Shimla: For not implementing the law, the Himachal Pradesh government instead of being hauled up and punished has earned a bonanza by being made custodian and owner of fruit bearing illegal apple orchards raised on encroached forest lands by a court order here. Income from selling the apples should be used for raising forests, the court has directed.
The government application as recorded in the High Court order states,
“While going through the application, it appears that the state has not sought modification of the orders (supra), but has shown its bona fides to protect apple trees, the fruits and crop(s) which is/are standing on the encroached forest land and to protect the environment as cutting of a large number of trees may cause deforestation.”
Before diluting it earlier order of clearing all forest lands of encroachments being it construction of a residential house or planting of an orchard, a division bench of the High Court consisting of Chief Justice Mansoor Ahmad Mir and Justice Tarlok Chauhan in their order on 27.7.2015 note, “it appears that officials/officer of the state have remained in deep slumber for a pretty long and have shut their eyes allowing the encroachers to plant apple trees, which have now become fruit growing trees/orchards, is suggestive of the fact that those encroachers would have cut down the forest trees from the encroached forest land, made that land vacant and thereafter, would have made plantation.
The judges before passing orders also pointed out: It is also not known as to whether any action has been drawn by the state authorities against all those encroachers, who have cut down the forest trees and have made plantation of apple trees and whether any action has been taken against all those officers/officials who were in position from time to time.
Passing the order on behalf of the division bench, chief justice Mir directed
“The state officers in general and the chief secretary and the principal secretary forests to the HP government in particular, are held responsible to pluck the apples, conduct the sale of apples and utilize the sale price for planting forest trees, which are known as forest species, and not any other kind of plantation, i.e. apple, pears, plum, cherries, almonds, etc.
Whereas the government in its application seeking a modification of the courts tough order had asked for “partial modification of the direction —- to the extend that the encroached land along with all standing crops and plants existing over it shalle be taken over by the forest department for its further management and properly fenced with barbed wire at the cost and expenses of the encroachers is prayed for in order to avoid the highlighted effects which may have adverse repercussions in the entire landscape. The income so generated by the department shall be spent in carrying out afforestation over such lands in a phased manner. During the process of afforestation, the standing fruit bearing crops like apples, pears etc. after culmination of their life span shall be replaced gradually with nature plant of wild origin.”
the court responded—
“They (the government) are directed to take an exercise of pruning of apple trees, on the encroached forest land, after plucking the apples in order to minimize the apple crop in the coming seasons.”
they are also permitted to conduct sale of standing crops on the encroached forest land and utilize the sale price for the purpose of plantation of forest trees and its preservation with a further direction to ensure that no person is allowed to sow seeds of any crop on the encroached forest land.
The government has been asked to file a status report on 3rd August.
The interim order fails to address the basic flaw about not implementing the law of the land. A government with its bulky forest department, which includes ‘Van Thanas’ (forest police stations) has failed to protect the forests that the court itself has pointed out but now have given charge of a cash cow about protecting the illegal orchards, tending to the fruit crops, harvesting them, selling them and the returns be used for planting forests.
The lax government and the forest department has only got richer because of failing to discharge their duty.
In its drive to clear out encroachments on forest lands, the foresters abiding by the court’s earlier orders had cut down several thousand trees but fearing a backlash from those who have encroached large swathes of cedar, pine, spruce, fir and oak forest lands. only the smaller farmers were targeted and evicted. Data of evictions made are expected to be filed before the court in the status report to be placed on 3rd August.
Fearing loss of their illegal crop, orchard owners across the apple growing belt are said to have resorted to an early harvest, dumped it in the market and the apple prices in the market have crashed.
The forest mafia, something that Virbhadra Singh proudly claims to have fought, booked and contained when he was para-dropped as chief minister of Himachal Pradesh in 1983 after Thakur Ram Lal was replaced for failing to do so, has come back to haunt him. Large scale orchards have come up by encroaching upon forest lands is evidence enough of Virbhadra Singh having looked the other way when the forest mafia was busy cutting precious forest trees and planting orchards.
It is also a matter of record that Virbhadra Singh for 5 of his 6 terms as chief minister was a MLA either from Jubbal-Kotkhai or Rohru, the two assembly segments where the largest number of illegal orchards on protected forest lands are said to have been raised.