Mandi, Up the ante against the BJP government in Himachal Pradesh, near 600 voters from the Mandi parliamentary constituency on Thursday staged a protest here, demanding implementation of the Forest Rights Act (FRA) of 2006.
People from Kinnaur, Lahaul-Spiti, Kullu, Mandi districts and remote areas of Chamba districts participated in the protest.
“Individual and community forest rights recognised under the Forest Rights Act of 2006 are crucial for majority of the population in Himachal Pradesh and despite this the government has failed to remove the hurdles in the implementation of the Act,” said a protester.
He said the Himachal Van Adhikar Manch, a platform of community organisations and activists, called this public meeting and protest.
The FRA was passed by the Parliament in 2006 with the aim of protecting the interests as well as providing legal recognition and recording the rights of the communities dependent on forest land for their bonafide livelihoods.
Protesters rue a large number of people all across the country have benefited from this Act but in the state merely 129 claims have been recorded till now.
“Even within the state claims have been filed, but in Mandi district it is unfortunate that ‘zero claims’ certificates have been procured by the administration from forest right committees since 2014, indicating people have no claims to make under this Act,” Himachal Van Adhikar Manch Convenor Akshay Jasrotia said.
Save Lahaul-Spiti Society President Prem Katoch said while claims had been filed from Lahaul and rights have been given in 74 cases, the administration was lax and arbitrary in its approach.
R.C. Negi from Him Lok Jagriti Manch of Kinnaur raised the issue of the administration misinterpreting the law and stalling claim files by raising false objections.
Both representatives said that they would vote for the party that would prioritise the fair implementation of the FRA in the state.
Laal Hussain, a representative of the Gujjars from Chamba, emphasized the need for the community rights over grazing lands and alpine pastures under this Act.
He said in the election they would support only those who speak of their traditional rights.
The Himachal Van Adhikar Manch also released a people’s demand charter with demands include withdrawal of the ‘zero claims’ certificates taken in Mandi, Chamba and Kangra districts and reopening of the claim filing process in these regions and review and action on the pending files.
It is estimated the FRA is likely to be an issue of the electorate in more that 25 per cent of the constituencies in the country.
And in Himachal too this issue is gaining momentum among the people, say activists.
Outgoing BJP MP Ram Swaroop Sharma has been pitted against the Congress greenhorn Ashray Sharma from the Mandi parliamentary constituency, one of country’s largest and toughest.
For quite some time, Lahaul-Spiti and Kinnaur districts, both dominated mainly by Buddhists, are echoed with slogans “van adhikar kanoon lagoo karo” (implement the Forest Rights Act) and “hamare gaon mein hamara raj” (self-rule in our village).