'Rights of locals protected in world heritage site'

  • Roop Upadhyay, Hindustan Times, Mandi
  • Updated: Jun 30, 2014 19:56 IST

Locals of Banjar sub-division in Kullu district have received a significant victory in their long struggle to protect their forest, cultural and traditional rights under the Great Himalayan National Park (GHNP) area, which is declared as World Heritage Site (WHS) at a meeting of World Heritage Committee (WHC) of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) at Doha, Qatar, on June 23.

"Just 12 minutes were spent by WHC of UNESCO to discuss the GHNP case, which shows the triviality to discuss about the local communities concerns who are fighting and agitating against the GHNP since 1996 and the nomination process of GHNP as World Heritage Site since last two years," said Guman Singh, state convener of Himalayan Niti Abhiyan (HNA), a prominent organisation working for the protection of environment in Himalayan Region.

Guman said the state government as a party in the meeting submitted revised proposal that was altered due to continuous endeavour by HNA and local Communities-Based Organisations (CBOs) of the Banjar subdivision area.

He said the GHNP was created in 2001 and thousands of families were displaced from their cultural rights, traditional forest land based livelihood and forest rights.

"The process of declaration of GHNP as WHS by UNESCO was started in 2012 and that too without prior information, consultation with host community and informing Gram Sabhas at village level by the International Union of Conservation of Nature (IUCN), advisory body to UNESCO," he said.

Guman added that even the state department of forests tried its best to keep the voices of traditional rights holders at bay and misled everyone, including state government, Centre and local people, by presenting a single-sided story to ICUN and UNESCO.

He said HNA protested regularly with all parties concerned, including UNESCO, WHC, WHS, delegations of many countries and IUCN, till the last moment.

"HNA's report was openly published and shared with UNESCO's WHC on June 18, which listed 26 major concerns of the locals related to cultural and traditional rights of the locals exercised in Sainj Wild Life Sanctuary (WLS) and Tirthan WLS of Banjar," he added.

He said now people residing in the area of WHS of Banjar will continue to be an integral part of the natural heritage whose protection now will be the responsibility of the global community after the bestowing of the UNESCO world heritage site.

With this decision, however, he said the struggle doesn't end here and everyone, including the forest officials and state government officials have to be made aware of the Forest Rights Act (FRA), 2006, for the proper implementation of FRA in the state to provide ultimate justice to the forest dwellers.?

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