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Withdraw Criteria of No ‘Illegal Land Occupations’ for Contesting Himachal’s Panchayat Elections: Activists Write to Govt



HP Panchayati Raj Elections 2020

Shimla-About 14 organisations in Himachal Pradesh have written to the state government demanding the withdrawal of the criteria of ‘no illegal land occupations’ (by self or family members) for the Panchayat elections candidature.  The groups have also demanded that the  Forest Rights Act, 2006 which recognize the rightful occupations on government ‘forest’ land be implemented in the state at the earliest.

In the last few years, the nomination rules for panchayat elections have invalidated the candidature of ‘illegal occupants of government land’.  

Anita, a Zila Parishad Member from Kangra says,

“The Panchayati Raj system is an important step towards decentralization and ensuring public participation in a democratic system. However, the government needs to reconsider this rule regarding the validity of a candidate’s nomination to ensure that marginalised communities in rural areas can actively participate in this process”.

Sukhdev Vishwapremi of People’s Campaign for Socio-Economic Equality says,

“In a state where 90% of the population resides in rural areas and is dependent on agriculture, only 11% of the land being private while the rest being recorded as government land is the primary reason that gives rise to the system of illegal occupation. Incomplete implementation of various state and central laws and several conflicting court orders are responsible for revenue records showing ‘encroachments. To consider the land in use of the people as illegal possession and to put the responsibility of these occupations completely on the people is absolutely unjust,” .

Kulbhushan Upmanyu of Himalaya Bachao Samiti says,

“The average private land area in Himachal is already less than 1 hectare – Himachal has 87.95% small and marginal farmers. Additionally, 25% of the population belongs to scheduled communities, most of which are marginal farmers. The ‘List of Illegal occupations on Forest Land’, submitted by the Himachal government to the High court also reflects the same, that 88.5% of the cases are of less than 10 bighas and only 11.5% of the cases are of possession of more than 10 bighas”.

Jiya Lal Negi of the Zila Forest Rights Committee, Kinnaur says,

“The state government has shown no will to implement the Forest Rights Act passed by the parliament in 2006, which gives legal ownership to forest lands occupied before 13 December 2005. Action is yet to be taken on the hundreds of forest rights claims pending before the subdivision and district administration.”

Prakash Bhandari of Himdhara Collective says,

“Section 4(1) of the Forest Rights Act specifies that until the process of recognizing and vesting people’s forest rights under the Act is complete, declaring the use of such land as illegal possession is a violation of Section 4 (1) of the Forest Rights Act”.

This rule for Panchayat elections is thus, both: an attack on the rights of underprivileged communities, small farmers and women; and a violation of the Forest Rights Act.

What is surprising is that in September 2020, the government itself set up a high powered committee in view of pending issues of land disputes. This committee, in addition to giving suggestions on issues related partition, mutation, demarcation and entry in land-reform laws, has to also look at the obstacles in the implementation of FRA.

People’s organisations in Himachal Pradesh have released a statement listing 4 demands from the government, which include removal of the criteria of ‘illegal possession’ as a basis to invalidate a candidate’s nomination, and implementation of the Forest Rights Act, 2006, in the state at the earliest.

Signatory organizations/activists who have written to the state government included Anita, District Council Member, Kangra, Ekal Naari Shakti Sangathan, Himachal, Ghumantu Pashupalak Mahasabha, Chamba Unit, Himalaya Bachao Samiti, Chamba, Himdhara Environment Collective, Palampur, Himlok Jagriti Manch, Kinnaur, Janjatiya Mahila Kalyan Samiti, Kinnaur, Nekram Sharma, Social worker – Mandi, Parvatiya Mahila Adhikar Manch, Himachal Pradesh, Save Lahaul Spiti, Lahaul, Shyam Singh Chauhan, District Council Member – Mandi, Sirmaur Van, Adhikar Manch, Sirmaur, Spiti Civil Society, Spiti.

Feature Photo: unsplash@element5digital

Misc News/Press Release

Video: Fire Wreaks Havoc at Solan Mall Road



Solan Fire Break out 2021

Solan-A fire broke out at the congested Solan Mall Road today evening, which engulfed about three shops including a medical store and garment and shoe shops. According to the initial report received from the district administration, the fire reportedly started from a medical store, which was closed.

People first noticed smoke rising from inside the building and informed the owner of the shop and fire services. By the time, fire tenders reached the spot, the fire had spread considerably to a large part of the multi-story building. Sounds of explosions from inside the medical store caused a panic among the adjoining shopping mall and people present on the scene. These sounds of explosions reportedly came from bottles of sanitisers and other flammables products kept inside the medical store.

No loss of life was reported.

According to a report, two fire hydrants installed at the Solan Mall Road for such emergency situation did not work, which led to delay in extinguishing the fire. Meanwhile, property worth lakhs in three to four shops turned to ash. It took over two hours to extinguish the fire with the help of locals. 

The Sub-Divisional Magistrate (SDM), Ajay Kumar, had arrived at the spot. The exact losses were yet to be assessed. It’s pertinent to mention that the Solan Mall is a congested place with a large number of shops and the fire could have easily turned into a bigger disaster if it were not controlled. 

The cause of the fire is believed to be a short-circuit. But it would be possible to cite the exact cause only after an inquiry, if conducted. More information was awaited.

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Himachal First State to Complete Assessment of Snow Leopard and its Wild Prey



Snow Leopard Population Assessment in Himachal Pradesh

Shimla-The assessment of snow leopard population in Himachal Pradesh has been completed by the state wildlife wing in collaboration with Nature Conservation Foundation (NCF) Bangalore following the protocol aligning with the SPAI (Snow Leopard Population Assessment in India) protocols of the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change. Himachal Pradesh has become the first state to complete assessment of snow leopard and its wild prey.

The state has an estimated population of up to 73 snow leopards.

It is the first scientifically robust estimate of snow leopards and its prey for the State. Since snow leopard is the state animal, the study assumes great significance for Himachal Pradesh.
The exercise revealed that snow leopard density ranged from 0.08 to 0.37 individuals per 100, with the trans-Himalayan regions of Spiti, Pin valley and upper Kinnaur recording the highest densities, both of the predator and its prey, mainly ibex and blue sheep.

This study covered the entire potential snow leopard habitat of Himachal Pradesh: an area of 26,112, utilising a stratified sampling design. Camera trapping surveys were conducted at 10 sites to representatively sample all the strata i.e. high, low and unknown. The camera trap deployment over the mountainous terrains was led by a team of eight local youth of Kibber village and more than 70 frontline staff of HPFD were trained in this technique as part of the project. Snow leopards were detected at all the 10 sites (Bhaga, Chandra, Bharmour, Kullu, Miyar, Pin, Baspa, Tabo, Hangrang & Spiti) suggesting that snow leopards are found in the entire snow leopard habitat in Himachal Pradesh either as resident individuals of a population or as dispersing individuals navigating through these connecting habitats.

Another revelation from the study is that a bulk of snow leopard occurrence is outside protected areas, reiterating the fact that local communities are the strongest allies for conservation in snow leopard landscapes.

The NCF and wildlife wing collaborated in the effort and it took three years to complete the assessment. MoEFCC had launched the First National Protocol on Snow Leopard Population Assessment in India, on the occasion of International Snow Leopard Day. You can read the complete protocol here.

Snow leopard is the icon of high mountains of Asia. In India, they inhabit the higher Himalayan and TransHimalayan landscape in an altitudinal range between approximately 3,000 m to 5,400 m above MSL, spanning c. 100,000 km2 in the five states of Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh. This area contributes to about 5% of the global snow leopard range.

Snow leopards occur over a vast, relatively remote and difficult to access mountainous area. Together with their elusive nature, this makes a complete population census of snow leopards an unfeasible goal. Even their distribution remains unclear. For example, recent surveys show that they do not occur in 25 % of the area that was thought to be their range in the state of Himachal Pradesh Their density is expected to be variable in space, dependent on several factors such as habitat suitability, prey availability, disturbance and connectivity. Variation in density across space also poses the risk of biased sampling, and, indeed, most of the snow leopard population assessments conducted so far across the world are biased towards the best habitats.

Feature Photo: Pexels/Charles Miller

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Misc News/Press Release

Himachal Records 81% Turnout in 3rd Phase of PRI Polls, Congress Makes a Come Back in Theog MC after 20 Years



third phase of Panchayat elections in himachal pradesh

Shimla-The third phase of elections to Panchayati Raj Institutes in Himachal Pradesh recorded around 81 percent polling on January 21, 2021. The elections were held in 1137 Gram Panchayats in this phase. The highest 94 percent polling was registered in Lodhi Majra Panchayat of Nalagarh development block in Solan district. This information was released by a spokesperson of HP Election Commission

District-wise, Sirmaur recorded 85% turnout, followed by Solan (85%) Kullu (84%),Chamba (82.8%), Mandi (82.7%), Una (81.1%), Shimla (82%),Una (81%), Bilaspur (80.3%), Hamirpur (78.1%), Kangra (78%), and Kinnaur (70%).

 Further, 48 COVID-19 patients and persons in isolation also cast their votes.

The Spokesperson said that the poll was held peacefully and there was no report of any untoward incident in the state.

Counting of votes for Zila Parishad and Panchayat Samiti will be held on January 22, 2021, at block headquarters.

Congress made a come back to Theog Municipal Council after 20 years. While Vivek Thapar was elected as the Chairman of the MC, Reen Roy was elected as the Vice-Chairman. Congress has already registered wins in Rohru and Rampur MCs and Chopal, Kotkhai and Sunni Nagar panchayats.

Theog MC Polls 2021

Congress After Registering Victory in Theog MC Elections

The HPCC chief Kuldeep Singh Rathore, while speaking to media persons yesterday, said that of the total seven Wards of the Theog MC, Congress has claimed victory on four wards while remaining three Wards went to independent candidates. Congress alleged that BJP had left no stone unturned to pressurize, lure, and threaten elected members to gain their support. 

Rathore mocked at the defeat of BJP MP’s bother in Mandi district. Further, the candidate in Ghumarwin of Bilaspur – home district of BJP Chief Jagat Prakash Nadda-  had also faced defeat, Rathore said. BJP candidate in Sujanpur – home to Union Minister for State for Finance and Corporate Affairs Anurag Thakur-could also not register a victory and lost, he said.

Congress also registered a victory in elections to Parwanoo MC. Kuldeep Singh Rathore, said that winning candidate Nisha Sharma joined Congress yesterday. She had won twice from the same Ward on BJP ticket. This time, she was denied ticket and fought the elections as an independent candidate. 

Parwanoo Counciloor Nisha sharma

Nisha Sharma Joins Congress

Rathore alleged that the government has been trying to threaten Nisha by registering a fake case of illegal construction. Similarly, husband of Chandrawati – another Congress councilor in Parwanoo- who runs a depot was fined wrongfully yesterday, Rathore alleged.   

While BJP has been making claims of victory on the majority of seats, Congress had been terming it as a bluff.  Also, it had been alleging BJP of misusing government machinery. Independent candidates are being bought and allurements are being given to winning Congress candidates, Rathore alleged.  

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