Representation to Rahul Gandhi, vice-president, AICC, for speedy implementation of FRA in Himachal Pradesh:
We are thankful to you for taking quick step in protecting the rights and duties of Gram Sabha – the epitome of democracy in rural areas and your timely intervention in stepping towards withdrawal of Civil Appeal in Supreme Court of India by Himachal Pradesh State government with immediate effect.
As, Himachal Pradesh Power Corporation Ltd. – HPCCL (a state PSU of the Government of Himachal Pradesh) through the Chief Secretary of the Government of Himachal Pradesh who happens to be the Chairperson of the Board of Directors had preferred an Appeal before the Supreme Court of India against NGT order dated 4th May 2016 in the matter of Kashang HEP [Civil Appeal No. 8345 Himachal Pradesh Power Corporation Ltd. Versus Paryavaran Sanrakshan Samiti, Lippa] situated in tribal district of Kinnaur, H.P. NGT in its order directed State Government to comply with provisions of FRA and ordered to complete the process of recognition and verification of forest right under the supervision of District Judge. NGT also pronounced that after the completion of above process Gram Sabha may consider the forest diversion for said project.
Whereas in the appeal HPCCL stated that: “The Gram Sabha is the deciding body/ Authority to comply with the direction of the Learned Green Tribunal, Delhi but the Gram Sabha consists of unskilled local persons/ local residents. Hence, it is not possible for the State of H.P/ HPPCL to comply with the entire directions of the Ld. National Green Tribunal”. The Appeal was heard by the Hon’ble Supreme Court on 5th September 2016.
We wrote to you on this matter on 6th September 2016 on which you immediately took action and got the state government to withdraw the said appeal from the Hon’ble Supreme Court. This is an encouraging step; it has given much needed impetus to further the already going work of forest rights recognition. But you will agree that much more is needed to be done for ensuring recognition, verification and handing over rights to the communities.
Sir, Himalaya Niti Abhiyan has been intensely involved in the process of implementation of Forest Rights Act-2006 in Himachal Pradesh, we would like to brief you about the current situation and request the intervention of the Congress Party in moving the State Government to accelerate the process.
- Forest Rights Act was enacted during UPA-I Government on 13 December, 2005 with a view to empower the tribals and other traditional forest dwelling communities socially and economically by conferring them rights on forest resources and forest land, which they have been cultivating/ using / practising for generations to fulfil their livelihoods and socio-cultural needs. But ironically the preamble of the Act has not been followed in its letter and spirit. The State of Himachal Pradesh and its committees have misled the process by stating that rights were settled in the past and there is no need for implementing FRA 2006. This has resulted in exclusion of forest dwellers from the domain of rights enshrined in the law and also created confusion among DLC, SDLC and the Scheduled tribes and other traditional forest dwellers.
- In the state of Himachal Pradesh out of total geographical area of 55,673 sq. km., 66.52% comprise of forest land expanding to 37,033 sq kms. Majority of forest land is unculturable and snow bound in the cold desert areas of the State. The forest area further categorized as Reserve forest is 1,898 sq. km, Protected forest 33,130 sq kms, Unclassified forest 2,005 sq kms. As per the government record FRA potential area is 13,907 sq kms (13,90,704 hectare), roughly one fourth of total geographical area of the state which is culturable and is under traditional access of local communities. Approximately 95% of the state population lives in villages having high dependence on these forest and forest resources for various livelihood needs. As per the Forest Rights Act -2006 this section of the society falls in the category of Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (OTFD) and schedule tribes forest dwellers (STFD) living in the Schedule-5 areas of Lahaul Spiti, Kinnaur and Pangi-Bharmour and are eligible for the recognition of community forest resource rights (CFR) and Individual forest land rights(IFR).
- Himachal Pradesh government from very beginning has tried to evade implementation of the Forest Rights Act and issued many such orders against the provision of FRA, claiming that rights have been settled by the British through the imperial settlement process and hence recognition under FRA is not necessary. Under the constant pressure of the local communities and Ministry of Tribal Affairs, state government started the process in 2008 in tribal region and in 2012-13 in non tribal regions. In the first phase feeble attempts were made in tribal areas with several illegal riders such as claimant should not be a Government employee, Income tax payee, shopkeeper and several were categorized as encroachers. This ineligibility is in no way a step towards undoing historical injustice.
- Today State Government has claimed that it has constituted more that 15,000 FRCs throughout State. At least 15,000 FRCs shall have to file CFR community claims and potentially lakhs of IFR individual claims expected to be filed in this state. As on date; updates of the MoTA website; (http://www.tribal.nic.in/Content/ForestRightActOtherLinks.aspx); regarding the filing of claims in Himachal shows that 5409 individual claims and 283 Community claims of forest rights had been filed; out of which 238 individual claims and 108 community claims were settled, providing only 35 acres (merely 1416 sq.m. only in both Individual and community claims cases) of land which itself is an indication of misconceived notion about Forest Rights Act. Actually, claims of forest rights under FRA have not been verified and recognised, nothing has been done in this respect so far by the authorities. All filed claims are pending with Sub Divisional Level Committees (SDLC) and District Level Committees (DLC) till date or some of them have been sent back to Forest Rights Committees (FRC) by raising some objections without knowing the procedures laid down under FRA rules-2012. MOTA has already provided them clarifications and issued FAQs but even than the state has turned a blind eye on facts and process to be followed.
- In fact, Forest department and HP High court issued such orders which pressurised dwellers not to file claims. FIRs under H.P. Public Premises & Land (Eviction & Rent Recovery) Act, 1971 on encroachment were registered by forest department against those people who filed individual claims in clear contravention to Forest Rights Act 2006. The process of verification has to be taken up before declaring them encroachers under the Act but this was evaded.
- Ironically, the High Court of Himachal Pradesh in an order dated 6 April 2015 sought to remove all encroachment from forest land within six months in a case on alleged encroachment (CWP 3141 of 2015). Under this pretext, forest department has destroyed and cut down apple orchards of several small farmers. Many residential houses were demolished in many parts of state, water and electricity connections were also disconnected. Whereas, Himachal government has not presented before the court the restriction to evict such possessions under the provisions of FRA nor referred to the Supreme Court Judgment on Niyamgiri which has confirmed that no eviction can take place till the verification and recognition under the act is completed. The eviction proceedings intentionally initiated by the forest department against forest dwelling scheduled tribes and other traditional forest dwellers has hampered the implementation of FRA and conferring rights to Forest Dwellers.
- Forest dwellers were not provided information, nor was there wide publicity. Training to Gram Sabhas or local officials was never properly imparted. Even the government functionaries at field level are unaware about the process of FRA is reflected in insincerity of SLMC, DLC & SDLC which have to enabled verification and recognition. It is the duty of the SLMC, DLC and SDLC to make aware government functionaries at field level such as Panchayat secretaries, local official of forest and revenue department, Forest Right Committees and Gram Sabhas. Whereas Government is pressurising FRCs, SDLCs and DLCs to divert forest land under FRA section 3(2) for development works without recognition and verification of forest rights.
- The forest dwellers in such situation are helpless to initiate the process of “Undoing the Historical injustice”. In the era of democratization of common resources the department is still enjoying the ownership on majority land which ultimately belongs to People/Community and state is the custodian for the same.
We request you personally to impress upon your party and the State Government of Himachal Pradesh to implement FRA in letter and spirit and build a fearless atmosphere so that tribal’s and other forest dwellers are encouraged to file claims under the Act. We sincerely hope that you will take up this matter urgently and guide us and the State Government to ensure the implementation of the Act which was principally aimed to correct historical injustices. In one of the orders of the Court has threatened contempt action on anyone trying to resist eviction. Hence it is critical that action is initiated urgently.
The Himalayan Niti Abhiyan urge Congress leadership under your guidance to intensify the lawful implementation of FRA, encourage communities and enable filing of their rightful claims in the state of Himachal Pradesh. This can be possible by ensuring a fearless and enabling environment. This requires backing at the highest political level and strict instructions to the officials to implement the law in its letter and spirit so that FRA could be implemented successfully.
We have over the past eight years consistently been raising these issues and enabled filing of forest rights claims by tribal communities of Kinnaur district and since last two years in five district of non tribal region facilitating the filing of community forest claims of Other Traditional Forest Dwellers.
We hope and believe that the situation will improve upon your active involvement with your party leadership in various states, especially Himachal Pradesh for taking ahead people’s issues to their rightful logical process.
We request your kind support for enabling the process of FRA implementation in the State.
Guman Singh-Coordinator, Him Niti Abhiyan, Kullu, Himachal Pradesh
R Sreedhar, Environics Trust & Advisor, mines, minerals & People (mm&P), New Delhi
Jiya Lal, Secretary, Him Lok Jagriti Manch, Village Kalpa, Kinnaur
R C Negi, Joint Secretary, Him Lok Jagriti Manch, Village Thangi, Kinnaur
Ajit Rathore, Him Niti Abhiyan, Kullu, Himachal Pradesh
Sita Ram, Vice President, Him Lok Jagriti Manch, Village Gyabung, Kinnaur
Devi Gyan, Member, Lippa Sangarsh Samiti, Lippa, Kinnaur
Ram Sen, Member, Lippa Sangarsh Samiti, Lippa, Kinnaur
Ashok Shrimali, General Secretary, mines, minerals & People (mm&P), Ahmedabad
Nishant Alag, Environics Trust, New Delhi
Dr. Ravni Thakur Banon, Delhi University