Vote bank loss forces Congress, BJP to change stand on encroachments

Shimla: Fearing a certain shift in their vote bank and support base both the Congress and Bhartiya Janata Party who were earlier reluctant to talk against the High Court’s decision of removing the illegal encroachments have now changed their stand and have come openly against the judicial verdict and are promising to file a review petition in the State High Court. A few days back the Court here had pulled up the State Forest Department and other government agencies for not taking its orders of evicting the illegal encroachments from the forest land and properties, seriously. The Court had pointed out colossal encroachments in government lands all over the State and mainly in the cash rich apple belts of various districts where the farmers have encroached thousands of bighas of adjoining forest and government lands.

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The financially and politically strong farmers of the apple growing areas have replaced the thick deodar and oak forest with that of apple forests in past few years. Their action had harshly affected the natural ecology of the area and had badly affected the weather cycle and other flora and fauna in the region.

The judicial dictates had forced the government departments to swung into action and they had started identifying and evicting the forest land. Both the major parties interestingly remained silent initially on the pretext of not interfering into the Court’s order.

But the State Communist Party of India- Marxist and its mass organization the State Kisan Sabha opposed the incumbent government’s role of remaining a silent spectator and started organising the farmers. They demanded that small encroachments by the poor and marginal farmers should not be touched and their apple trees should be saved even if in the government lands. The CPI-M call and subsequent struggle gained momentum and the farmers started a “Chipko Movement” for saving their trees.

Fearing a tilt of farmers and the strong apple lobby in favour of the left party, the State BJP, a week ago, announced the formation of a high level committee of MLAs to study the impact of eviction of encroachers from the government land and felling of apple trees after the Court’s orders. “We would decide our party’s stand on the issue in few days”, said an official communiqué of the part a few days ago.

Not lagging behind the Congress party feeling the pressure of people from the ground against the cutting of fruit laden trees sent a group of its Ministers and MLAs to the Chief Minister on Tuesday who immediately announced that his government would file a review petition in the High Court against this anti-farmer decision. He told some media persons today that a few bighas of encroachments should be allowed to the smaller farmers and the big encroachers should be punished. The Court had even ordered that electricity and water connections of the encroachers should also be cut till they leave the government land. The Congress ministers today requested to restore them immediately.

On the other hand some honest farmers in the area who have not encroached any lands are still maintaining that the government should not buckle under the pressure of some mafia encroachers who had earlier cleared the forests of expensive deodar wood and have later planted cash rich apple trees after defying all laws of the land.

KY Singh is a political observer and a senior journalist with an interest in a diverse set of issues related to Himachal Pradesh and other mountain states. He lives in Shimla.

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