Acting tough against unauthorized structures built on government-owned forest land, the Himachal Pradesh High Court has ordered eviction of all encroachers within six months. The order was passed by a division bench comprising justices Rajiv Sharma and Tarlok Singh Chauhan in a public interest litigation taken up suo moto by the court. The PIL was filed by a resident of Jubbal tehsil, Krishan Chand Sarta.
The court also directed the additional forest chief secretary to file a fresh status report with regard to the position obtaining on June 30, 2015 and posted the matter for further hearing to July 7.
The court said it was evident from the status report illegal encroachments on forest land continued to be rampant. It noted a total of 9,612 cases of encroachment over less than 10 'bighas' of encroached forest land had been registered up to September 30, 2014 and proceedings in 7,009 cases were been completed by the divisional forest officers-cum-collectors under the Himachal Pradesh Public Premises (Eviction & Rent Recovery) Act, 1971.
The court also observed in 3,392 cases illegal encroachments had been removed by evicting the encroachers. Of the remaining 4,069 cases that were under trial with revenue authorities under Section 163 of the state Land Revenue Act, 1954, encroachments in 771 of the 1,115 cases decided by revenue officials have been removed.
"All the respondents are directed to ensure that all the encroachments over the government land are got vacated as expeditiously as possible and in no event later than six months. It shall be the personal responsibility of all the divisional forest officers to ensure compliance with the aforesaid directions," the court orders read.
The court also observed that in the affidavit filed in 2008 the government had disclosed that as on September 2008, 8828 cases were registered under the provisions of the Himachal Pradesh Public Premises (Eviction & Rent Recovery) Act. The court had also directed in 2008 to remove all encroachment within six months by setting up special teams, if necessary, but the government failed to carry out the directions.
"In such circumstances we have no other option but to enlarge the scope of the petition to the entire state. The forest conservation and eco-management are two inevitable obligations which are to be respected when the theory of 'sustainable development' is put into operation," the court said..
Meanwhile, the amicus curiae in the case, JL Bhardwaj, observed no seriousness was being shown by the authorities to prevent encroachers, as a result of which not only trees were being felled but temporary construction and cultivation activities had also commenced. He recommended fencing the area freed from encroachment with barbed wire at the expenses of the encroachers.
Highlights of court order
Disconnect power, water connections provided to all illegal structures raised over encroached land
Panchayat representatives required to report all cases of encroachment within their jurisdiction
All crops and plants over encroached land must be destroyed with expenses to be borne by encroacher
Forest guards required to submit half-yearly report with respect to encroachments, time of detection and action taken