Stall unlawful eviction of scheduled tribes and other forest dwellers from Himachal Pradesh’s protected areas

forestGuman Singh, Coordinator, Himalaya Niti Abhiyan, and Kulbushan Upamanyu, President, Himalaya Niti Abhiyan, have asked the Chief Secretary, Himachal Pradesh, who is also the chairperson of the State Level Monitory committee under the Forest Rights Act (FRA), to immediately stall the eviction of Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers from forest land and ensure fearless and lawful implementation of FRA in the state. Text of the letter:

The forest department is evicting Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers from forest land under the provision of Himachal Pradesh (HP) Public Premises & Land (Eviction & Rent Recovery) Act, 1971 which is in contravention to Forest Rights Act 2006. As you know the Forest Rights (FRA) Act under section 2 and 3(1) provides right to schedule tribes and other traditional forest dwellers for self-cultivation and have residence in or over forest land for fulfilling bonafide livelihood needs subject to the condition that such occupation shall be prior to December 13, 2005. It is also fact that more than 95 per cent farmer families are under the legal cover of FRA and come under the definition of traditional forest dwellers both as tribal and non-tribal. Hence eviction proceedings against them can’t be carried out till the verification and recognition procedure is not complete under the FRA 2006.

The eviction proceedings can’t be preceded under any State or Central Act as per the provision of FRA 2006 section 4(1). Hence applicability of HP Public Premises & Land (eviction and Rent Recovery) Act, 1971 stands invalid and unconstitutional.

You can see provisions mentioned under FRA, which are asunder:

  1. Section 4(5) of  The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006, (FRA-2006) says that “save as otherwise provided, no member of forest dwelling scheduled tribe or other traditional forest dweller shall be evicted or removed from forest land under his occupation till the recognition and verification procedure is complete.”
  2. In Niyamgiri judgment of Honorable Supreme Court (writ petition (civil) No 180 of 2011) also directed that no proceeding of divergence of forest land and evictions can be carried out till the recognition and verification procedure is complete under the FRA, 2006.
  3. The traditional practice in the state to cultivate forest land contiguous to the farm land, for which right has been mentioned in Bajib-Ul-Arj (nistar) of revenue records, is applicable in the State of Himachal Pradesh.

Further, under the HP Regularisation of Encroachments (in certain cases) on Government Land and Disposal of Encroached Public Property Rules, 2002, affidavits for regularisation of encroachments were invited throughout state in the year 2002. There may be more than 1.5 lakh right holders who have filled affidavits for the same, practically saying, more or less each farmer family has cultivated and built residential house for their bona fide livelihood needs since many decades.

Then, the law provides an opportunity to resolve distribution of land under Nautod rules which was stalled after the enactment of Forest Conservation Act. Thousands of cases of Nautod  are pending should be settled on the  basis of the FRA, particular instances in Kinnaur, Bhakhra displaced areas and other parts of the state, because farmer are in actual possession on such land and are practicing farming since last three to four decades.

There are many cases of encroachments over government and forest land in urban and industrial areas for shops, residential house or commercial activities. Business houses, factories, hydro-projects, cement plants and other establishment including government one has done huge encroachments against whom no one can dare to take action.

The eviction proceedings initiated by the forest department/authorities against forest dwelling scheduled tribes or other traditional forest dwellers have hampered the implementation process of FRA. Forest dwellers in the state got threatened and discouraged to file claims of forest rights by this illegal act; hence all the proceedings in forest and civil courts on this matter need to be stalled till the procedure of filing claims, verification and recognition of rights is complete.  Or else this will be a violation of Forest Rights Act, 2006 and as the matter has been considered by the Supreme Court this will also be liable to contempt.

In the light of above facts, State Government should continue the implementation of the FRA and inform the public and the judiciary of the legal situation.

We expect immediate intervention of State level monitoring committee in to this matter and ensure fearless and lawful implementation of FRA in letter and sprite.

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