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Elderly Woman in Mandi Dies due to Bureaucratic Apathy and Intimidation: Fact-Finding Report

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Dama Devi of Mandi death case

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.

woman dies of heart attack

Fact Finding Committee Submitting its Report to DC, Mandi

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:

  1. A high level monitored detailed police investigation must be efficiently and effectively carried out without any further delay
  2. A High-Court monitored investigation be conducted against the intimidating behaviour and illegal actions of the Forest Department.
  3.  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.
  4.  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.
  5.  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.

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Pics of This Policeman Are Making HP Police Deptt Proud, Melting Hearts

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Policeman in Chail solan helping elderly during curfew

Solan-Pictures of a policeman approaching an elderly woman and later carrying a heavy bundle of fodder for her are making Himachal Pradesh Police proud. This policeman is being applauded by not only the people but also by his department. 

The pictures are taken in Chail area of the district where an elderly lady was carrying fodder for livestock from jungle during the relaxation period in curfew.

Head Constable Jasvir Singh Chail Solan

On seeing the elderly lady struggling with a bundle of fodder (green tree-leaves), which appeared to be heavy for her, an on-duty policeman carried the bundle on his back for her.

HP Police Helping People During COVID-19 Curfew

A resident of Kunihar in Solan district posted these pictures on his social media handle. He recognized this policeman as Head-Constable Jasvir Singh, who was also his classmate 17 years ago.

policeman in himachal helping old lady

We don’t know about this policeman in his personal life, but a mention of this gesture is important if seen symbolically in context to the police-citizens relationship.

This compassionate gesture of a policeman, in a time when the police is enforcing curfew and mostly seen dealing strictly with people to make them comply with the law, is melting hearts.

Visuals of people either being beaten or punished physically for breaking curfew did attract criticism not only from the people but also from the DGP SR Mardi.

However, the same policemen are also going a step ahead to help people in various ways during the COVID-19 crisis. In various districts, there are instances where policemen are even spending from their own pockets to help the needy around them. Perhaps, pictures of all of them won’t appear on social media but good policemen are there helping people while discharging their duty. 

These pictures remind us that policemen aren’t devoid of emotion and compassion.  Therefore it becomes duty of every citizen to support the police and make its job of maintaining law and order easier.

 

..SABHI POLICE KI VERDI WALE BURE INSAN NAHI HOTEInka naam mr.jasvir singh hai.mere shehar.(KUNHAR) ke nazdeek…

Posted by Sunny Shandil on Wednesday, 8 April 2020

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Rs. 1 Crore to HP Police Department for PPE and N95 Masks

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HP Police PPE kits and masks

Shimla-Himachal Pradesh Government on Saturday sanctioned rupees one crore (Rs. 50 lakhs from HP COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund and Rs. 50 lakhs from State Disaster Response Fund) to Police Department for purchase of high-risk Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) kits and N-95 masks for police personnel of the State in the wake of pandemic COVID-19.

HPSEB Contributed 1.97 crore Towards Chief Minister Relief Fund

On behalf of officers and officials of H.P. State Electricity Board Limited, the Chairman of the Board, Ram Subhag Singh, contributed Rs. 1.97 crore towards Chief Minister Relief Fund on Saturday.

Chief Minister again made a fervent appeal to the people for the generous donation towards this Fund so that needy people could be benefited.

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17 People of Himachal Visited COVID-19 Hotspot Nizamuddin in Delhi: HP Govt

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Himachali's at Nizamuddin, Delhi

Shimla-Himachal Pradesh Government on Tuesday confirmed that as many as 17 people of the State were on the religious congregation at Delhi Nijamuddeen. All of them are under 14 days surveillance of Delhi Government at New Delhi and till now they have no symptoms of COVID-19.

These persons belong to Chamba, Sirmaur, and Kullu districts.

This large religious gathering at Delhi’s Nizamuddin has emerged as a virus hotspot with links to seven COVID-19 deaths. Among those who had attended the gathering, 50 have tested positive in Tamil Nadu, 24 in Delhi, 21 in Telangana, 18 in Andhra Pradesh, 10 in Andamans and one each in Assam and Kashmir after attending the gathering. 

Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) shared details of foreign and Indian Tabhlig Jamaat (TJ) workers in India with all States on March 21, 2020, after COVID-19 positive cases among these workers surfaced in Telangana.

All the Tabligh Jamaat workers staying at Hazrat Nizamuddin Markaz are being medically screened since March 26. So far, 1203 Tabligh Jamaat workers have been medically screened.  Over 300 of them had symptoms of COVID-19 and were referred to different hospitals in Delhi.

Various nationals, particularly from Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Nepal, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Kyrgyzstan had come for Tabligh activities.

Meanwhile, So far, 1339 Tabligh Jamaat workers have been shifted to Narela, Sultanpuri and Bakkarwala quarantine facilities as well as to LNJP, RGSS, GTB, DDU Hospitals and AllMS, Jhajjar. Rest of them are being currently medically screened for COVID-19 infections. No new case has been reported in Himachal. 

Usually, all the foreign nationals visiting India as a part of Tabligh team come on the strength of a tourist visa. MHA had already issued guidelines that they should not indulge in missionary work on a tourist visa. State Police would be examining categories of visas of all these foreign TJ workers and take further action in case of violation of visa conditions.

BACKGROUND

Tabligh Jamaat Headquarter (Markaz) is located in Nizamuddin, Delhi. Devout Muslims from across the country and also from foreign countries visit the Markaz for religious purpose. Some also move out in groups to different parts of the country for Tabligh activities. This is a continuous process throughout the year.

On March 21, approximately 824 foreign Tabligh Jamaat workers were in different parts of the country for missionary work. Besides, around 216 foreign nationals were staying in the Markaz. Besides, over 1500 Indian TJ workers were also staying in the Markaz while around 2100 Indian TJ workers were touring different parts of the country for missionary work. Since March 23, the lockdown has been strictly imposed by State authorities/police across Delhi including in and around Nizamuddin and Tabligh work came to a halt.

As of now, nearly 1400 confirmed cases and 35 deaths have been reported. During the last 24 hours, 227 new confirmed cases and 3 new deaths have been reported.

 

 

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