Local leaders and activists call out the ignorance and apathy of administration, question apathy of the government
Close to 1500 tribal people assembled and carried out a rally at Kinnaur’s district headquarter of Reckong Peo on the 29th of December to register their protest against the district administration for not implementing the Forest Rights Act in the region and state. The key catalyst of the protest was the recent decision of the District Administration on 17th December 2018, to reject 47 individual forest rights claims of Lippa village in the District. Despite the recent spell of snowfall and bad weather which brought down the temperatures in this high altitude region, people from villages across the district participated in the protest held under the banner of the ZIla Van Adhikar Samiti and Him Lok Jagriti Manch, who have been struggling for the implementation of the Forest Rights Act in the region for close to 5 years.
“The decision of the District Level Committee is not just about one village – this is telling of the bureaucratic ignorance on the provisions of the Forest Rights Act as well as their attitude towards the common people of the state”, said Jiya Lal Negi, of ZIla Van Adhikar Samiti. Negi’s statement refers to the fact that the government has been dragging its feet in clearing the claims under the Act for the last ten years and that the objections being raised by the administration had no legal backing. Thousands of claims are hanging in Kinnaur District alone at various stages because of lack of bureaucratic action. Daulat Ram, a non official member of the DLC, present at the protest rally says “FRA is getting violated at each procedural step, and the voice of the non official members gets completely overshadowed and ignored by the office holding members of the DLC”. In the Lippa case too all 3 non official members had refused to accept the decision of the official members.
The decision of the DLC in Kinnaur came close to the heels of the discussion about the dire need to implement the Act in the Winter session of the State Assembly in Dharamshala. Infact the Tribal Minister after being questioned on the non implementation had promised in his Vidhan Sabha address that the government was committed to doing what is required to implement the Act in ‘mission mode’.
It needs to be noted that the FRA is a law that was brought in by the parliament in 2006 recognising that several states across the country, there are people dependent on forest land for their livelihoods and that the forest conservation related legislations and the lack of proper forest and revenue settlement process had worked to deprive people of their rights on forest land. The Act recognises not just 13 types of community forest rights but also individual rights in cases where people have been cultivating or have habitation on forest land – which they have occupied before 2005. “The law is clear cut and constitutional and lays down all the procedures for the claim filing and verification but the administration unwilling to understand the provisions of the act, and are using the this law as per their own convenience”, says Akshay Jasrotia, who has been actively advocating for the implementation of FRA in the State. Prakash Bhandari of Himdhara Collective, while addressing the gathering said, “When they have implemented section 3(2) of the act for diversion of forest land for village development activities then why not for section 3(1) which recognises Individual and Community rights. When it comes to Section 3 (1), the people of Kinnaur are not considered as ‘forest dwelling communities” where as under 3(2) they are – this is a partial reading of the Act”.
Jiyalal Negi also objected to the repeated stand of the administration that the tribals of Kinnaur did not qualify to be forest dwellers. “We cannot survive in a remote area like Kinnaur without depending on land and forests. This is a question of not just our survival buit of our identity as tribal people”.
A memorandum has been written to the CM Jai Ram Thakur, challenging the unconstitutional decision made by the DLC in the Lippa Case on 17th December 2018. An official complaint under the Act will also be filed with the State Level Monitoring Committee for the same.