The eviction of inhabitants belonging to Scheduled Tribes and other forest dwelling communities on forest lands is attracting huge criticism with NGOs terming the move as against the provisions of Forest Rights Act, 2006.
The Himachal Van Adhikar Manch NGO which is working towards implementation of the pro-people Forest Rights Act 2006 (FRA) the eviction drive of the Forest department on forest ‘encroachments’ using the ‘Public Premises Act’.
“These eviction drives are illegal and are leading to loss of livelihoods of thousands of occupants who are not ‘encroachers’ but ‘right holders’ under the Act,” Akshay Jasrotia, convenor of the Manch said.
In the last few months, there have been numerous cases of evictions of the ‘occupants’, mostly belonging to Scheduled Castes (SC) and Scheduled Tribes (ST), from forest lands in complete violation of the Act.
He cited the example of the Dalit farmer in Sirmaur who died of trauma, post eviction and the recent instances in Palampur where poor and landless Dalit families are facing threat of eviction.
“Such incidents are jeopardising the interests of the state’s forest-dependent communities by the government department,” he said.
On 27 February, the Him Lok Jagriti Manch, a local citizens forum, organised to address grievances of 96 occupants of Kinnaur district who are also facing evictions under the ‘Public Premises and Land (Eviction and Rent) Recovery Act.
“Interestingly the Divisional Forest Officer had last year issued show-cause notices to these occupants under the Act 1971 and when the occupants filed their objection, he didn’t hear the matter, nor passed any order in it,” he said, alleging and now these summons have been issued in an ad-hoc manner.
The Forest department is simply violating the FRA 2006 by using Public Premises Act, whereas the latter is a state legislation while the FRA is an Act passed by the Parliament. And the Section 4(1) of the FRA overrides all other legislation, to recognise and vest forest rights to ST and other forest-dwelling communities.
“What are being termed as ‘encroachments’ are legal occupations on Forest lands for which are eligible for legal titles, to be issued using the provisions of the Forest Rights Act 2006, Jasrotia said.
“What is most ironic is that the same Forest department has cleared 189 forest diversion proposals in Kinnaur district under Section 3(2) of the Forest Rights Act 2006.
This implies that the department is well aware of the provisions of the FRA but is using them selectively,” RS Negi of Him Lok Jagriti Manch said. It is important to note that these evictions are being carried out post an order of the High Court passed in April 2015.
“But the Forest Department cannot shirk from its responsibility of informing the court of the provisions of FRA and the need to first implement the FRA before any kind of encroachment removal,” he added.