Shimla, Nov 27

L

ahaul-Spiti district, the cold desert of Himachal Pradesh, saw one of the devastating avalanches in 1979 that claimed more than 250 lost lives.

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Locals believe learning from that disaster they started a campaign to save forests that showed positive results and such scale of loss of life and property has not been witnessed again.

This fact came to light in an open conversation organised by Himdhara, a state-based informal non-registered environment research and action collective, after screening its film ‘Bano Haqq Kathare’, based on the forest rights in 18 villages of Lahaul.

As per the India Meteorological Department (IMD) Pune’s archives, 232 people died and 525 were reported missing owing to heavy unseasonal snow in the first and second week of March 1979 in Lahaul.

Many villages were buried under 4.5-6 metres of snow and many buildings damaged. In the Pin Valley, 12,000 people were stranded.

The film, which throws light on issues related to the Lahaul Valley, is about the relationship and dependence between the tribal society and their forests, which the Forest Rights Act (FRA) of 2006 ensures by granting ownership rights.

It also talks about why the law has more relevance in the changing social and economic context. The decades-long successful efforts of Mahila Mandals in the campaign to save forests in the Lahaul Valley have been brought before everyone through the film, a statement by Himdhara said on Monday.

From this example, other disaster-affected districts of Himachal can also take inspiration and start a campaign to save their forests so that effects of disasters can be reduced in the future, it said.

The film was shown to Mahila Mandals or women groups as well as other villagers in 18 villages across the valley from Darcha to Udaipur.

Anita, a Mahila Mandal member of Tandi village, was quoted as saying, “We are already saving the forests, but it is also the reality that people have very little land for farming. Now in Lahaul, land is not available either from Nautor policy or through FRA. On top of it, there is a talk about building dams. In Uttarakhand, more than 40 labourers have been stuck in the tunnel for many days, similar disaster will happen here if the dam is built.”

“Nautor Land” means the right to utilize, with the sanction of authorities, wasteland owned by the government outside towns, reserved and demarcated protected forests and such areas as may be notified by the state government.

Another Mahila Mandal member Shilpa from Jasrath village said she learnt from the film and the subsequent discussion on the FRA that work on 13 types of development activities could be done at the village level under Section 3(2) of the Act.

Many such issues came up in the discussions held after the film screening, which showed that in some places there is no information about the FRA at all, while in some cases people are awaiting the administration to approve the claims of land along with the house as individual rights under Section 3(1) of the Act.

And amidst all this, there is a complete silence on the issue and understanding of the right to collective use and management of forests, which is considered most important for the communities living in tribal areas, said Himdhara.

(Vishal Gulati can be contacted at gulatiians@gmail.com)

No disastrous calamity like 1979 in Lahaul after protecting forests: Locals

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