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Protest against IPCA land encroachment crosses 100 day mark

Protest against IPCA land encroachment crosses 100 day mark

Started on April 9 this year the sit-in protest (Dharna) by two youths from Jorethang, Namchi District, against the alleged forest land encroachment by  IPCA Laboratories Limited pharmaceutical company,  crossed  hundred-day mark. Staged in the premises of the District Administrative Center (DAC) office in the state’s capital, Gangtok, the dharna has witnessed many twists and turns.

It all started with two youths from Jorethang; Jack Rai and Rohid Thulung, residents of Jorethang, who came to Gangtok on April 9, 2022 and sat on an indefinite dharna alleging that IPCA Laboratories Limited, a pharmaceutical company located at Bharikhola near Jorethang had encroached on the forest Khasmal land illegally.

Khasmal land “is the forest land settled and set aside by the Government for meeting the bona fide domestic need of timber, firewood and fodder of the resident of adjoining villages” and encroachment on such land is considered an offence.

The encroachment as said by the protesters was of about 2.51 acres of forest land, in which they alleged that many structures were built by the company. The allegation made against the pharmaceutical company met with many political parties supporting the dharna, mostly opposition, along with the support from many Environmental Activists and Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) based in Sikkim. The already degrading image of the private companies and industries operating in Sikkim among general citizenry made it obvious that the issue was headed to be a political issue which in no time it turned out to be one.

On April 13, 2022,Karma Loday Bhutia Minister for Forest and Wildlife, Government of Sikkim, responded through  media when asked by the reporters about the issue. He in his response maintained that ‘no complaints were laid on his table while no one had visited him’ regarding the issue and added that he was the “Ghar ko Bau” (father of the house) and had to be made aware of the issue first rather than sitting in the dharna.

Protest against IPCA land encroachment crosses 100 day mark
Karma Loday Bhutia, Minister for Forest Department inspecting the IPCA site

The same kind of response was made by the Chief Minster, Prem Singh Tamang, the very  next day on April 14 in an official event in Gangtok, where he said that the complaints were to be made officially and not through “Dharnas”.

Addressing the media on April 19,  ML Shrivastava ACS, Forest Department maintained that the forest was “sacrosanct and it is the mandate of the Forest Department to protect it.”

“The Department is “in the process of verifying and corroborating the facts to come to a logical solution” and “consolidation of records to ascertain the facts is a time taking process and is under due enquiry.” He added

Meanwhile, dharna continued beyond its expected and permitted three days lifetime, many political and non-political organizations extended their support to the cause pressurizing the government to take action against the pharmaceutical company. It was on April 20  that one day ultimatum was served to the forest department by the protestors to come to the dharna site for dialogue, which in turn was not fulfilled by the department and led the protestors to march towards the Forest Department secretariat on April 22.

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Dharna at DAC, Gangtok

The march witnessed the inclusion of the representatives from different political parties, opposition exclusively, many environmental, political and social activists along with representatives from various Non-Governmental Organizations. They were met by high ranking officials of forest department after a dramatic series of arguments between both the parties concerned, but no logical conclusion could be drawn after their meeting.

After the unfruitful meeting of April 22, Minister, Karma Loday Bhutia, on April 25, with a team of officials from the concerned department, gave a visit to IPCA Laboratories Limited at Bharikhola and upon inspection it was found that certain patches of land, in the direction where Rangit river flows, were being used for construction of reinforcement boundary walls.

The Officials from the company clarified that massive landslide caused by heavy rains in the August 2020 had washed away few of their properties including their three-storey canteen building and accepted that it was being reconstructed without the consent of the government which, according to the norms, required prior approval from the concerned department of the government. The minister in his press briefing the same day said that the company was being fined for the construction without approval.

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With the motive to come to an amicable solution, a meeting was held in the Forest Department conference hall on April 26th 2022 which had the participation of Minister of Forest, Additional Chief Secretary (ACS) Forest cum PCCF, High ranking officials of the departments concerned, officials from IPCA Laboratories Limited, along with the members of the registered NGOs and stakeholders but the protestors did not attend the meeting. As earlier, the meeting failed to come to any solutions yet again and the dharna continued.

Speaking with Sikkim Chronicle, one of the protestors said that “the government has too failed to fulfil our demands and give us justice, even after more than a hundred days of demanding them”.

“This might be due to the huge corruption in this issue” he added.

As the Forest Department has time and again reiterated that fines worth more than seventy lakhs have been imposed on the company, on being asked what could be the possible solution of the issue, the protestor said “we want the forest land to be returned to the forest as being done to the illegal encroachments all over the country and nothing more”.

The forest department, on the other hand, is said to be carrying out investigation along with the process of marking and demarcation of the forest land, which could take some time while the dharna continues in the DAC premises of the capital.

In the process to know the recent development of the encroachment case forest minister, Karma Loday Bhutia said,” Recently a joint inspection was conducted with land revenue where it was found that 0.8870 hectares of khasmal land was encroached by IPCA in plot number 393″. “We have imposed fine on the company for this violation wherein the company has already paid the fine on May 11, 2022 in favour of ACS cum PCCF” said the minister.

“Now, therefore, I request the protestors to go to the land revenue department and enquire on why this encroachment happened?”

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