Campaigners oppose eviction of Himachal forest dwellers

Shimla, Nov 2 (IANS) A Himachal Pradesh-based group of rights campaigners on Wednesday opposed a state government drive to evict forest dwellers under the garb of a high court order.

It has threatened to launch a statewide agitation for the restoration of rights of the forest dwellers under the Forest Rights Act (FRA) of 2006.

In a missive to state Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh and Union Tribal Affairs Minister Jual Oram, the Himalaya Niti Abhiyan has demanded that the illegal eviction of the forest dwellers be stopped.

“The high court ordered on October 18 to remove encroachments on forest and revenue land that is more than 10 bighas and to report the progress of eviction on next date of hearing on November 15. We came to know that under this pressure, the state is launching a drive to evict forest dwellers from November 1,” Guman Singh, coordinator of the Himalaya Niti Abhiyan, told IANS.

The Abhiyan is a group of NGOs fighting for the cause of those facing loss of their land due to development activities.

The Himachal Pradesh High court in its order on February 27 directed the state that eviction proceedings against those in possession of forest land even less than 10 ‘bighas’ should be started and first information reports (FIRs) should be filed against them within six weeks.

The same order was passed by the court last year for those in possession of more than 10 ‘bighas’ of forest land. One bigha is 0.4 hectare.

“Under this pretext, the Forest Department has cut down more than 40,000 fruit-bearing apple and other trees and destroyed orchards and farmland of several small farmers having even less than 10 bighas,” Guman Singh said in a statement.

He said many houses were demolished across the state and water and electricity supplies were disconnected, even in tribal areas.

“Unfortunately, the state has not presented before the court the restriction to evict such possessions under the provisions of FRA nor referred to the Supreme Court judgment that has observed that no eviction can take place till the verification and recognition under the FRA is complete,” he said.

It has demanded implementation of the FRA and creation of a “fearless atmosphere” so that the traditional forest dwellers could file claims under the provisions of the act.

–IANS

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