By: Gumman Singh
Himachal Pradesh has been going though great transformation in the last one decade due to industrialisation and opening up of the state for non-Himachalis. The ill-effects of this mindless exploitation of natural resources in the name of development is very much visible in the form of social strife that has cropped up due to ecological changes and disparity in opportunities to earn a living. The proposed amendment in Section 118 of HP Tenancy and Land Reform Act by the government during the ongoing Vidhan Sabha session will only add to the existing problem.
The amendment would alienate Himachali farmer and open the doors for outsiders to easily grab agricultural land in the name of industries, tourism, housing colonies, which would actually benefit non-Himachali industrialists, colonizers and builder mafia. The government should understand that rich people from outside are not interested in purchasing land for agriculture purpose but for business, tourism, residence and summer bungalows for leisure. In this way, land in Himachal will become a jungle of houses and concrete. Local people will become resourceless, lose social and political command and become paupers in their own land.
The state is already facing crisis of water and the forest cover is decreasing. New influxes of population supported by this amendment will worsen the situation and Himalayan environment will be damaged further, which will increase the national crisis of climate change.
The alienation of Himachali land-dependent majority will also create law and order problem in the future. However, the lease provisions for agriculture purpose are acceptable, but with the condition that land should be leased to Himachali farmers only. In July 2009. HP government also tried to relax Section 118 by handing over power to tehsil-level officers for granting relaxation powers of Sec-118, which was opposed and ultimately shelved but now under what pressure the government is again bringing a worse version of the amendment is not understandable. This amendment is anti-poor and also against middle-class Himachalis, who comprise 90% of the state population.
Such a move to relax Sec-18 time and again is highly deplorable and should be opposed be all those who understand the fallouts of local population being alienated from their land, commons and prosperities. The very sprit of Section 118 was to protect the interest of local mountain people from the moneyed outsiders with whom local people cannot compete financially and therefore no such move should be initiated to dilute it.
(The writer is state coordinator of Himalaya Niti Abhiyan, a HImachal-based environment and sustainable living advocacy organisation)