Thursday, August 31, 2017

Environment clearance hearing in Rajkot: Villagers raise concern over losing land to airport project

The district administration assured the villagers that their concerns related to the revenue department would be addressed soon,” Hemant Patel, Rajkot regional officer of GPCB, said.

By: Express News Service | Rajkot | Published:August 5, 2017 5:05 am

The residents of Hirasar and nearby villages in the district on Friday raised their concerns about losing their agricultural and grazing land to the proposed Rajkot greenfield airport project during a public hearing on environmental clearance. (Representational Image)

The residents of Hirasar and nearby villages in the district on Friday raised their concerns about losing their agricultural and grazing land to the proposed Rajkot greenfield airport project during a public hearing on environmental clearance. The Gujarat government has proposed to develop a greenfield airport at Hirasar, some 20 km east of Rajkot city on National Highway-27. It has plans to acquire around 1,025 hectare (ha) of land near the Hirasar and adjoining villages of Rajkot taluka, besides Garida and others in neighbouring Surendrangar district.

As much as 633 ha is forest land while 235 ha is government wasteland. Besides, 67 ha of guachar grazing land and 35 ha agricultural land will also be acquired while ha black trap mine land will be allocated by the government. The agricultural land forms only four per cent of the total land proposed to be acquired.

As part of the process to grant environmental clearance to the project, being executed by Gujarat State Aviation Infrastructure Company Limited (GUJSAIL), the Gujarat Pollution Control Board (GPCB) held the public hearing at Hirasar village near Rajkot. Residents of eight villages falling in the 10-kilometre radius took part. Rajkot district collector Vikrant Pandey, sub-divisional magistrate Pragnesh Jani and officials of GUJSAIL were present at the hearing.

At the hour-long hearing, villagers raised questions about resettlement and rehabilitation packages. “The district administration assured the villagers that their concerns related to the revenue department would be addressed soon,” Hemant Patel, Rajkot regional officer of GPCB, said.

Hirasar village sarpanch Khimji Bhalgamadiya said they welcome the proposed project but need assurance about their properties and gauchar land. “There are more than 500 cattle in the village, which require grazing land. The project is also likely to affect several homes. Therefore, we sought an alternative gauchar and houses, with proper road connectivity along with drinking water and drainage facilities, for the affected villagers. The collector has assured us to look into our demands,” Bhalgamadiya told The Indian Express.

The sarpanch added the collector, however, did not give any direct answer on compensation for agricultural land. “He said it was yet to be decided,” said Bhalgamadiya. The collector could not be reached for comment.

On the other hand, Mahesh Pandya, founder director of NGO Paryavaran Mitra, Ahmedabad, and Dharmesh Mistry from Bharuch made written submissions at the hearing. The public hearing was part of environment impact assessment (EIA), on the basis of which clearance to a project is granted.
Airports and national highways fall in the category-I projects, for which EIAs and EC from Ministry of Environment Forest and Climate Change of the central government are mandatory. The Rajkot greenfield airport will be second international airport in the state after Ahmedabad. There is an operational airport within Rajkot city. But successive proposals of expanding it have failed due to land acquisition and state highway- 25 lining its eastern boundary.

Friday, August 25, 2017

How Tree Plantations Are Violating Citizens’ Land Rights in an Odisha Village

The forest department’s decision to fence off a community’s forest and plant new trees is uprooting local livelihoods in Pidikia village.


Forest department board behind a fence in Pidikia village of Odisha informing of compensatory afforestation plantation. Credit: Gaurav Madan

Pidikia, Odisha: It may seem like an innocuous move to those outside the village. But in Pidikia in Kandhamal district of Odisha, the forest department’s recent decision to fence off a community’s forest and plant new trees is violating citizens’ land rights and uprooting local livelihoods.

Over decades, the forests of central India have become synonymous with tribal displacement, homegrown insurgency and unrepentant mining. Now an impending campaign to plant trees is threatening to further alienate tribal communities from their land and way of life.

I accompanied residents on the short walk from the village to Dadapada – the only forest villagers regularly access for food, firewood and fodder. A few months ago, metal gates were put up enclosing 100 hectares of the forest. A signboard dutifully announced that the area will be used for tree plantation as part of a controversial environmental offset program.

The recent surge of plantations is part of a misguided policy of compensatory afforestation. The country’s ambitious economic agenda involves acquiring large tracts of land for industrial and infrastructure growth. When forest land is diverted for these projects, it is mandated that new forests be planted somewhere – often in areas unrelated to the project – to offset deforestation.

However, critics claim that these plantations target community lands that already contain forests and have longstanding traditions of community ownership and environmental protection. In Pidikia, there are questions on the viability of this approach. “The forest department is cutting useful trees and planting commercial species. How can you regenerate the forest this way?” asks Kamastri Pradhan, a resident of Pidikia.

With land conflicts on the rise and the Centre on the cusp of releasing massive funds for compensatory afforestation; marginalised forest-dwelling communities may come further under threat. Exactly one year ago, that parliament passed the Compensatory Afforestation Fund (CAF) Act, which provides a magnanimous $7 billion to state forest departments for plantations aimed at offsetting environmental degradation. Community groups and activists claim that the law undermines India’s landmark Forest Rights Act (FRA) and usurps gram sabha authority in favor of the forest department.

The FRA, passed in 2006, recognises the individual and community rights of tribals and other traditional forest dwellers to protect, manage and conserve their traditional forest lands. It acknowledges the historical injustices perpetuated against tribal communities and vests decision-making authority over forests with the gram sabha. Many believe the CAF Act will counter the spirit of the FRA, causing confusion and violating community rights.

In Pidikia, villagers say that land that has been titled under the FRA lies within the forest that has been fenced off. “We filed for a title (through the FRA) for our freedom and independence and to secure our children’s future,” says Digamber Pradhan, president of Pidikia forest rights committee. Since then, the gram sabha has filed a petition under the FRA to have the fence removed and their community forest rights fully recognised.

The forest land that has been fenced off in Pidikia. Credit: Gaurav Madan
Elsewhere in Kandhamal, a similar story is unfolding. Kutia Kondh communities – identified as a Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Group (PVTG) by the government – have a long history of mistrust with the state. Kutia Kondhs practice podu, a form of shifting cultivation based on long-term rotational agroforestry. These practices have not endeared the community to forest officials who view them as destructive, which has contributed to significant tensions over the past decades. Yet the forest department insists that while plantation occurs on podu lands, it is done at the behest of the community.

“If communities do not give permission for plantation than we will not do plantation,” explains S.S. Srivastava, principal chief conservator of forests for Odisha.

Yet in Kutia Kondh villages, as in Pidikia, residents state they never provided their consent for plantations that would cut off their access to the forest. Kutia Kondh communities similarly filed claims for their traditional forest lands through the FRA prior to the arrival of government plantations.

In 2016, in light of rising tensions and a deteriorating situation, Kutia Kondh communities petitioned the National Human Rights Commission on how forest department plantations were violating community rights. The petition specifically cited violations of the FRA, including curtailing villagers’ access to their lands and resources.

“Our access is not limited to a few individual plots. We use and depend on the entire area. With rights, we will secure our ability to collect forest produce for our livelihoods and survival,” says Balakrushna Jani from Burlubaru village.

Beyond violations of the FRA, residents claim the targeting of podu lands has had profound impacts on their livelihoods and food security. Prior to extensive plantations, villagers detail how they enjoyed growing a variety of millets. In an era of climate change they would grow up to 70 different species, often from a single rainy season. Since plantations, they have lost more than half of these species and are a running a deficit of food supplies.

Houses in Kandhamal district of Odisha. The targeting of podu lands has had profound impacts on livelihoods of the district. Credit: Gaurav Madan

India’s green irony lies in the fact that the programme put in place to regenerate forests, targets communities that have historically protected and depended on forests. It is based on a flawed calculation that places a basic economic value on forests per hectare, oversimplifies the diversity of services forests provide, and refuses to accept the complexities of social and environmental landscapes.

Analysing compensatory afforestation and carbon sinks, environmental scholar Sharadchandra Lele notes, “Markets only work when property rights are well defined and secure. The major problem in the Indian forest sector has been precisely that the rights of local communities are not well-defined or secure.”

As the parliament convenes this week, it will have to agree on the rules that will formalise compensatory afforestation funding. Instead of burgeoning a forest bureaucracy, it would do well to follow Lele’s reasoning. India’s democratic laws, such as the FRA and Panchayats Extension to Scheduled Areas (PESA) Act should be upheld, and funds for environmental regeneration should be provided directly to gram sabhas.

Otherwise, as Sanghamitra Dubey, campaigner at Odisha-based NGO Vasundhara, warns: “If plantation does not respect the authority, traditions, and culture of the people living and using the land, then compensatory afforestation is nothing more than a land and resource-grabbing strategy.”

Gaurav Madan is a freelance writer and researcher focusing on community land rights in Asia and Africa. He has spent the past five years working on the recognition of customary land rights, democratic natural resource governance, and environmental justice. 

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Bajwa orders eviction of encroachments from village pond lands

Sun, 2 Jul 2017-07:52pm , PTI

Punjab Rural Development and Panchayat Minister Tript Rajinder Singh Bajwa today issued instructions to the officials of his department to remove the illegal encroachments from the village pond lands.

He also directed them to ensure a proper maintenance and utilisation of the ponds.

The minister ordered the officials to restore status quo ante (the previously existing state of affairs) after getting the records of the pond lands from the Revenue department.

The lands should be marked on the basis of the records and the illegal encroachments should be removed from them, he said here in a statement.

Bajwa said it was because of these encroachments that there were no outlets for the drains, leading to disputes among the people over the dirty, stagnant water.

He also asked the officials to explore the possibilities of treating the sewage water for irrigation and added that the treated water could be supplied to the fields by installing solar-powered pumps in the ponds, for which the government was providing an 80-per cent subsidy.

The ponds could also be used to harvest rain water as currently, the only outlet for the rain water were drains which resulted in its wastage, the minister said.

"Rain water harvesting will also help raise the sub-soil water level," he added.

(This article has not been edited by DNA's editorial team and is auto-generated from an agency feed.)

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Man secures 10,000 acres of grazing land for cows

The initiative is led by a retired electricity department employee and other like-minded citizens secured the land. He says pastures and not cow shelters will save the bovines.

Updated: Jun 30, 2017 20:03 IST
Salik Ahmad

Cows graze at Sarah Nathaniya Gauchar Bhoomi in Bikaner city. 
(HT Photo)
Gauchar (pastures) and not gaushalas (cow-shelters) will save cows. A group of citizens have secured nearly 10,000 acres of grazing land in Bikaner city believing in this idea to establish a sustainable model for cow protection.

Led by Brij Narayan Kiradoo, a retired employee of the electricity department and popularly known as Birju Maharaj, the group has been fighting for three decades for the land, called Sarah Nathaniya Gauchar Bhoomi, against encroachment, hunting of animals, felling of trees and for the development of grass cover.

“People abandon male calves and sell spent cows because they do not have any economic utility and people have to spend on their fodder. If the same cattle have access to pastures, then they won’t be a financial burden on their owners,” said Kiradoo.

He claimed that nearly 30,000 cows graze on the land every day and the grazing land provides free fodder for nearly eight months a year. In addition, nearly 40 villages have an informal agreement for rearing their cattle in the secured grassland.

Kiradoo added that there are lakhs of stray cows in Rajasthan and it’s practically impossible to put them all in cow-shelters, as it would lead to huge and recurring costs to the government.

Bikaner tehsildar Ashok Aggarwal validated Kiradoo’s conservation
efforts but is unsure about how successful it will be in saving cows.

“It’s true that Kiradoo’s conservation efforts of have been tremendous. Had it not been for him, a good part of the land would have been encroached upon by now. But I see stray cows in Bikaner city, so I cannot vouch for the model’s success with regard to cow protection,” said Aggarwal.

Ashok Choudhary, a civil servant-turned-activist working for sustainable development models in Rajasthan, lauded Kiradoo’s efforts and said that Sarah Nathaniya is a small ecosystem of its own.

“There are cattle, deer, rabbits, ponds, lakhs of trees and acres and acres of desert grass in the area,” said Choudhary. A strong advocate of conservation of pastures, Choudhary added that most of the pasture land in the state has been either encroached, lying barren or being used for farming and that securing pasture land in every village is the only way to save cows.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Kharar civic body fails to decide on shamlat land issue at Harlalpur village

Our Correspondent
Kharar, June 19

MLA Kanwar Sandhu makes a point at a meeting of the Municipal
Council in Kharar on Monday. 
Photo: Vicky Gharu
A resolution to sanction expenditure for filling a fresh case under the Punjab Village Common Land Act, 1961, in a civil court regarding 1,033 kanal 19 marla shamlat land at Harlalpur village here was kept pending after a detailed discussion at the Kharar Municipal Council meeting here today. The meeting was held under the chairmanship of Anju Chander. Kharar MLA Kanwar Sandhu was also present on the occasion.

This village was merged with the local municipal council on April 29, 2013. A special meeting was called today to discuss the issue. According to agenda of the meeting, a discussion was held with senior officials regarding various recommendations made by the Justice Kuldeep Singh tribunal regarding this land. The case was decided by the court in the favour of owners earlier.

As per the resolution, 937 kanal 4 marla land stands in the name of various people. As per the government instructions, this issue was discussed with Justice Rajiv Bhalla (retd) and two different civil writs had already been filed in the Punjab and Haryana High Court.

Councillors Gurpream Singh Romana, Kuldip Singh and Pargat Singh opposed the resolution as many villagers were in the possession of the land for the past two decades. They said it was not advisable to file a fresh case in the court as the matter had already been decided by the High Court. Another councillor, Amarjit Singh Panchi, admitted that many influential persons had purchased the land in the village. After a detailed discussion, a five-member committee was formed to get details of the common land belonging to the council.

MLA Kanwar Sandhu gave his advice on the issue. He said many influential persons had encroached upon the common land of villages in Kharar. He asked the MC to get full details of the land and circulate a recent decision of the Punjab and Haryana High Court.

A request for passing a resolution for the transfer of an MC official was also discussed in detail. At the meeting, the person concerned himself said that he was proceeding on leave and would get himself transferred from here.

Kanwar Sandhu, while addressing those present on the occasion, said that he would never tolerate any corruption in the working of the council. He asked MC officials to give full respect to the elected members and work to solve various problems faced by Kharar residents.