ARMED TRIBALS ENTER FORESTS TO SNATCH THEIR FOREST RIGHTS
Hundreds of armed tribals mainly tribal women entered forests in the Demarcated Protected Forests (DPF) area in the Kinnaur district of Himachal Pradesh under the banner of Himachal Kisan Sabha an affiliate of the All India Kisan Sabha. The entry was made to lop the branches of the trees which is an age old right of the people who use it for fuel. The lopping done in a scientific manner ie 1/3rd lopped tree from bottom helps the tree to grow more and also allows the sunlight to reach the ground which in turn allows the forests to develop further. But under the guise and garb of a HP High Court order which has stayed the TD (timber distribution) rights the government and the forest department has virtually converted the forests into a fortress of their fiefdom where a complete moratorium has been announced on all the existing and previous rights of tribals and the local people. The TD right has already been reported in these columns. This ban has created severe hardship for the people who are associated with the forests for every small operation. Actually it is difficult to realize in the capital of the state and the country that if timber is not provided to the people for the construction or repair of their houses, for fuel for fodder the people especially the tribals will be forced to quit their agricultural / horticultural operations. At a height of over 9000 feet where the temperature during winters reach below minus 15 degrees Celsius to live in a concrete house is just hypothetical , which the government is asking the people to do. To construct concrete houses as wood will not be made available. And to believe that no fuel wood is required to keep themselves warm at such a low temperature and would be compensated by gas or something else is actually speaking trash.
The Himachal Kisan Sabha initiated a massive campaign in the Nichar block of the Kinnaur district. Initially the campaign was led under the focal slogan of implementing the forest tribal act in a concrete form without any dilution. But as we went down to the people ie the tribals, they started complaining of the severe hardships they face because of shortage of fuel wood which is not being made available to them as per the above court order. The worst hit were the dalits amongst the tribals ,especially those who used to sharpen agricultural implements by converting the lopped branches into coal . this caste is a blacksminth caste called by the name of ‘Lohar’. The villages dominated by them like Thanang , Grange , Sungra , Grade and so on asked the HKS to do something on this issue. The HKS decided to have a direct action on this issue and prior to this held a massive campaign of nearly 45 days in which more than 26 villages of the Nichar block were covered . More than 5000 leaflets and 2000 posters were printed. Then a mass meeting was held on 16th February and again on 18th March Bhawanagar, which was followed by a clarion call to enter the forests with arms to lop the trees for 19th March 2009.
Armed entry of tribals into the forests.
Since the call given was open, in advance and not a guerilla kind of action the police and the forest department had also made preparation to stop the entry. Initially they unleashed a massive propaganda that such an action would amount to registration of cases and people would be thrown behind the bars. A kind of fear was also created by various government agencies including the influential people in the villages. But to their surprise the people far outnumbered them. Besides, they were heavily armed like every tribal carried either a sickle or an axe. The gathering was done close to the DPF forest. The police and the forest department tried to intervene but they were informed that the action will not amount to cutting of the trees , only lopping of the trees would be done that too in a scientific manner. The government and the forest officials could not resist the move and hundreds entered the forests and lopped the trees in a token manner. This has created a catalytic effect in the entire region and people from various quarters and villages are now contacting the kisan leadership to hold such actions everywhere. The HKS has also become a party to the ongoing case in the HP High court on the issue of TD rights so that the real and actual interests of the people could be represented well.
Irony,no timber for local people but 10000 trees for JP
The Jaypee group of industries in constructing a 1000 MW hydel project in Kinnaur district. The transmission line is to be laid through the Nichar forests. This is indeed heartening and silly that the government on the one hand is not allowing the people to have their legitimate rights in the forests and on the other hand more than 10000 trees of prime quality would be cut for the laying of the transmission line. The demand for laying an alternate path for the transmission line is also an important issue of the area. Immediately after the lopping it was known that the JP officials have come to Nichar village for getting a No objection certificate from the Panchayat officials. At once the lopping was stopped and the mass of the people decided to march to Nichar which is about 5 kilometres from the spot of lopping to picket the meeting and force the JP officials to withdraw. After reaching Nichar hundreds of kisans gathered and a mass meeting was held . Meanwhile under the pressure of the people even the Panchayat has refused to give the JP what they call the NOC. The mass rally held at Nichar further gave a call to consolidate the gains and has decided that it shall not allow to even cut a single tree for the laying of JP transmission line and if the need arises the tribals would stick around the tree to protect it.
Tikender Singh Panwar
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