increasing its impact”, he says.
The upper reaches of the Sutlej Valley, especially areas like Kinnaur are geologically fragile, with sharp gradients and loose soil strata. Vegetation is in a very small area so the proneness to erosion. We have seen the catastrophic impacts of flashfloods and landslides over the last decade and a half, where crores worth of property has been damaged. This year saw a spate of landslides where lives were lost. “In such a sensitive and also strategically important area, changes in the landscape will have far reaching and irreversible impacts. More construction activities will lead to more deforestation, more erosion”.
Construction of dams has been rampant in the Sutlej valley, a phenomena that started post independence and continues today. If all of the planned dams are built the Sutlej will be cho-a-cloc with more then 150, large and small projects. At the bottom of the valley in Bilaspur is the Bhakra Dam, built almost 6 decades ago, which has a size of 168 sq km and a storage capacity of 9.340 cubic km. Is. This is followed by the Kol Dam which extends for 42 km up to Sunni, which has a total storage capacity of 90 million cubic metres. Nathpa Jhakri Project which is 27.394 kms. is long. When a dam is built, a huge amount of water is stored. The debris of many villages, trees etc. also gets absorbed inside the dam. When water is stagnant, it receives heat from the Sun to form mist in the surrounding area by evaporation and simultaneously generates methane gas. The experience of the lake formed by the Kol dam at Tattapani in Mandi district shows that the area is experiencing heavy haze which was not there earlier.
“In the 30s and 40s, Shikari Devi and Kamrunag used to have snow on the peaks for about 6 months, which now could barely stop for only 2 months. The air route distance of Shikari Devi and Kamrunag is only 26 to 30 kms from Tattapani lake. At the same time, their distance is not much from the cement factories of Darlaghat, Sundernagar”, the elders in the area say. “Today, fog is prevalent and this has also made the area warmer”.
Due to the warming of the weather due to the clouds formed from the mist, the snow has started melting quickly. Apart from this the local crop patterns are affected. Post the 1990s, the Sutlej became a site for run of the river hydroelectric projects using extensive underground tunneling. This involves massive use of explosives for blasting through the mountains. Of the 23,000 MW worth of projects to be constructed in Himachal more than 10,000, a third are from this valley alone. Kinnaur continues to be a hydel powerhouse with 10 run of the river projects in progress and 30 more to be set up including two mega projects of 1500 MW and 1000 MW each. This paints a scary picture.
Interactive Sutlej River-Basin Map indicate Hydropower Station location
It is not just the hydro-electric dams but unplanned tourism and other development activities like mining, cement plants, road expansion and mindless construction across the high Himalayan regions have also add to the shift in local weather patterns, land use changes and thus the ecological crisis. But the reason why we should put the limelight on hydropower is that this is being pushed as “Green Energy”, in the name of climate change mitigation. As opposed to other forms of generating power, hydropower projects are said to cause lesser carbon emissions, which is why there has been a global push to shift to renewable resources. But the climate emergency in the Himalayas has put a question mark on ‘water’ as a renewable resource.
The question then arises that with all this data indicating a steady decline in river discharge and snow cover have our planners and policy makers not considered what will happen to these projects? Will they be able to generate the power they propose to? The people of Himalaya have to wake up to this wastage of public resources. Scarce funds should be diverted to better planning for securing local livelihoods by protecting the forest ecosystems and water sources for the future.
Author: Gagandeep Singh-From Himdhara (Environment Research and Action Collective)
Feature Images: unsplash/@raimondklavins
Himachal: Warnings of Delta Plus Virulence Fall on Deaf Ears, No Restriction on Visitors from Affected States
Shimla-Yesterday, the Centre government directed the state governments to take immediate measure in wake of the spread of more infectious Delta Plus variant. As the Delta Plus variant is posing a threat of the third wave, the states were told to take steps like preventing crowds, increase testing, more focus on surveillance, contact tracing and put boosting vaccine coverage on a priority basis. Following it, Himachal Pradesh Government might have announced an alert over Delta plus variant, but there wasn’t any follow up on instructions passed by scientists and health experts to take strict restrictive measures ahead of the impending third wave.
To make it worse, high rank officials and political leaders were seen flouting Covid-19 SOPs on several occasion, which sent wrong messages to the masses. The pictures and videos showing flouting of Covid appropriate behavior by Chief Minister Jairam Thakur and Directorial General of Police, Sanjay Kundu, alongwith other staff for Anupam Kher is the most recent to mention. A group photograph and video of the same were widely circulated on social media and invited huge criticism from the people.
So far, the state has not reported any case of the Delta Plus variant. But the neighboring states – Punjab, Haryana, and Jammu & Kashmir – reported their first cases yesterday. This puts the boarding areas, like in Una district, at a higher risk. Chief Secretary to HP Government, Anil Khachi, yesterday said samples have been sent for genome sequencing.
Despite repeated warnings of Delta plus variant (B.1.617.2.1.), Himachal Pradesh has thrown its borders open to all and lifted all restrictions for inter-state travel in just one go. From June 23 onwards, the state government removed the condition for registering on the e-pass portal for visitors intending to enter the state. In the Cabinet meeting held on June 22, 201, the government first decided that e-pass restrictions would be removed from July 1, but later it changed the decision and instead implemented it immediately.
This haphazard decision is said to have come under huge pressure from the hospitality industry – the worst-hit sector, leading to financial crisis and mass unemployment among its stakeholders. Related associations had been approaching Chief Minister Jairam Thakur with their pleas to provide relief, but mostly faced disappointment. The stakeholders say the state government didn’t provide any significant relief, which is making the survival of the industry difficult.
Also Read: Read Eight Reliefs That Himachal’s Devastated Tourism Industry Seeks from HP Govt
Also, stakeholder of the industry, especially hoteliers, had been demanding the removal of restrictions and conditions on the entry of tourists to Himachal so that they could fetch the remaining peak tourist season.
With its inability to offer relief, the HP Government took the chance to waive off restrictions in a haste.
At the same time, the state government has decided to conduct offline examinations for the undergraduate classes starting from July. A section of the students had been condemning the HP government for scheduling exams without vaccinating students. Some student bodies had been asking the government as to why online classes were possible but not online exams.
The state government also waived off restrictions on timings for the opening of markets/shops.
As scientists and health experts warn of the virulence of the new variant and with neighboring states already on alert after reporting cases of the new variant, the HP government hasn’t even mentioned any intention to at least put a check on the visitor from the states where cases of Delta Plus are being reported. Carrying an RT-PCR negative report for visitors from such states/cities would have been a wiser step.
Officially, the state is on alert, but no measures have been announced to check the entry and spread of the variant into the state. The state government does speak of preparing for the anticipated third wave, but there is hardly any long-term preventive strategy. The Covid appropriate behavior is hard to adopt when markets and tourist places are crowded with visitors.
Why Delta Plus is a Big Concern
The World Health Organization (WHO) has labelled the Delta variant as ‘Variant of Concern’.
The Centre and scientific/medical institutes in India also agree with that Delta Plus as a variant of concern and could be the cause of impending third wave. Last Tuesday, based on the findings of INSACOG, the Union Health Ministry had alerted and advised Maharashtra, Kerala and Madhya Pradesh regarding the Delta Plus variant of COVID19.
INSACOG had warned that the Delta Plus variant has increased transmissibility, stronger binding to receptors of lung cells, potential reduction in monoclonal antibody response.
“Delta variant is more resistant to medication, treatment and vaccination. Therefore, people who have been vaccinated can still be affected by this variant and can go on to get a clinical illness, Archana Dhawan Bajaj, director, Nurture IVF, told a national English Daily.
“Neutralising antibodies against this variant post-vaccination seem to be nearly five times lower in people who have already been vaccinated than the other variants,” she said.
Further, Dr Raman Gangakhedkar, ex-Head Scientist of Epidemiology and communicable diseases, ICMR, has also expressed concern over the reports that Delta Plus has reported pathophysiologic change and affecting different organs. Dr Raman says that it could transfer from cell to cell and would more likely produce neurological symptoms as a common manifestation.
So far India has reported 51 cases of the Delta Plus variant.
Delta Plus variant is a variant of Delta with an additional mutation -B.1.617.2.1.