Dharamshala — Home Kalon Gyari Dolma and Home Secretary Sonam Topgyal Khorlatsang of the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) met with Health and Revenue Minister Shri Kaul Singh Thakur of the Government of Himachal Pradesh on March 22 for the first time since it implemented the Tibetan Rehabilitation Policy.
Kalon Dolma and Secretary Khorlatsang were joined by representatives of Tibetan nunneries, monasteries and 218 families at the PWD Guest House in Dharamshala to welcome the decision of the Government of Himachal Pradesh, who adopted the Policy on February 13 and is the first state government to do so.
The Policy is detailed in a 7 page document formalised on October 20 2014 that covers matters including the leasing of Indian land to Tibetans, the clarification of equal professional opportunities for Tibetans in India, and the extension of Tibetan benefits from the Government of India.
While the document is widely perceived as a landmark for Tibetan rights in exile, Kalon Dolma voiced concerns about the terms and conditions of the framing of the document by the Government of Himachal Pradesh.
She specified the issue of leasing land to the Central Tibetan Relief Committee (CTRC) in Himachal Pradesh, asking for the percentage of the Tibetan settler's wage that needs to be paid to the Government of Himachal Pradesh to be reduced to 2% (the minimum lease amount).
Kalon Dolma also expressed the ongoing grievances of Tibetan settlers in state forest land, whose steady receipt of eviction notices by state and national forces "creates chaos for a group of people who have been living in the area for over the last 50 years."
The issue has piqued intense disputes over the past few years. In 2012, the Himachal Pradesh High Court ordered the eviction of Tibetan settlers by March 31 2013, which was seconded on November 21 2013 by the National Green Tribunal.
In February 2014, the Home Ministry advised the state government to keep the orders for eviction in abeyance until further advice was given, which was eventually followed by the Tibetan Rehabilitation Policy in October 2014.
In a report published on February 26 2015 – despite being advised to do so on humanitarian grounds by the Home Ministry – the Government of Himachal Pradesh decided not to regularise alleged residential building encroachments made by Tibetans on aforementioned forest land.
However, it stated that it will not evict "bona fide settlers," defined as those who had been permitted to build their homes by the state under a former rehabilitation policy that dates back to the 1960s, prior to the enactment of the Forest Conservation Act under which the evictions of the last three years have been ordered.
Despite this recent ruling, Minister Thakur assured Kalon Dolma that the Government of Himachal Pradesh will do "whatever possible to help Tibetan settlers." He emphasised that the Tibetan Rehabilitation Policy will "provide a relaxation of measures formerly imposed on the 218 families who have cases of encroachment on forest land pending against them."
"Tibetans who have lived in Himachal for over 50 years have become an integral part of the state's culture. They are not refugees but an important part of the state of Himachal. The presence of his His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan exile community has made Dharamshala a popular destination for Indian and foreign tourists alike," he added.
The efficacy of the Tibetan Rehabilitation Policy – for both Tibetans and Himachal Pradesh – will be seen in due course.