Shimla: After government failure to execute the hon’ble High Court order to vacate encroached forest land in Shimla district, the HP High Court has now entrusted the task of removing encroachers to the Eco-Task Force of the Army based at Kufri (Shimla).

A Division Bench comprising acting Chief Justice Sanjay Karol and Justice Sandeep Sharma directed the Special Investigation Team (SIT), constituted by it on April 25 for evicting the big encroachers, to visit Jalatha, Chaithla, Pungrish, Pandali and Kalemu villages in Kotkhai tehsil in Shimla district and carry out operations for removing encroachments from public land.

Bench order the jawans of the Eco-Task Force would work in tandem with the SIT so as to ensure that every encroachment over forest/public land in the villages of Kotkhai area is removed.

The court further directed the SIT to file its action-taken report on July 24.

Taking a strong exception to the non-compliance of its orders, the court observed, “It is a sorry state of affairs of functioning of the officers/officials of the state, who despite an assurance to this court, have really not taken any effective action against those who have encroached upon a large chunk of government land and more specifically in Jalatha, Chaithla and Pungrish villages of Kotkhai tehsil, Shimla district.”

It is highly regrettable that despite repeated orders and severe indictment by this Court, the respondents have not cared to implement the same. This Court can only pass orders and it is for the respondents to obey or assail the same before the higher Court. If the orders are not assailed, then the respondents have no option but to obey such orders, both in letter and spirit, the Court further said.

Expressing concern on the working of the state functionaries, the Bench observed, “We notice that officials of the state are continuing to carry out operations only against small farmers and no action is being taken against big encroachers.”

The Bench also observed, “The harvesting season is going on and the encroachers are now attempting to harvest the crop and market it for their pecuniary gains.”

Taking care of the standing crops, the court further said, “Insofar as standing crop is concerned, we leave it to the best of the judgment of the SIT/Commanding Officer of the Command/Battalion, to, if required, harvest and market the same, depending upon the existing conditions at the ground level.”

This Court also clarified that “the maximum of 5 bighas of encroached land would be calculated in such a manner that the total extent of the lawful ownership of the possessor and the land encroached upon does not exceed 10 bighas and the remaining land, if any, in possession shall be vacated by such possessor e.g. – if a person is lawful owner of 9 bighas of land and is found to have encroached upon 7 bighas of land, it would not mean that he is entitled to retain 5 bighas out of the aforesaid 7 bighas, but would be entitled to retain only 1 bigha so that his total holding does not exceed 10 bighas. Likewise, in a case where a person being lawful owner of 10 bighas of land is found to have encroached upon even one biswa of land, even then he is liable to be evicted from one biswa of land so as to ensure that his total holding does not exceed 10 bighas.”

The Court also direct the Deputy Commissioner, Shimla to ensure that deployment of proper, efficient and effective staff, technical and non-technical, in assisting the members of SIT and Eco Task Force, for proper identification of land. Also, Deputy Commissioner shall render all assistant to the Jawans for lodging and boarding. The expenses incurred by the Eco Task Force shall be immediately reimbursed by the Deputy Commissioner.