As Govt intensifies anti-encroachment drives, forest dwellers start seeking relief under FRA

Srinagar, June 2: As the Department of Forests has intensified the anti-encroachment drives across J&K, the forest dwellers have started seeking relief from eviction under Forest Rights Act.

A top official said that they have regard for Forest Rights Act and whenever people feel their rights are violated in eviction drives, they approach concerned authorities and seek relief.

“We stop anti- encroachment processes there and study their cases whether they can claim relief Under Forest Rights Act ( FRA),” he said.

In response to a question, he said that their different departments own land, forest department, state and corporation also own land.

“The forest department has around 2161 forests in Jammu and Kashmir. Over the period of time, people encroach on the forest land for cultivation and other purposes. To stop this the eviction process is a continuous job to recover the forest land,” he said.

The Jammu Kashmir high court has also directed us to document the encroachment and explain the steps that are being taken to evict the forest land, he added.

“The eviction of forest landholders is not something new but a continuous process. In case somebody is claiming that the land belongs to him, as per FRA, there are committees, forest right committee, committees at division level, subdivision level to look into the complaints.”

Wherever anyone claims the possession of land the forest department has decided to wait for eviction in those areas where forest dwellers claim possession of forest land according to the Forest Rights Act ( FRA), he added.

He also informed that so far around, 15 thousand acres of forest land have been retrieved.

The Jammu and Kashmir government recently implemented the Forest Rights Act, 2006, which was not enforced in the Union Territory for the past 14 years, an official spokesperson said on Wednesday.

“It may be pointed out that the Forest Rights Act of 2006 provides for granting of rights to forest dwellers across the country,” the statement read. “This central Act was, however, not applicable or implemented in Jammu and Kashmir in the last 14 years. It became applicable to J&K only after 31st October 2019, hence, recognising the rights of forest-dwelling communities for the first time in the Union Territory.”

Under the Act, members of the Scheduled Tribes dwelling in the forests along with other traditional residents will have the right over forest land for habitation or self-cultivation or livelihood. “…ownership, access to collect, use, and dispose of minor forest produce, and entitlement to seasonal resources among others,” the statement read. “However, the rights conferred under this Act shall be heritable but not alienable or transferrable.”

The Act also allows the use of up to one hectare of forest land for developing government facilities, including schools, minor water bodies, and hospitals, on the recommendation of a Gram Sabha. The law empowers holders of forest rights and Gram Sabhas to protect the wildlife, biodiversity, catchment areas, and other environmentally sensitive areas. It further ensures that the habitats of forest dwellers are preserved from “any form of destructive practices affecting their cultural and natural heritage”.

Jammu and Kashmir Forest Department have already held one training session recently, which was attended by senior government officials and officers of the department involved in the eviction drive.

The sessions are aimed at imparting knowledge to the officials about the new forest laws introduced or implemented after the older laws were scrapped following the revocation of Article 370 and other state laws. Jammu and Kashmir as a state used to be governed by the Jammu and Kashmir Forest (Conservation) Act, 1997.

“The training sessions are routine exercises that need to be conducted to equip the forest department staff to deal with the ongoing situation. The staff will be acquainted with the nuances of the new laws as well the norms and rules through which it will be implemented,”

The government had prepared a roster for a training programme on the Forest Rights Act so that this law could be implemented in J&K at different levels. Under the level-1, the official members of District Level Committees (DLCs) will be provided with the training which includes Deputy Commissioners, Divisional Forest Officers (at District hqr’s), District Panchayat Officers (DPO) – other Senior officers of Forest, Revenue, Rural Development and Tribal Affairs Department(s)”, an official said.

He further added that the Forest Department would be imparting the training to these officers.

The eviction drives carried out in Pahalgam, other places have been drawing widespread attention. The government maintains that this is part of a drive to retrieve forestlands, which have been encroached upon.

Most pictures of the demolition drive show temporary hutments or dokas of Gujjars and Bakarwals. These are poor nomadic communities who keep migrating every year with their cattle and livestock from mountains in Kashmir to a warmer Jammu. The demolition drives have invited a lot of criticism. kns

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