HP environmentalists seek implementation of Forest Rights Act
Environmentalists in Himachal Pradesh have asked members of the high-powered committee on land laws to speed up the implementation of the Forest Rights Act, 2006.
The panel, which has six different subcommittees headed by MLAs, was formed in September last year with the mandate to review the land laws in the state. The committee was constituted citing a large number of land ownership-related conflict cases pending in the high court that were becoming a cause of concern for the government.
Prakash Bhandari of Himdhara Collective said, “The root of this problem dates back to the enactment of the Forest Conservation Act, 1980, which ended up blocking all possibilities of fair and just resolution and regularisation of najayaz kabzas which were indeed legitimate occupations of people facilitated by various state laws like the Nautor Rules. Further, there was a blanket notification issued by the government of Himachal in 1952 that declared all wasteland as forest land.”
He added, “The intention of the 1952 notification and Forest Conservation Act may have been to protect forests, but there was a need to follow the process of forest settlement under the Indian Forest Act, 1927, providing a fair opportunity to people with existing rights on the land. But this process was not followed in the years to come.” Declaring lands as ‘forests’ without providing a fair chance to communities who have been dependent on these ancestral lands for generations has been termed “historical Injustice” in the preamble of the Forest Rights Act 2006, he said.
The submission made by Himdhara Collective highlights that the Act provides a historical opportunity for the state to clean up both revenue and forest settlement records in a fair manner. “In Himachal, which has a population of more than 1.5 lakh families of gaddis and gujjars, medicinal plant collectors who are directly dependent on forest land for livelihood and 1.65 lakh families who have applied under 2002 encroachment regularisation policy of Himachal government and several thousands, they had been cited as najayaz kabza in revenue and forest records. There is hardly any forest land in the state where local communities do not have forest usage and dependence for livelihood needs,” the submission states.
“The Act has been implemented selectively for diversion of forest land for village development activities. Till now, 2,000 cases have been sanctioned by the government under this provision. However, the very few are aware that the main provision of the act is the recognition of Individual Forest Rights (habitation and farm activities) and Community Forest Rights (fodder, fuelwood, medicinal plants, grazing rights). So far, only 35 community rights titles; and 129 individual forest rights have been accorded under the Act in Himachal,” he added.
Myths and misconception
One of the main reasons of the poor implementation of the law in Himachal is misinformation and lack of awareness about the law within the political machinery. “The Ministry of Tribal Affairs, the nodal agency for implementation of this law, has offered repeated clarifications on the applicability of the Act and eligibility of Himachalis for individual and community forest rights. But be it high-level officials or line officials, who are to recommend the claims, they continue to carry many misconceptions about the act,” said Manshi Asher of Himdhara Collective.
“It is only through strengthening the forest-based livelihood of communities dependent on it that conservation can be ensured,” Asher added.