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A Bureaucratic Unmaking

Forest Rights Act in Kinnaur, Himachal Pradesh

The emergence of the Forest Rights Act reasserted the vitality of the role people play in conservation and management of natural resources and carving out legal channels for recognition of their forest rights. But, in Himachal Pradesh, the FRA suffers at the hands of a bureaucracy that has buried it under the weight of colonial power structures. The conflicting narratives from Kinnaur are discussed, where instead of being recognised under the FRA, the tribals’ identity and forest dependence are being ripped away from them.

 

Marking the end of the year with a historical struggle, Reckong Peo, the district headquarters of Kinnaur, in the bone-chilling snowy weather on 9 December 2019 echoed with the slogan of “Jeevan ka ek aadhar, Van Adhikar.” A year before this, on 29 December 2018, hundreds of people chanted the slogan as they marched on the road to the district collector’s (DC) office demanding the effective and just implementation of the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 (FRA) in their tribal district (Tribune 2018; Times of India 2018; Himdhara–Environment Research and Action Collective 2019a). Crowned in their traditional green velvet-bordered topis, Kinnaura women and men from the remotest of the villages had gathered for 15–16 times in the last nine to 10 years. But, as the delegation in 2018, demanding the recognition of their traditional forest rights, moved towards the district administration office, they were informed that the DC had left and was not present to address the public. Remarking on the bureaucratic failure to implement the FRA, a villager whose forest rights claim still remains pending with the Subdivisional Level Committee (SDLC) participating in the rally had stated, “The administration is not just and fair, else why would it run away from recognising our forest rights?”1

The bureaucracy has emerged as the biggest roadblock in the implementation of the FRA, a law that acknowledges the historical injustice done to forest dwellers, and aims to give legal recognition to the forest rights of all dependent communities and to decentralise decision-making powers amongst the people. More than 10 years have passed since this historic legislation came, but its implementation remains a far-fetched dream in Himachal Pradesh (HP), where two-thirds of the total land is recorded as forestland (MoTA 2018).2 The tribal district of Kinnaur3 has seen the highest rate of claim submission, and yet, no individual or community forest rights title has been awarded till date.4 In Kinnaur, the communities share an intensively dependent ecological relationship with their mountainous ecosystems and natural resources. Negotiating the everydayness with the rugged fragile landscape and harsh climatic conditions, Kinnauras depend intricately on the cash crop agro-economy of apples, peas, rajma (kidney beans), and dry fruits for sustenance. However, now being aggrieved by the apathy of the bureaucratic apparatus, it has emerged as the contesting ground for voices struggling for claims over their natural resources and forest rights.

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Updated On : 27th Jan, 2020

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