EOI, Darjeeling, 24 May 2016:Forest dwellers of the Darjeeling hills have united under the aegis of the Himalayan Forest Villagers’ Organisation (HFVO) to demand land rights. They said they would approach the three new MLAs to take forward their demand towards a speedy conclusion.
The organisation also issued a press statement today listing its demands and said the new government in the state will also be urged to take proactive steps. “We will meet the three hill legislators and write to the state government to address our demand,” said Lila Kumar Gurung, general secretary of the HFVO.
“In September and November last year, the Bengal governor had issued two separate gazette notifications to implement land rights in Jalpaiguri and Alipurduar districts along with Darjeeling.
However, although Darjeeling also falls in north Bengal, no notifications have been issued here,” claimed Gurung.
The HFVO press statement also wants the district level forest right committee to oversee the process of implementing land rights and elect Forest Dwellers as members. “Three members are elected from the panchayat and one each from the forest, backward class welfare and land and land reforms department and three from forest dwellers to the committee. But no representatives have been elected from the forest dwellers yet. We demand this issue be addressed,” Gurung said.
The HVFO also wants forest land to be converted into revenue villages at the earliest and the administration of all the forest areas under Kalimpong sub-division to be handed over to the directorate. “Presently, the administration of forest areas in Kalimpong is under the West Bengal Forest Development Corporation and this is hampering administrative work. To eradicate this, we want the administration to be brought under the control of the Kalimpong directorate,” Gurung said.
This apart, the HFVO has also alleged that funds for village development under central schemes went unutilised even after several years of them being sanctioned. “In 2008-09, funds to the tune of Rs4.5 crore were sanctioned by the Union Ministry of Tribal Affairs to the WBFDC for the development of 29 villages in Kalimpong, but that has not yet been utilised even though the same scheme has been implemented in other divisions of north Bengal. We feel there is some kind of misappropriation and urge the government to investigate into the matter,” said the HFVO general secretary.