Hills and mountains by their very topography consist more of forests, grasslands, rocky or snowy landscapes than farmed areas. Animal rearing is one key activity to convert the wealth of vegetation into human-usable items like milk, hide, meat and wool. Collecting and using fuel wood, food like berries and mushrooms, medicinal plants, irrigation water and construction material from the landscape are survival techniques that make life possible in the mountains. As a result, the hill people are naturally dependent upon these ‘forest lands’ as much (or even more than) they are on farming for survival. Through forest settlement processes undertaken 150 to 60 years back, these uses of forest resources were recorded for each village and became the customary rights of its residents.
The coming of Schedule Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act or FRA in 2008, created basis for these rights to be given legal status, in absence of which, the local people had little legal backing to ensure proper management of these resources or protection of forest resources from undesirable destructive activity. However, the implementation of FRA in Himachal has left much to be desired (see Himachal Pradesh Forest Department’s Status Report on FRA, December 2012), as political will lacks on the part of the State Government (for fear of losing power) as well as in the general public (due to myriad factors, amongst them understanding the full significance and reach of FRA) to pursue the matter.
Forest Clearances and Forest Rights
From 1981 to 2012, as per the Forest Department’s own data, more than 10,000 hectares of forest land, on which people had user rights, have been diverted for hydropower, mining, roads and other projects. This does not include the thousands of hectares of forest lands diverted for projects like Bhakra dams before 1980. (see details of Forest Area Diverted)
Diversion of forest land for projects continues without the consent of the concerned Gram Sabhas on the basis of dubious certificates issued by the Chief Minister and the Deputy Commissioners in contravention of FRA. (Correspondence between Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister and Ministry of Environment and Forests with regard to waiver of the July 2009 Advisory on FRA compliance before Forest Clearances)
Environment Action groups and activists from Himachal Pradesh have written several letters to Minister of Tribal Affairs Shri VK Deo and Jayathi Natrajan (Minister of Environment)opposing this move. (See Press Note 20th January 2013)
Following this the MoTA sent letter to HP government and MoEF clarifying its position on the criticality of the Gram Sabha NoC (see Letter from MoTA to HP government – April 2013)
Recently the Himachal Government has made a move towards formation of FRA committees at the Gram Sabha level but there are hardly any efforts towards awareness building of Panchayat representatives or trainings being organised. (See Letter to include FRA committee formation agenda in Gram Sabha Agenda – 7th April 2013)
Also read recent Tehelka Article Himachal Pradesh government flunks forest rights’ subject
Resource Material for Activists: