Updated 17 May 2022, 4:08 pm
Saikot MLA Paolienlal Haokip has drawn the attention of the Minister for Forest, Environment and Climate Change Th Biswajit over certain procedural lapses on the part of forest officials while declaring an area as reserved forest thereby leading to misunderstandings.
While appreciating the Forest Minister for his initiative in meeting and interacting with Chiefs and villagers of several hill villages and thereby soliciting their wilful participation in the government's efforts to promote sustainable management of the State's ecology, the MLA drew the attention of the Minister towards resolving some of the issues facing the State in connection with the issue.
The bureaucrat-turned lawmaker pointed out that the Indian Forest Act, 1927 requires certain procedures to be followed while declaring any area as a reserved forest.
He said that the first requirement is to issue a notification in the official gazette under section 4; (a) declaring that it has been decided to constitute such land a reserved forest; (b) specifying, as nearly as possible, the situation and limits of such land; and (c) appointing an officer (hereinafter called "the Forest Settlement-officer") to inquired into and determined the existence, nature, and extent of any rights alleged to exist in favor of any person in or over any land comprised within such limits, or in or over any forest-produce, and to deal with the same as provided in this Chapter.
He also said that Section 6 required that, after a notification has been issued under Section 4, the Forest Settlement Officer shall publish in the local vernacular in every town and village in the neighborhood of the land comprised therein, a proclamation such as specifying, as nearly as possible, the situation and limits of the proposed forest; explaining the consequences which, as hereinafter provided, will ensue on the reservation of such forest; and fixing a period of not less than three months from the date of such proclamation, and requiring every person claiming any right mentioned in Section 4 or Section 5 within such period either to present to the Forest Settlement-officer a written notice specifying or to appear before him and state, the nature of such right and the amount and particulars of the compensation (if any) claimed in respect thereof.
The MLA further said that Sections 7 to 19 further lay down several procedures relating to claims to rights and settlement of claims, appeals, commutation of rights, etc.
It is only after completion of all such procedures that the government can issue a notification declaring a forest reserved, he added.
He then pointed out that in the case of the so-called Dampi Reserved Forest, such due diligence appeared to have been absent as Chiefs of villages in the land so constituted could not recollect the publication of the alleged notification in vernacular by the settlement officer under Section 6 and they also denied having been given any opportunity to present their claims to rights or having received any compensation for the land over which they had been conferred rights by the British Government or by the Maharaja.
The MLA said that so far as the Thangjing Hills are concerned, the Chief of Ukha (Loikhai) has clear orders of the settlement officer, excluding the land belonging to Loikhai village, which includes Thangjing Hills, from the Churachandpur Khopum Protected Forest.
While strongly considering that the government, in public interest, should cause cessation of issuing show cause and eviction notices till it can issue a white paper regarding the procedural propriety and completeness of the process of declaration of reserved forest over Dampi and Sagang villages land, the MLA said that the government must control the public excitement on communal lines, over the issue of reforestation of Thangjing Hills.
"The traditional pilgrimage rights of one religious community need not conflict with the land rights of another, merely requiring harmonious attitude and mutually respectful engagement", asserted the MLA
He said that the recent viral videos of small gun-wielding volunteers claiming to be Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha forcing their way through land-owning locals to forcibly take tree plantation drive in the Thangjing Hills appear to be a wrong approach to a noble objective of afforestation.
He continued that as far as villages within reserved forests are concerned, the Forests Rights Act, 2006, otherwise known as The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 needs to be implemented in the State's Reserved Forests before issuing any orders for eviction.
While putting faith in the Minister's refined sense of justice, public harmony, and common welfare to intervene suitably and promptly, the MLA appealed to the people of Manipur to avoid the wrong approach to a noble cause.
First published:17 May 2022, 3:59 pm
Churachandpurafforestationforest reserveMLA Paolienlal Haokip
KANGPOKPI district, Manipur