Himachal Govt in bind over regularizing encroachments by religious shrines

Shimla: Unable to contain encroachments over public lands by ordinary citizens, the government finds itself in a bind to deal with seizing of government land by religious organizations and is seeking to regularize some of them by altering the policy.

Highly place sources disclosed that there were as many as 2768 cases of illegal encroachments made on public or forest lands by religious organization in the state. Most of the encroachments have been made in Kangra district, followed by Solan, Mandi, Kullu and Bilaspur districts.

“There are 1928 cases of encroachments by religious organization in Kangra district involving more than 41 hectares of land,” said an officer privy to the matter. In Solan there are 345 such encroachment cases, in Mandi 203, in Kullu 119, in Bilaspur there were 118 cases. There was only one case in Una, 3 in Hamirpur, 7 in Shimla and 44 in Sirmaur, he said.

While the state still has to firmly deal with clearing a huge pendency of evicting about 2 lakh cases of ilegal encroachments by individuals, a Supreme Court diktat of containing encroachments by religious institutions did force the government to compile a list of all such violations.

“To deal with the sensitive issue, the matter was placed before the cabinet in January and the cabinet did grant approval for adopting a policy dealing specifically with constructions and encroachments on government land by religious institutions,” said a government spokesman.

However sources revealed that the government had decided to ask concerned district administrations to look at approved smaller encroachment cases, which involved under 1 bigha of land whereas the larger ones would have to be dealt at the government level. Other parameters about old or new encroachments have also been laid out for consideration and those encroachments which were blatant would face evictions.

Victim to a botched up government policy about regularization of encroachments of government lands by private individuals, Neeraj Chauhan, a resident of Rohru reacted, “norms for religious shrines are being relaxed whereas we are being prosecuted.”

He went to explain that in 2002, the government promised to regularize encroachments and having paid a fee and produced affidavits about the land sought to be granted ownership rights were submitted, the government turned around and held out the very document submitted as proof for the illegality committed and now about 2 lakh people are in the line of fire from law agencies.

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