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Election Watch

In Himachal, Over 50 Lakh Voters to Cast Vote in 7730 Polling Stations on May 19

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Polling in Himachal Pradesh

Shimla– Over fifty lakh voters are set to vote in 7730 polling stations in four parliamentary constituencies of Himachal Pradesh in the last phase of the ongoing Lok Sabha election on May 19.

Talking about the poll preparations, Additional Chief Electoral Officer DK Rattan said, “53,30,154 voters will vote in 7730 polling stations on May 19. 373 polling stations are critical, 47 companies of central paramilitary forces have been deployed there.

It’s being ensured that voting takes place peacefully at all polling stations. Rattan said that polling agents have either reached their respective polling stations or are on their way

“Polling party for the remote, tribal polling station at Bara Bhangal in Kangra district was sent on May 15. In Shimla’s Dodra Kawar, teams and material were sent for seven polling stations on May 16,”

he said

“In Lahaul Spiti district, the polling station has been set at an altitude of 15,256 feet at Tashigang. This is the world’s highest polling station,”

he added. (ANI)

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Forest Rights Himachal’s Key Electoral Issue: Congress, CPIM Promise Justice, BJP Chooses Silence

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Himachal Pradesh Lok sabha Elections FRA ACt

Shimla-As the polling date for 17th Lok Sabha elections draw closer in Himachal Pradesh, voices against the non-implementation of the Forest Rights Act 2006 (FRA) continue to gather momentum from different corners of the state, making it loud and clear that FRA will be one of the central poll issues here.

On May 3 2019, Himachal Van Adhikaar Manch, a platform of community organisations and activists, had submitted a peoples’ demand charter on FRA to all the contesting political parties of the State – INC, BJP and CPI. 

Individual and community forest rights recognized under the Forest Rights Act 2006 hold paramount importance for the majority of the population in Himachal given the dependence on forestland, which forms 70% of the State’s geographical area. Over the last 3 years, voices demanding implementation of FRA have grown louder in the state and yet the government, especially the administrative officials have been lethargic and non-committal in their responses.   

The Forest Rights Act was passed by the Parliament of India in 2006, with the aim of protecting the interests as well as providing legal recognition and recording the rights of the communities dependent on forest land for their bonafide livelihoods. 

Section 3(1) of this act entails the recognition of rights over forest land for agriculture and habitation for ‘bonafide livelihood’ needs (not just for subsistence purposes but also for earning an income) and includes both Individual rights over land under occupation and Community rights over use, conservation and management of community forest land resources. Further, the Section 3(2) of the act provides rights to the Gram Sabha to provide consent for diversion of less than 1 hectare of forest land (involving felling of not more than 75 trees) for 13 types of village development activities. 

“On one hand, 1900 cases have been so far sanctioned by the government under section 3(2) of the FRA whereas, though 17503 FRCs have been formed, only 129 claims have been issued titles so far under the Sec 3(1) of the Act.”

 “In the 2018 Vidhan Sabha winter session at Dharamsala, the government promised that it will take effective and urgent steps for speedy implementation of the act. The State Level Monitoring Committee in its meeting in January 2019 had also positively taken upon the endorsements by HVAM reiterating similar promises but on the ground, the officials continue to be unaware of the provisions of the act,”

 remarked Akshay Jasrotia convener, HVAM.

Instead of providing any training and awareness on the act, in February the district administration of Kangra gave Panchayat Secretaries a 90-day deadline to get claims from the FRCs. In absence of any awareness about the act, FRCs are being made to send ‘nil’ or ‘zero’ claims certificates as had been earlier done in the districts of Mandi and Chamba.

 Adding further, Shyam Singh Chauhan, a member of the District Level Committee (Mandi) formed under the Act and also the Zila Parishad Member from Karsog Mandi, said

“Lakhs of occupants had applied under the 2002 policy of Regularization of Encroachments. Further, revenue and forest records too have recorded occupations on forestland for agriculture, habitation, and cattle rearing, but people still hold no legal titles. They are all eligible to claim for their Individual rights under this act but have been blatantly denied their constitutional right.”

Laal Hussain, a representative of the Gujjar Community of nomadic livestock rearers from Chamba stressed,

“2 lakh people of different pastoral communities who sustain by grazing livestock in pastures, categorized as ‘forest land’, are eligible for community forest rights under FRA, and via this charter, we want to communicate that this election we will only support those who speak of our rights and interests.”

“FRA has emerged as an important determinant of electoral polls this term not just in Himachal but across the country,”

added Prakash Bhandari of Himdhara Collective.

Whereas the national manifestos of Indian National Congress and CPM have explicitly stated that it will not allow unjust eviction and will implement the Act in letter and spirit, BJP, on the other hand, has remained mute on this issue.

“In Himachal, though people are looking out for the priority given to FRA by contesting electoral candidates from the State,”

added Bhandari.

 A very big percentage of the population has already been traumatized by the state governments’ betrayal on the promises of regularization of land under occupation, and now it lives under constant paranoia of eviction. This became evident when on 11th April, a public gathering of more than 600 in Mandi together gave the slogan “Himachal Ki Janta Kare Pukar, Humein Chahiye Van Adhikar”.

Jiya Lal Negi, convener Zila Van Adhikaar Samiti from the tribal district of Kinnaur, added

“Kinnaur has had the highest number of claims but these legitimate claims have been delayed on frivolous and illegal grounds going to the extent of questioning our identities as tribals and forest dwellers.”

Hit by the similar apathy of government and bureaucratic hurdles in the long struggle for FRA implementation, on 23rd March in a press conference, Save Lahaul Spiti, a civil society group from Lahaul had appealed for election boycott from their area. Similar public appeals of boycott or exercising the NOTA options have echoed across many tribal villages in the State.

Take for instance the case of Lippa village in Kinnaur.

“Despite a long tiring struggle for our individual and community forest rights, we have faced continued injustice at the hands of the government. What other way do we have left to show our dissent in a peaceful and democratic way but to boycott the elections?”

raised the residents of Lippa in their meeting with the district administration last week.

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HP CM Jairam Makes Scandalous Comments on Judiciary, Says It’s Taking Decision Without Considering Merit

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HP Cm Jairam Controversial statement on Judiciary

Shimla-The courts are the guarantors of justice, whose role is fundamental in a State based on the rule of law, and it is imperative that they must enjoy public confidence. They must accordingly be protected from the destructive attacks that are unfounded.

In this day and age of robust media, the courts and judges are used to being criticized and take it on the chin. According to the settled law, one can freely criticize the judgments of the court. What is not permissible is to make statements that are  “an attempt to influence the court” and  “purported to scandalize the court”. 

The parliamentarians, especially, have a duty as elected representatives, to respect the independence of the courts and to ensure that any comments made are well-informed. As what is at stake is the “right to a fair trial” of a litigant and public confidence in the “administration of justice”.

Scandalizing the court’ is a convenient way of describing a statement which, although it does not relate to any specific judge, is a scurrilous attack on the judiciary as a whole, which is made to undermine the authority of the courts.

One such scurrilous attack undermining the Majesty of the Hon’ble Court came from none other than the Hon’ble Chief Minister of Himachal Pradesh Jairam Thakur on the State Administrative Tribunal (SAT).  As reported in Tribune News Service, dated May 14, the CM said:

“Though it would not be appropriate for me to comment on the functioning of the SAT, it has been witnessed that decisions are made without considering the merit of the case. There is very strong opposition amongst the ministers, party legislators, other elected representatives and organization leaders about the functioning of the SAT. So after holding deliberations with party MLAs, post elections, we could take a call on its future,

The Chief Minister said it was immaterial in whose term the Chairman or the Members of the SAT are appointed but the decisions must be fair and impartial. He did not mince words in stating that employees were getting stays on transfers without any merit. reported the newspaper.

The attributed statements appear to bring the court into disrepute, it asserts that the judges of the Tribunal are deciding cases without applying the law.

The statement refers to “Transfer Matters” and how they are not being decided to the liking of the Government. The statement implies that Government employee’s ‘transfer disputes’, which he raises against the Government, in the Tribunal, are not being decided in a way the Govt./ministers/organizational heads prefer. This is also given as a sole reason to shut down the tribunal in the future.

The attributed statements, on their face,  appear to influence the court in its decisions in ‘transfer matters’ and to interfere with the due administration of justice in the State. Comments conflate “correctness of decisions” with the satisfaction of political parties/ ministers/organizational heads. Further, the comments also are indirectly implying that the Tribunal is not “fair and impartial” in these matters.

The statement imputes unfairness when it says that “cases being decided without there being any merit’. This amounts to lowering the authority of the court and it certainly interferes with the performance of judicial duties. The minister has failed to respect the “doctrine of separation of powers” and breached the principle of “independence of the judiciary”.

Scandalising the Court Amounts to Contempt

The Chief Minister is not the first Chief Minister to make such scandalous remarks against the Courts. The famous case regarding a court being “scandalized” is that of E.M.S Namboodiripad v. T.N. Nambiar (1970). Namboodiripad, the then Chief Minister of Kerala had made a comment on how Marx & Engels considered the judiciary as an instrument of oppression and also that judges were guided and dominated by class hatred, class interests, and class prejudices. Found guilty of contempt by the Kerala High Court, the Chief Minister appealed to the Supreme Court, where a bench led by the Chief Justice of India, Hidayatullah, upheld the conviction and imposed fine. The judgment states,

“Judged from the angle of courts and administration of justice, there is not a semblance of doubt in our minds that the appellant was guilty on contempt of court. Whether he misunderstood the teachings to Marx and Engels or deliberately distorted them is not to much purpose. The likely effect of his words must be seen and they have clearly the effect of lowering the prestige of judges and courts in the eyes of the people. That he did not intend any such result may be a matter for consideration in the sentence to be imposed on him but cannot serve as a justification. We uphold the conviction.”

When the judiciary as such or a Judge, in particular, is attacked in this manner and the attack contains various kinds of imputations, such contempt is treated as scandalizing the court. The Oxford English Dictionary defines the word “scandalize” as “offend the moral sensibilities of; horrify or shock by a (real or imagined) violation of morality or propriety.”

To allow an insult and belittlement of an “institution of justice” is to expose the administration of justice to the grave danger of inhibiting the appreciation of the people of our courts, and the necessity of people confidently having recourse to our courts, for the settlement of their disputes. The faith in the judiciary is of prime importance.

It would be apt at this juncture to remember the wise words of Lord Denning the “best-known and best-loved judge of this, or perhaps any, generation” who said:

“It is the right of every man, in Parliament or out of it, in the Press or over the broadcast, to make fair comment, even outspoken comment, on matters of public interest. Those who comment can deal faithfully with all that is done in a court of justice. They can say that we are mistaken, and our decisions erroneous, whether they are subject to appeal or not.

All we would ask is that … those who criticize us will remember that, from the nature of our office, we cannot reply to their criticisms. We cannot enter into public controversy. Still less into political controversy. We must rely on our conduct itself to be its own vindication.”

No doubt the courts, while upholding the laws and enforcing them, do give support to one side but they do not do so out of any impure motives. They do not range themselves on-the-side of the Government when the law does not warrant so. To charge the judiciary as unfair and impartial, to say that the judges are not guided by law and cases are not being decided on merit, instinctively favouring the Government Employees, is to draw a very distorted and poor picture of the judiciary.

Whatever your political views, support your local judges and the institutions of justice. Its the only thing between you and the oppression by the powerful.

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