The Himachal Pradesh High Court has ordered the State Government to remove all forest land encroachments, and use drones to keep vigil on encroached areas and prevent any kind of encroachment in the future.

A division bench of acting Chief Justice Sanjay Karol and Justice Tarlok Singh Chauhan passed the directions in a resumed hearing on encroachments in forests. The bench also ordered to ensure that no one is allowed to enter the affected area for cultivation purposes.

Listing the matter for next hearing on December 20, the Hon’ble court cautioned the authorities

“It will not only be obligatory but will also be the personal responsibility of office-bearers/officers, irrespective of their rank and file, of gram panchayat, gram sabha, panchayat samiti, zila parishad and employees/officials of the Forest, Revenue and Police Departments to ensure that the orders passed by the court are complied with in its letter and spirit and in case of non-compliance, such officers/officials are liable for being prosecuted and punished under the Contempt of Courts Act.”

The bench directed the Principal Chief Conservator of Forests to place on record the half-yearly report submitted by forest guards with respect to the number of encroachments. The Court further ordered to the state, the Forest Department and the Deputy Commissioners to submit a report regarding recovery of undue profit made by encroachers.

It also asked the state to file status and compliance report clearly stating the action taken in ensuring compliance of all the court orders passed from time to time.

The Court, in its earlier order, had directed to disconnect the electricity and water connections provided to all illegal structures raised by way of encroachment over the forest land. Following the court order, the forest department had pruned apple plants in many parts of the state. Apple growers blamed forest department for adopting pick and choose policy and pruning apple plants of poor and marginal growers. However, wealthy and big encroachers haven’t been touched. Left supported Kisan Morcha even staged widespread protest across the state. It even staged protest outside the state secretariat and demanded government to constitute permanent policy to give relief to the marginal farmers. Following pressure and state assembly election, the state government even tried to give some relief to the marginal farmers and constituted a High Powered Committee to assess and review the encroachment cases in the State.

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Rahul Bhandari is Editor of TheNewsHimachal and has been part of the digital world for last 15 years.