Shimla: Forest rights in high altitude tribal district of Kinnaur has become a bone of contention between the state and the natives who are opposing diversion of forested lands for construction of a hydropower project.
President of Kinnaur Him Lok Jagriti Manch, RS Negi says the government has not validated converting of customary forest rights into legal rights under provisions of the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act 2006.
Trouble is brewing over diversion of 17.6857 hectares of forest land which includes the rare chilgoza trees of Kinnaur for construction of integrated 243 MW Kashang hydropower project on the Kashang and Kerang streams in Satluj river basin.
Negi says, â€œthe government or the project developers have not approached the local gram sabhas to obtain a sanction for diverting forest lands over which they enjoy customary rights and an environmental clearance has been granted by Ministry of Environment and Forest (MOEF) for it, which is total violation of both the 2006 forest rights act.â€
â€œResidentâ€™s from Lippa village have challenged the clearance before the National Green Tribunal,â€ he said.
Principal secretary forests Sudipto Roy dismisses the claim of forest rights being evoked.
â€œKinnaur is one of the most prosperous parts of Himachal and there are no forest dwellers that are totally dependent upon forest produce in that tribal district for their livelihood for whom the 2006 act is applicable,â€ said Roy.
Timber usage and rights over minor forest produce for the Kinnaur people are recorded in the Forest Settlement of Bushahar State, 1921 and are still valid, he added.
â€œCustomary rights are community rights that the state can usurp but 2006 act makes them legal rights which the government has not recognized for two years despite claims having been filed,â€ says Negi.
Rising tension between the project developers and the tribals had a fortnight ago led four engineers being taken hostage by protesting villagers. They were only rescued after government officials intervened.
The integrated project involves diversion of Kerang stream into Kashang stream and developing the multistage project in a phased manner. State power generating company HP Power Corporation Ltd is executing the project.