By:Mohan Lal Verma
Reversing its earlier order the Himachal Pradesh High Court on Monday directed the authorities to stop cutting the apple trees in the encroached government lands but to continue the eviction process of all illegal encroachments done by the farmers from past few years.
Deciding on a review petition the Division Bench of Chief Justice Mansoor Ahmad Mir and Justice Tarlok Chauhan ordered that fruit laden trees and standing crops would not be removed now and the encroached orchards would be taken over by the government.
The Court passed the modified order and maintained that the process of vacating the forests by the government agencies from the illegal intruders would continue. The Court has also ordered that the state would sell the crop from the encroached lands this year and would use this money for the re-plantation of the original forest species.
“The fruit trees should be pruned subsequently in order to give way to the natural flora in these trespassed forests and the encroached lands should be fenced by the barbed wires to stop the future intrusions” as ordered by the Court.
It must be remembered that thousands of apple trees have been raised in the forest lands after clearing the natural flora including the majestic Deodar trees by the clever farmers in connivance with the forest and revenue department officials. A very strong and rich apple lobby had emerged in old parts of the State including the hill districts of Shimla, Kullu, Mandi, Kinnaur and Sirmaur. No political party could ever dare to touch this dominant lobby that had given the leadership to both political ideologies.
It was the State High Court that had ordered the removal of the illegal trespass by the big farmers. The decision was widely welcomed by the environmentalists and the honest farmers in the apple belt and also who had not encroached any land or had cut the Deodar trees.
The environmentalists have blamed the repeated phenomena of cloudbursts and landslides in the region to the massive deforestation done by some greedy apple growers. The derive of vacating the encroachments was taken seriously by the government here for a few days but then the political parties again came to the rescue of encroachers on the name of small and marginal peasants.
They organized the farmers and all parties and leaders including the Chief Minister gave statements in favor of not cutting the trees on the intruded lands. The State BJP and former Horticulture Minister Narendra Bragta have hailed the decision of High Court and said that many farmers would be relieved by the judicial decision.
“The government should compensate the small farmers who have faced the axing of trees and were targeted on political grounds. A Congress spokesman also welcomed the decision and said the ban on green felling would help the environment as well as the small growers. He said the government should now regularize the encroachments” added Narendra Bragta.
The State CPI-M supported Kisan Sabha while welcoming the Court’s verdict and said that it was due to its pressure that the Congress government had gone for a review petition in the High Court. But it has decided to carry on its agitation in favor of small and marginal peasants till they get the land rights.