The residents of Kand Kardiana village in Dharamshala, Himachal Pradesh, stare at an uncertain future as the state government has proposed to utilise their land to build a university. Ironically, it was the state, which, in 1975, had allotted nautor land to the people under the Nautor Policy to help them settle and earn a livelihood.
Under this policy, nautor land, or wasteland, which was later converted to forestland, was granted to landless people as defined in the scheme. However, only a handful of people got their land registered in the states land record due to restrictions imposed by the Forest Conservation Act of 1980, which does not allow the use of forestland for nonforest purposes without the approval of the government.
From 1980 onwards, the Nautor files floated from forest departments to revenue departments but never got materialised into conclusive records of land ownership. Since then, these people have been labelled encroachers. Now, the government wants to take over the land in Kand Kardania to build the Central University of Himachal Pradesh (CUPH).
To build the north campus of the university, the government is acquiring approximately 156.66 hectares of land, which falls under the jurisdiction of four panchayatsKand Kardiana, Tang Narbaana, Narvaana Khaas and Balla Jadrangal. The proposed construction will directly affect 70 households of Kand Kardiana panchayat and 45 households of other panchayats, who either have their homes or agricultural fields or both at the proposed site. The project is believed to affect the community forest rights of the residents as the people are heavily dependent on the forestland for forest produce, such as fodder, wood, medicinal plants and herbs.
The process of filing claims under the Forest Rights Act (FRA) started in 2016. The subdivisional level committee (SDLC) rejected the claims in December 2017 on the ground that a noobjection certificate (NOC) had been taken by the government in 2016. But this was done by blatantly ignoring the terms and conditions put forward by the people while giving the NOC. We have no objection to the construction of the university; all we demand is that our forest rights should not be affected, especially the households that claim Individual Forest Rights, Desh Raj, a resident of Kand Kardania, told Land Conflict Watch.
In February 2019, the districtlevel committee (DLC), citing a decision taken by the SDLC in another meeting in November 2018, reiterated that there were no claims over the site proposed for the university as the people did not have objections to the construction. The DLC also ignored the objections raised against its decision by a nonofficial member of the committee who recommended recognising the forest rights of the people of Kand Kardiana. With their rights claims getting rejected by both the SDLC and the DLC, the people had no choice but to approach the state level monitoring committee with their grievances, which has directed the SDLC to give an impartial hearing to the case.
The construction of CUHP has been fraught with tension since its inception. First, the university struggled with acquiring a forest clearance for a long time due to the environmental concerns raised by the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change. In 2012, the Forest Advisory Committee stated that the requirement of forestland was quite large as many nonessential items were being included as a requirement, such as the provision of forestland for future expansion. The site inspection report even pointed out the topographical unsuitability of the land at the proposed site for construction activity.
Despite all this, the government has been adamant on going ahead with the construction for CUHP. Meanwhile, caught in a bureaucratic and political play, the residents of Kand Kardiana continue to wait for the legal recognition of their forest rights under the FRA, which entitles them to compensation in case of a transfer of their forestland for any development project.